Humor Non-Fiction posted August 9, 2016

This work has reached the exceptional level
A baby bird who refused to fly his cardboard condo...

Pete the Pigeon

by Mary Wakeford

I was born with a syndrome carrying the acronym SFAFIN. It is genetically coded, and carried by one parent. In my case, it was not my mother. SFAFIN is short for Sucker For Anything FurFeather In Need.

The disorder accelerates and spins out of control when a life partner carrying the same genetic DNA, or flaw, depending on perspective, is chosen. A worst case scenario occurs when a partner does not share or let alone understand the genetic call of the wild, tame, lost, damaged or otherwise. This would be the case of my parents' marriage. It peaked one weekend in the 60's when dad took the family on a camping trip to Clover Springs, Arizona.

Mom was already not excited about sleeping in a tent and cooking over a campfire for a family of six. It wasn't that she was a Hilton kind of gal, but her idea of 'roughing it' was a Motel 6. Imagine her angst when a lost and hungry 80 pound wolfhound happened upon our campsite, sporting bloodied paws and a disposition as sweet as carrot cake.

When it came time to fold camp and head back to Phoenix a few days later, Mom drew a red line in the sand. "It's me or the dog". The idea of a 80 pound flea carrier hogging the A/C was not her idea of room service. Dad, ever the diplomat, put it to a democratic vote...Mom or the wolf hound. It was a unanimous decision.

Dad never spilled the voting booth beans, but I'm pretty sure judging from the look on his face, and then hers; not a single vote was garnered by Wolfie's opponent. Unanimous win by dog. It was a quiet ride home. All to be heard from the backseat was heavy panting. It didn't belong to my mom or dad.

In my marriage, I am caught somewhere between my parents situation. My husband experiences flare-up's of SFAFIN, likely caused by a passive recessive marker malformation. His is definitely not a full-fledgling case of SFAFIN, thus my rescues often get me in a pigeon hole with my mister. I would classify his degree of the syndrome as bipolar; hit or miss to my 'all in' diagnosis.

SFAFIN peaked during childhood when baby chicks thrown from nests were gathered and grew up bird atop my French Provential bedroom set. My closet shelf made for a great launching pad. It accelerated quickly over the years to large mass dogs, as in mastiff. A few years ago and much to my mister's chagrin, I adopted an aging 110 pound mastiff who was dumped by her family at age ten, at the local pound. The Princess collection nearly got me in front of Judge Judy's split up court when the dog named for royalty attempted to eat our golden doodle, twice no less. My husband gets on his knees every night and gives thanks we don't live in bear country.

The 'dis-order (because I get dissed every time I show up with a new save) appears with a rash, visible from sixty feet and as far as two states away. The rash appears in a letter formation across my forehead and reads SUCKER! It is visible to animals of any stripe, sex, sexual preference, and without regard for political or religious affiliation. The rash is also evident to friends who happen upon creatures in need and call me for an intervention. Often times they come via text messages, inclusive of photographs.

I have no boundaries; baby hummingbirds to wild roadrunners; kittens, dogs, wild cottontails or domestic bunnies on the run; once a gangrene legged tortoise who survived a coyote gnawing off one of his legs; a disoriented red hawk, more cats, more dogs... You get the idea. Some people hoard newspaper clippings, coupons and boxes of unusable crap. I hoard broken hearts and fractured bones. Puffs of fur float throughout our home like dandelions caught in a tornado. Asthma sufferers avoid us like politicians avoid the truth.

My disorder was heightened no doubt by an incident that took an ugly turn, and left me religiously scarred with a fear of nurses. It likely forever singed fervent efforts in saving animals to the next level of "I can't help it, I'm sorry, honey!!" I was once told it is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. One could say I have embraced that slogan when it pertains to animals.

The 'ugly' incident occurred one Sunday in my twelfth year on the planet. My bestie, Kayla, and I were riding bikes to church, feeling like big shots with our new found independence. As we sped toward Scripture, our bike wheels met a black cat in distress at the side of the road, having been hit by a car. It was struggling to survive as we struggled to commit the venial sin of missing mass in order to help it. We decided St. Francis of Assisi would put in a good word for us at the Pearly Gates when our times dictated, and went with the cat save. We placed the half dead cat in my bike basket and peddled furiously back to my neighborhood with a plan in place.

We arrived at the home of a neighbor who was a nurse, and as far as I knew, a very nice woman. I had the unrealistic hope of a result like the witch in the Thomasina movie fresh in my twelve year old memory bank. I loved that movie and that magical witch who brought Thomasina, the orange cat, back to life. Cat lives matter too, and Kayla and I sensed urgency in the black cat's labored breathing.

We rang the doorbell hoping to avoid being seen by my parental's or squealing siblings, since we were supposed to be praying for salvation, not finding it for an injured feline.

'Mrs. Lovely' opened the door, and once we explained our dilemma asking for an assist given her medical expertise, we were invited in. She took the bleeding cat from my arms and led us into her darkened garage, where she proceeded to lay it down on the cement floor. Then nurse Ratchet killed it right in front of us with a cinder block to the head as my friend and I stood in shock, awe, and fooooooking disbelief. We screamed and ran for our bikes. The screen door slammed and Catholic guilt set in. God had surely punished us (and the cat) for not going to church. A simple "I'm not a miracle worker", or "I can't help you, why aren't you in church?" would have worked, but the cinder block guillotine came without warning, and surely sent my SFAFIN syndrome through the roof of that poor cat's, once head. I imagined St. Francis sobbing on a cloud somewhere in Heaven. If 'Mrs. Lovely' was passive aggressively letting me know she was not a fellow SFAFIN sufferer, her gesture was effective.

Now on to Pete the Pigeon. Pete came to me by way of my 'mister' during one of his bipolar SFAFIN flare-ups. Pete was a baby pidgie who as my husband describes it, literally fell into his open hands as he passed under a large tree near the office; an area rampant with hungry feral cats. I questioned the "my open hands" part of his story--who walks under trees with open palms? It was the disease talking, of that I'm certain, based on my own experience of stretching the truth when it comes to bringing strays home.

Regardless, he didn't want the little pidge to star in a live hunt episode of Real Cat TV. Soon after Pete's miraculous landing, I received the call..."What should I do with it?". I greeted Pete two hours later when he arrived in a brown paper bag. He was immediately upgraded to a large moving box, and secured with a wired shelf from an old refrigerator to keep him contained and safe in a household with three rescue cats, two large dogs, and one 110 pound mastiff.

Pete was living large in our garage and a little puffed up with all the attention. He took to me like BB guns take to flying rats, and moths to light. I was his mamabird. Every time I hit the garage to check on him or run an errand, Pete would begin coo-coo-cooing at the sound of my "Hi Pete's", followed by happy dancing in his cardboard condominium. My husband was a little 'ruffled' he didn't get the same greeting from Pete, or me. "The ungrateful little shat", he would say.

The cats and dogs were a little 'flocked in the feathers', too. I was seemingly keeping something of interest from them as they heard my "Hi Pete's" echo from the other side of the door. Pete was the new kid on the block, and they were all feeling like red-headed stepchildren.

Release day came two months later. Pete needed to be free to live his life as the pidgie he was destined to be. We loaded our boy in the back of the car and drove him to a water retention area not far from home. Lots of room for him to safely master lift-off's and touch-down's, away from traffic and high velocity BB's aimed in the direction of his down flaps.

Following several failed attempts of Pete riding my finger up and down, Pete sensed something was amiss and was not having it. His wee talons wrapped around my finger in a death grip. He had mad skills falling into my husband's open palms, and survival games were overrated as far as Pete was concerned. A no frills condo inclusive of an open feeding schedule beat a tree nest and the occasional worm, hands up, any day.

We had a failure to launch on our hands. Pete was hanging on my middle finger like gorilla glue on a fractured keepsake. When Pete decided to land on my head during the various finger flick attempts, things got really weird. I looked as though I was dressed for the Kentucky Derby, or a royal wedding at Westminster Abbey, but definitely over-accessorized while flapping in the middle of a water retention field. Pete was experiencing separation anxiety, bird style. It was about this time my husband muttered, "It looks like I'm building a pigeon coop in the backyard." 'Birdie' Sanders has nothing on m'wa.

Anyone witnessing me trying to teach Pete to fly by example, or patterning, might have the impression I was high on crack, or Dutch Bros Coffee--one in the same. Dressed in office attire while running and flapping across the acreage looked a little weird by anyone's standards. Mine included. Rather than lift off, Pete rode me like John Wayne rode horses. Wings flapping as he rode my hunched over back into the sunset. The only lift Pete was up for was the ride back home inside his cardboard condo.

A week later, a second attempt was launched. This time, flight school took place in our back yard. I felt Pete needed the confidence builder of having his garage nearby.

As three cats, two dogs and a mastiff watched from the windows, I set out again with my jaunts across the yard. Pete was flapping but this time engaged and focused. It was still rough. I nearly matched Pete's grey/blue coloring from all the physical activity before he finally made it to the roof thirty minutes later. He had found his confidence and soared in circles above us.

We were exhilarated. Bird save #398 accomplished. Just about the time we finished cheering, a very large hawk appeared out of nowhere. I couldn't tell if it was honing in on Pete's signs of exhaustion in uncoordinated flapping, or mine. I've heard pigeons taste a lot like chicken. I was guessing the hawk heard that too.

As it began a circling pattern directly above Pete and our backyard. I couldn't bear to witness what was about to happen. I screamed, "NO, NOT PETE!!!, then, "I can't witness this" as I ran for the house.

I don't consider myself a bird whisperer, but the hawk immediately withdrew as Pete made his final approach and landed rooftop with a thud, according to my husband who was updating me from the grassy green tarmac just outside my air traffic control perch. I sensed even the cats were nervous for Pete.

We made a few welfare checks throughout the early evening to witness Pete growing in confidence with repeated touch-down's and take-off's, before he eventually ventured off into the bright blue yonder to live his pigeon life. Empty nest syndrome had sunk in. Pete was off to avian college.

Two days later, my teenaged daughter called me at my office..."Mom, guess who's back?" I had no idea, thinking it was someone at school or in her circle of friends. "Mom, Pete is back and he's hanging out on the back patio with the dogs!!"


Pete hung around for another week and then stopped visiting, altogether. Whenever I'm in the midst of a lone pigeon, I can be heard saying "Pete, is that you?" I usually get a bobbleheaded response, a few coo's, and at least one "Are you foooooooking nuts?" look from my husband.


I hope my video's of Pete's flight school convey, because they are classic!

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