A story of a second chance at love--and inspiration
If the smoke detector hadn’t gone faulty, Xander would not have died on Christmas Eve.
23 December 2015. A malfunction in my house’s alarm system had meant that every thirty minutes, for around ten minutes, an ear-splitting noise would spiral throughout the building. The alarm company, after trying to talk me through a fix over the phone, finally sent someone out. He cut the wires, advising me that the fault was irreparable and the unit would have to be replaced.
The four hours of aural hell had left me with a splitting headache. I let my green cheek conure out of her cage and started to get ready to cook my dinner. I popped into the next room to collect a magazine, and when I tried to shut the door, it caught on something.
It only took a moment for me to realise that the ‘something’ had been my bird’s head. Xander flew onto a kitchen cabinet, and made a noise of such distress that the air was sucked from my lungs. I could see that her head pained her. Only the next morning did I notice that the lower mandible of her beak had been shoved sideways. She couldn’t eat, and even drinking was difficult.
Finding a vet open on Christmas Eve was a challenge. The specialist avian practice was shut for the holidays. The general vet sent me home with a syringe and liquid hamster food (!). However, even when I managed to pin Xander down and squirt food into her beak, she coughed and gasped. The physical damage was just too great. So I arranged for a friend to drive me back to the vet. And I held my little bird while the vet gave my beloved bird the injection which would end her life.
Xander had been with me through so much. My divorce, a change in career, more house moves than any creature should have to face. She had given me a reason to smile on the darkest days. And now she was gone.
This should have been a good time for me. After many years of writing fantasy novels, I had finally come up with a new series which beta readers loved. Xander had been the inspiration behind Morey, the small gryphon who accompanies the main character, Penny White. When I published the book, ‘The Temptation of Dragons’, I dedicated the novel to her.
My life seemed empty. I was now living totally alone. There seemed no reason to return home from work. I knew that I had to share my life with a new companion, for my own sanity’s sake.
Since there are so many parrots looking for second chances, I started looking for a rescue bird. Through searching the web I found Tilly, a year old green cheek conure looking for a new home, and in March I collected her.
I was very nervous. I felt I had the experience to deal with whatever issues a rescue bird might have, but on the other hand, Xander had been so tame and trusting. And I’d had Xander from the age of three months old. Would this new bird and I be able to form a bond?
Things were a bit rocky to start with. I’d make assumptions which Tilly didn’t share! But I read up and employed clicker and target training, and taught her a number of tricks (including flighted recall). Our relationship grew from strength to strength.
There were some adjustments to be made. I’d gone from a mature bird to a youngster! I went to the Think Parrots show and spent a small fortune on toys--Tilly becomes bored far more easily than Xander ever did. I bought a bigger cage and transitioned her to a different type of pellet diet. Unlike Xander, Tilly doesn’t really care for dried chilli pods, but she would sell her grandmother’s egg for a Nutriberry.
My new companion also influenced my next novel. Tilly is much cheekier than Xander, and her antics fed into the character of Clyde, the small snail shark who lives with Penny.
A few days before Christmas, ‘Your memories on Facebook’ offered me a video I’d made of Xander. Watching her dance to my rendition of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ brought tears to my eyes. But then I lifted Tilly to the computer screen, and let her see the video. ‘That’s your sister,’ I told her. ‘And I love you both very much.’