R.I.P. Stevie P.

A blue budgerigar sits on a man’s knee, nibbling on a wheat cracker. He looks happy.
Stevie P. accepting tribute in July 2022.

On the morning of Saturday, March 10, 2012, as Carolyn and I were leaving the house to run errands, she looked out to our yard and spotted a ball of gray fluff on one of our bird feeders. When we went to investigate, we discovered a baby budgerigar. He was cold and tired and we brought him inside.

I knocked on doors to ask everyone within a couple blocks of us if they had lost a parakeet or knew someone who had. No one did. I put a flyer on the bulletin board of the local pet store. No one ever came looking for him. Their loss.

I don’t know why I started calling him “Stevie.” Carolyn wanted to call him Pete, and so he became Stevie P. After a while, he learned to whisper his name. That was one of only two words he would eventually learn.

The rest of his copious vocalizations were whistles, chirps, and squeaks. He wolf-whistled. He imitated the beep of a package being scanned for delivery. He talked back to birds in the yard, and he mimicked Pookie’s “assemble the flock” scream. On days when Carolyn worked from home, her coworkers would hear him chattering away. Sometimes he would put in an on-camera appearance. He did it a few times with me, too. He would land on the lid of my laptop and peer into the camera from above. He also liked to perch there when I was writing. My little blue co-author.

A blue budgerigar sits atop a MacBook screen. The screen shows a manuscript being written in Word.
Stevie P, co-author

Soon after we got him, Carolyn put a piece of strawberry on a food clip in his cage. He loved it so much that he smeared strawberry juice all over his face. When I saw him, I thought he’d injured himself and was bleeding. Since he didn’t like to bathe, he had a sticky, pink face for a couple days.

Carolyn has a glass statuette of a scarlet macaw, a gift from a former coworker. From time to time, he would fly to the top of the armoire where she keeps it and sing to it as if offering devotion to a deity.

Sometimes, when I napped on the sofa, he would land on my head and sing his loudest until I gave up on the idea. Other times, he would land on a nearby pillow and watch me until I woke up.

A blue budgerigar sits on a sofa pillow behind a man who has just awakened from a nap. They are both looking into the camera.
“Did you have a nice nap?”

He was a bird who enforced boundaries. He would land on you, but would not allow you to pet him. He’d bite if you tried too hard, then fly away. It was better to let him sit with you on his own terms than have him abandon you.

By now, you’re probably wondering, “What about the second word in Stevie’s vocabulary?” Well, actually, it was a phrase but he pronounced it so rapidly it sounded like one word. My father, like me, is a loud, fast talker, and his animated voice always stirred Stevie up. Stevie would “talk back” to him, chirping and warbling madly. One day when my father was visiting, Stevie slipped a little something extra into his chatter: “fuckyou.”

We had only ourselves to blame. Carolyn and I both use salty language—especially when yelling at refs while watching soccer, which is, like practically all the time. Of all the things for him to pick up, though…

Stevie died a week ago, sometime between when we covered his cage for the night on Thursday and Friday morning. He had some kind of incident the previous weekend. A hawk had flown through our yard and we thought that spooked him, but now I wonder if it was a seizure that he simply couldn’t recover from.

All of our animal companions have died over the course of the last two and a half years. It has been devastating, and now the house is too still.

A blue budgerigar named Stevie P. sits on my foot against a backdrop of flowers in our living room. He looks like he’s up to something. He is the most handsome parakeet you could imagine.
Stevie P. 2011-2022

The Sweetest Cat

PK in her favorite spot on the porch.

It wasn’t long after Carolyn and I moved into our house before a little calico cat made her presence known. She showed up in the yard, demanding affection from Carolyn. She got it–and a can of tuna. Pretty soon, she was a regular in our yard. Later, we learned that she’d been a neighborhood fixture for a couple of years, part of a feral colony at the other end of our alley.

I named her “Porch Kitty” because she could often be found on our back porch. Also, I thought that if I didn’t give her a real name, I wouldn’t grow attached to her. I was wrong.

“Porch Kitty” quickly became “Princess Kitty” and “Precious Kitty” and “Perfect Kitty,” but mostly we called her “PK.” She was sweet, and friendly, and an expert at breaking and entering. She exploited damage to the crawl space vent screens to get into the basement and took up residence there. Once, she appeared on the second floor, having climbed the inside of the wall, and exited through a hole in our HVAC ductwork.

Soon, she was coming inside to eat, and then we made her a permanent resident of the house. We screened the back porch so she could still go outside, and that’s where she hung out most of the time. But for a while each evening, we’d tuck the two birds away so that she (and Chubby Huggs, who we still miss) could come inside and spend time with us. She’d alternate between sitting next to me and on Carolyn’s lap.

She feared nothing, except for a weasel ball we got her one Christmas. She hunkered down against the wall, tail wrapped tight against her body, and did her best not to let it touch her. But she was death to Christmas trees, was happy to scale any height, and just last year, killed a rat that had invaded the screen porch.

We moved here in 2002, and she was already at least two by then according to the neighbors at the time. So she was at least twenty-two when she died earlier this week. She had a good, long life and we were with her at the very end.

Rest in peace, PK. I’ll always miss your fuzzy little face.

Everyone’s Buddy

A domestic long-haired tabby cat
Chubby Huggs, Spring 2020

Chubby Huggs came into our life in 2006 as a full-grown adult. A stray who nevertheless weighed in at nineteen pounds, he loved two things: (1) food and (2) everyone.

He was everybody’s friend. Pest control technicians, electricians, plumbers, painters, anyone who came to the house got mugged for attention. We often joked that if burglars broke in while we were gone, they would still be there when we got back because it was impossible not to pet the little guy, and he could never get–or give–enough love. Even people who didn’t like cats thought Chubby Huggs was something special.

He eventually slimmed down due to the combination of a healthy diet and his personal trainer–our other cat, PK, who was none too fond of the interloper. She chased his furry little butt around every chance she got. They had a love-hate relationship for years but eventually he won even her over.

When Carolyn had to travel on business, he would sit in her place on the sofa as if waiting for her. When she was home, her lap was his favorite place to be.

He hated one thing: small objects on the coffee table. Pens, coins, keys–he felt that the proper place for these things was on the floor. He allowed vases of flowers (because he could eat them) and glasses of water (which he believed were obviously there for him). Anything else was fair game to be swatted until it dropped.

Chubby Huggs died this morning. He had bladder cancer and last night it became clear that he didn’t have any fight left in him. Carolyn slept out in the living room to be with him. I couldn’t bear it and went to bed. She woke me at 4:30 to tell me he was gone. I feel so guilty for not being there.

Goodbye, little pal. I’m sorry. I’ll miss you.

In Memory of Pookie

Pookie, hiding among stuffed toys last December

Pookie died last night.

Last month, her health began to decline. The vet gave us some medications that we hoped would ease the strain on her liver and kidneys. Although Pookie responded at first, it was clear that the medications weren’t working as well as we’d hoped they would. All day yesterday, she struggled to hold onto life but a little after eleven PM, her body shut down and she died.

Pookie liked to hide in a basket of stuffed toys on the bottom shelf of an armoire in our living room. She liked to ride Carolyn’s shoulder wherever she went in the house. She liked to mooch food–many of the pictures I have of her are of her sharing my lunch, eating from my hand. Words cannot describe how funny, brave, and loyal she was.

The house is far too quiet now. Even when she wasn’t vocalizing, she was around, doing things, making noise. Snacking, chewing on something, exploring. Fluffing her feathers, fluttering her wings. Sometimes she would wander around the floor, her tiny little talons tick-tick-ticking against the hardwood. The absence of those sounds is unbearable.

We’ll miss her forever.

The Best Bird

Pookie, the best bird

Pookie is a 28-year-old sun conure. She has been my wife’s constant companion for all of those years.

I met Pookie after Carolyn and I began dating in 2001. Pookie was nine years old then, and fiercely protective of Carolyn. Every time I put my arm around Carolyn, the little tyrant ran across the sofa in attack posture, her beak open and wings spread. Pookie remained suspicious of me the whole time Carolyn and I were dating, throughout our engagement, and for the first three months after we married.

One Saturday morning, Carolyn went out with a friend. While she was gone, I started playing my guitar and singing. I was a verse or so into “Lover’s Cross” by Jim Croce when I heard the flutter of her wings and she landed on my shoulder.

I thought she was going to attack me. I braced for a nip on the ear. It didn’t come. Instead, she rubbed her face against my cheek and made little, happy noises. I kept singing. She kept snuggling. By the time Carolyn got home, Pookie and I were best friends.

After that, Pookie had to be wherever I was. If I slept in, she would yell out her “assemble the flock” scream until I got up. One day she tried to stow away in my jacket when I was going to work. She ignored Carolyn if I was around.

Pookie’s crush on me ended after about six months and Carolyn reclaimed her position as first in Pookie’s affections. But I have been part of the flock ever since. She’s been the best bird to both of us.

Last week, Pookie started having seizures. We struggled to get her to take the anti-seizure medication that was prescribed for her. It smells awful and apparently tastes worse. But she seemed to be doing better until yesterday. Carolyn took her back to the vet and they took a blood sample. The vet called back with the results late in the afternoon.

Pookie’s liver and kidneys are starting to fail. She’s 28, which is very near the upper range of a sun conure’s lifespan. The vet told us that there are some other medications we can try. (Apparently these are formulated to taste better.) But she’s living on borrowed time. I’ll pick up the medications in the morning. We’ll take all of the time we can have with her.