Lions tigers and bears

 As I stared out over the Plains of the Serengeti, otherwise known as my front lawn, I reflected on the number of pets my family and I have adopted over the years.  There were about six stray cats lounging in the grass staring back at me, some more cautious than others, but all aware of the fact that their meal ticket was standing before them with that signature halo of frizz around her head.  Add to them the three house cats we’d given refuge and I was like Brigitte Bardot on not quite such a grand scale…in every sense.

It is implied that multiple cats in a home are just what a single gal needs to make a man run a country mile…away from her.  Yup, I definitely think it’s the moggies (and the moggies alone) that sends them bolting like a skittering herd of buffalo.  The scoop went into the car-sized bag of Meow Mix and all ears on the lawn visibly perked up, each one of them slightly clipped to denote a spayed or neutered animal.  They ran across to the porch ready to pounce on the bowls.  “Pretty kitty,” I cooed, which got me a hiss in reply.  My charms apparently have the same effect on man and beast.

For as long as I can remember we have always had pets in our lives.  Dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, turtles…  My parents were great about surrounding us with wildlife, so we got used to the meows, barks and chirping symphony that greeted us each day.  As children we tried to respond in kind, bringing home strays and presenting our cases like seasoned lawyers.  One Christmas we pooled our meager funds and bought Dad a Cayman parrot.  Back in those days you could buy this national symbol for around $25 from a local store.  Trying to keep the gift a surprise overnight was a tall order – we had to take it in shifts, keeping the bird amused and therefore quiet.  The next morning Dad reacted as we had hoped, and “Protty” joined the fold.

Films, documentaries and personal interaction with friends’ parrots, macaws and cockatoos assured us that our new addition was capable of speech, and Mum wasted no time beginning in earnest with the elocution lessons.  The cage hung outside my bedroom window, and every morning as I tried to get those last five minutes of precious sleep before the inevitable “Come on!  Time for school!” I could hear my mother and her Henry Higgins routine like an alarm clock run amok.  “Good morning!  Good morning!  Good morning!  Good morning!  Good morning!” until the silence she got in reply became boring and she turned her attention to dragging four children out of bed.  We all took up the chant through the weeks, but the parrot never faltered, like a prisoner on a hunger strike.  I kept waiting for the day it would have enough, when it would round upon us and scream “GOOD MORNING!!!!!  OKAY????!!!!!” but it never happened.  Maybe it was intelligent enough to realize that if it let the cat out of the bag, “Good morning” would turn into “Good afternoon” followed by the complete works of Shakespeare.  The whole parrot-on-the-shoulder look never came to fruition either.  The couple of times one of us gingerly tried to get him out of the cage, he employed his beak and claws like a Velociraptor.  Heavy garden gloves prevented skin being pierced, but the pressure alone made us all think twice about letting Protty anywhere near ears, eyes and other soft parts of the body.  In the end it was decided by all to free the parrot into the wild.  The cage was opened with ceremony, and the bird took flight.  Somewhere out there is a Cayman Parrot reciting King Lear to a bewildered flock.

When I was off in university trying to make something of myself, the family adopted a baby chick which used to follow them on walks and sit on shoulders intently watching TV.  The cats paid it no mind, and it was eventually passed on to someone else who raised chickens.  I was disappointed that it was given away before I came back for vacation, but then Dad was probably worried about turning into Old MacDonald.  Then there was the ginger kitten we found and brought home.  He would stand up on his hind legs in front of our Doberman Pinscher and wildly wave his front paws about without an ounce of fear.  Kahla would just sit there looking up at this fluffy ball of orange and dismiss him as no threat.  The fierce dance would continue until he tired of the Mexican standoff, and found something else to distract him.

Pets can be wonderful companions, and they all have unique personalities.  When my best friend Lynne and I had to move from our rented condo on Lizard Run Drive after Hurricane Ivan, we went to Palm Heights Drive in Snug Harbour and of course our cats came with us.  Our white cat Bowie (so named after the legendary performer due to his one blue eye and one green eye) had always been an outdoor cat, but we wanted him to stay indoors for a while to get used to the new neighbourhood.  After a week or so he was pawing at the windows and sitting by the door until we gave in and let him out.  All was fine for a month and then he suddenly disappeared.  I was beside myself, and instantly put an ad in the Compass.  The very morning it came out we got a call – someone had found our cat at Seascape, right next door to our old lodgings.  We brought him back home, but again he went missing a couple of months later.  This time I wasn’t as panicked.  Sure enough, he had made his way back to Lacovia, Seascape and Lizard Run Drive.  This was his territory and he wasn’t leaving it.

That was five years ago.  He still lives over there and we have visiting rights.  We couldn’t risk him being hit by a car, so this is the compromise.  He walks his beat, visits homes, sits on cars and surveys his kingdom.

I guess in the end we think these are our pets, but really we’re theirs.  We cater to their needs, feed them, open the door for them and generally do backflips when they give us affection.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Ee-i-ee-i-o.

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