For all the years I have been visiting Andy’s Pet Shop in the building with the colorfully painted jungle animal murals covering the façade, and now at the large location in downtown San José, I have enjoyed the company and friendship of one Ruby. Always quick to greet me and everyone who walked through the glass doors, this gorgeous scarlet macaw welcomed all with an upbeat, “Hello Ruby!”
Kids loved her. Customers loved her. Visitors loved her. I loved her, and so did my dog Snowy, except perhaps when she bit him through the cage after she had kissed him with a lick. The staff loved her, although they wouldn’t be very happy with her when she went for the proverbial jugular, and immediately followed up the attempt of a bite with a cackle that had to make you smile.
It took months before I won Ruby’s confidence, but eventually I was able to stroke her soft feathers on the side of her head, and Ruby would close her eyes in relaxation and trust. And I would extend my index finger into the cage and Ruby would hold onto it with her talon and even stand on my finger perch. I couldn’t get too complacent, though; inevitably Ruby would make a move for my finger with her beak, and usually I pulled my hand away just in time, and my clever buddy would cackle. How she loved that game.
The first time I held her, she got me but good. I can’t remember if she drew blood, but I learned through conversation with the young and very talented staff that when a macaw bites, instead of tearing your finger away, you push it in, toward the beak. It’s a counter-intuitive movement, but it works. And then Ruby would cackle and I would laugh and she would laugh some more.
“What’s your name?” “What’s your name, Ruby?” I asked her.
“Ruby!” “Hello Ruby!” “Ruby!” “I love you!” “Step up!”
Upon hearing Ruby say “Step up!” a few times, I’d open the door to her cage with the permission of the staff (after insuring the store’s front door was closed and the coast was clear) and insert my arm and hand into the cage. Sometimes Ruby would “step up” on my hand immediately and I’d secure her talons by covering them with my thumb, and withdraw her from the cage. Other times, she would lunge for my finger or hand, testing me, cleverly knowing I showed some fear of her bites. And then she would cackle. This might go on for minutes; Ruby was clearly in charge. Eventually, however, she would perch on my finger and out she’d come. She lunged significantly less when I held her.
Sometimes I would sit in a chair and hold her close to me. One time Ruby was sitting on my lap and Snowy was stretched out on the floor next to my chair. Without warning, Ruby hopped off my lap, spread her wings and sailed to the floor. The staff kept her wings clipped, but she was able to glide. Ruby landed in the aisle a few feet in front of me, and my dog ran to her side and quietly stood next to her, protecting her. I walked to them both, knelt down, extended my hand on the floor and Ruby stepped up. Snowy never barked, and Ruby didn’t lunge. I was nervous, but the animals handled the adventure expertly.
Other times I would hold Ruby for visiting preschool classes and the store’s owner described the behaviors of macaws to the students. My buddy, swinging upside down on my finger, really knew how to work a crowd. I always sang to Ruby. One time while holding her outside, Ruby joined in and sang “La-La-La-La” in different tones. A staff member and I would sing little lines of melody, like a cheer you would hear at a ballgame when the organist plays and at the end of each musical line the crowd chants “Hey!,” except Ruby exclaimed “Woo!” What fun. When she wanted a treat, Ruby would say, “I love you.” The customers always drew near to her when they heard her speak.
People in cars and buses waved to us as they passed by while Ruby was perched on my finger in front of the store. When the light turned red at the corner, people in stopped cars frequently lowered their windows to talk to Ruby, or pointed to her so that their kids would see the colorful macaw. When airplanes flew over the store on approach to the nearby airport, she would exclaim, “Hello Ruby!” I’m certain she considered planes kin. Ruby exercised regularly by flapping her wings while I or others held her throughout the day. “Big Eagle! Big Eagle!” we would all chant, and I walked quickly up and down the aisles with my arm held high over my head, and beautiful Ruby, perched on my finger, my thumb covering her talons, would flap her powerful wings over and over, generating a strong breeze.
We played games together, like “cage tag.” With Ruby perched in her cage, I would touch her beak with my finger and then count to three. At “three,” I ran to the other side of the cage and Ruby quickly made her way across the cage to me, latching on to her toys and the cage bars. I cheered, and then counted to three again, touched her beak and sprang around to where we started. Back and forth we went. Kids in the store played with me, and we always cheered for Ruby each time she met us. When the game was over, Ruby would either stay in place at “three,” or say “Goodbye.” She might say “Goodbye” to people leaving the store, and she always said it every evening when the staff covered her cage with a cloth for the night. She would poke under the sheet and say, “Goodbye!” “Goodbye!”
Ruby passed away last week. She had been ill for some time and under the care of the staff and her veterinarian. She fell from her perch, and possibly broke a toe, and the staff will learn if she suffered a heart attack. The store manager explained that she had performed mouth to beak resuscitation and massaged Ruby’s heart, but sadly, it was not to be. Earlier that afternoon, the manager told me that Ruby had asked to “Step Up,” and thoroughly enjoyed being showered with the mister bottle outside in the warm afternoon sun. Ruby sure loved her baths, and would squeal in delight and shake her colorful feathers in the sunshine. She had also called to the aircraft flying overhead. “Hello Ruby!” “Hello Ruby!”
I learned all this when the store’s manager called me to tell me the sad news. I was overcome with emotion, that Ruby had passed, and that the manager wanted me to know the news firsthand. She didn’t want me to read about Ruby’s passing or find out in conversation. I was so grateful and touched. I drove to the store, and was asked if I would like to see my dear friend. As I sat in the back room, holding my dear Ruby, tears fell onto the blanket which enshrouded her. I had to smile, though; Ruby looked beautiful and peaceful, but she had hated blankets. I sang my usual song, “Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you…” to her softly, and stroked her soft feathers, and said a final goodbye to her, as she would have said to me.
April 8, 2014
A few words about Andy’s Pet Shop:
Ruby lived a wonderful life as the “house” bird at Andy’s; customers also love visiting another house bird, a beautiful toucan named “Mango.”
Andy’s Pet Shop is unique; it is the world’s first pet shop offering 100% rescued pets. Hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, rats, doves, pigeons, turtles, snakes, lizards and fish are regularly available. You can adopt cats and dogs and parrots, too, and there may be some in the shop, but as these are happier living in foster homes, they are brought in for adoption fairs. Andy’s mission is as follows: Every pet deserves a good life. We make that happen by adopting out homeless pets, selling quality products, and educating human caretakers. We want to be successful with pet adoptions, so that other pet shops will follow our lead and convert to 100% rescued pets. It’s a special place.
Andy’s is located in downtown San Jose, near the De Anza Hotel, and the entrance to Highway 87. Their address is: 51 Notre Dame Avenue, San Jose, CA 95113. (408-297-0840) Andy’s is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. They have a large parking lot. You can pop by, or go to http://www.andyspetshop.com/.
I woke up wanting to write again. It has been a long time, and I dearly missed my old friend, that part of me that on earlier occasions had multiple pieces all whirling around my head at the same time, taking shape with each spin. As themes and descriptions and story lines brightened with each mind lap, the hardest part was choosing what not to write. Some pieces would just have to swirl a little longer.
It didn’t happen overnight. It took a matter of weeks and the ideas slowed and I felt tired. I jotted several things down, but didn’t publish. Then I just stopped writing. I even stopped looking at my blog’s Stats page where I follow how many readers look at my site, and from which country they hail. I didn’t have interest in knowing which themes my readers preferred. Yes, I still had a few ideas swirling, but they weren’t taking form.
This lapse, something like a little death, came after a dear friend of mine passed. She had been ill for years, but referred to her illness as “an inconvenience” and stated numerous times, “I don’t do ‘sick’ well.” We saw a lot of each other, including spending a good deal of time in the car driving to and from the hospital. We hung out in clinic rooms together when she received treatments. We laughed a lot, and once in a while grew testy at each other, as good friends sometimes do. We shared stories of our families, our kids, and her grandbabies. How she adored her grandchildren. After settling into a treatment room, and after a tech had taken vitals and a nurse had visited, my friend would pull out her iPad and we’d watch a new entertaining video of her grandkids. Boy did this make her smile!
At treatments, she and I caught up on TV shows about fashion, and usually we provided our own commentary, verbally ripping apart the garments on the runway and laughing a lot. One time we elected to stay in the clinic an extra ten minutes, after a grueling seven hour treatment day, just so we could see exactly which “whadding dress” (we used to emulate Martin Short’s character, Franck Eggelhoffer, in “Father of the Bride”) the bride-to-be finally chose. We talked about new recipes we cooked up or wanted to try. She brought me up to speed on who is working where and who just moved and who is doing what; it is no surprise that she had more, true, good friends than anyone I have ever known.
We enjoyed the tastiest chocolate chip cookies the hospital bistro served, and in true form, my dainty petite friend savored hers I while I wolfed down mine. We listened to Bill Cosby CDs in the car, and “Noah” and “Ice Cream” and “The Buck Buck Championship of the World” really had us roaring. The nurses and staff looked forward to her appointments and her smile and banter and quick wit. I knew she was well liked; the nurses even hugged me for bringing her.
Recently she had expressed sadness that she couldn’t see some long-time high school friends who were getting together; she had to receive a transfusion that day. She was annoyed. Yet she still acknowledged that while plans for that day weren’t going to gel, she did appreciate that we had become closer friends as a result of all our time in the car and treatment rooms. That was a gift.
And now she has passed and so I grieve. Some days are better than others. That’s normal. Death is a part of life, and what a life! Even on my toughest days I can still smile when I picture my friend laughing, or playing with her grandkids. Her petite frame and giant spirit celebrated life to the fullest. It has been several weeks now since she has passed, and of course, life goes on, although I admit I haven’t felt like participating fully.
But today I woke up wanting to write again. And in so doing, I welcome back a piece of myself that I have sorely missed and truly hoped I would find again soon. In finding this spark, this impulse that I had lost, with the beginnings of a few potential topics starting to swirl in my mind, I hope to bring to my writing the energy, creativity and zest for life my friend brought to her life. I hope to connect with my readers in the way she connected with those in her large circle of family and friends who held her dear. I dedicate this piece to her memory, her spirit, and am grateful for this renewal and connection with my readers again.
February 15, 2014