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This is Gizmo. He actually has probably 60 or more names that we call him, many of them are a touch derogatory and so I won’t use them here. Everyone who meets him thinks he’s an absolute sweetheart, and he can be, when he chooses to be.

Gizmo had a bit of an adventure today, but I have to go back in time a little over a year ago to end up where we did today.

Last October something happened. He was rather quieter than he usually is in the evening and so I went to pick him up and see if he was ok. He wasn’t. He didn’t really have control of his right leg, he couldn’t seem to let go of the cage and when he did, his leg sort of dangled and wasn’t responsive to my manipulation. His right wing was also dipped and not tucked up tight as it usually is.

I had a thought that perhaps he’d had a mini stroke, not quite sure if birds have those. I thought that perhaps his days were coming to an end and so we turned up his heater to make him comfortable and snuggled him lots. He seemed to get a bit of mobility back, but it wasn’t full and he wasn’t gripping as well as he normally did. Over the next few days he improved a bit. We gave him treats, put vitamins in his water, and just made him as comfortable as we could.

And he completely rebounded after a week or so.

So life went on. Thought it was very clear that he’d had some sort of a vascular event and that it likely meant that his geriatric decline was beginning to show.

Over the past year he has been as active and annoying as he ever has been, though he wakes up a little slower and goes into his cage to go to bed a little earlier. He doesn’t yell and scream quite so long, and he destroys things a little less frequently.

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The average lifespan for a Senegal parrot is 30-35 years.

Gizmo is 30.

He came to live with us 26 years ago, he was about four years old at the time and had been through a couple of homes. I decided he needed a forever home, though I can honestly say that I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Living with a parrot is…challenging, even a small one.

This past week he has been….off. He was a bit klutzy, stumbled a few times, and then I saw him on the back edge of the cage dipping his foot into space like he couldn’t quite figure out where to put it.

I became concerned again.

His corner can get a bit drafty, though we recently recaulked all the high windows. We pulled out a second heater and tucked it in the back between the window and the bottom of his monster cage to try to create a warmer pocket for him. And then we discussed what to do.

The thought of losing yet another pet, three in a six month period, was heartbreaking. Gizmo has never been to a vet, most vets would probably look at him and say “Pretty, what would you like me to do with him?” You see, exotic birds aren’t exactly a common sight at a vet clinic. Gizmo has spent a lot of time at the vet, but only because they would board him while we travelled. Since most people aren’t terribly comfortable with birds, he’s not really a creature that you can just leave with a friend, or expect someone to come look after. Parrots are like perpetual two-year olds. They have temper tantrums, they bite sometimes, and they don’t display body language that is universally understood by everyone, which is why people sometimes get bitten…and they have the bite of a small shark.

But Vancouver has something most other cities don’t. Vancouver has the Night Owl Bird Hospital and Dr. Anne McDonald, one of only about two dozen across the country, and the only one that I am aware of in British Columbia. Night Owl is the only veterinary clinic in Canada dedicated to birds.

On the heels of losing both cats, it’s a terrifying prospect to go to the vet with him and hear yet more bad news. But it is apparent that he is aging and we needed to see if there was anything we could do to support him and make the remainder of his life as high quality as possible. So off we went for Gizmo’s first official vet visit.

When we arrived there was a fair bit of “He’s beautiful” “His feathers are so lovely” “Is he REALLY 30 years old?!?!”

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Having never been to an avian vet before, and embarrassed that we were bringing a 30 year old bird in for his first visit, we were fascinated by the exam. I mean, how on earth do you examine a small bird with a big bite?

Using two people and a towel, that’s how. I was both fascinated and feeling a little bit sorry as Gizmo was picked up, and had his neck stretched out and his head immobilized, and was then wrapped in a towel and had his head held still while Dr Meyer checked his eyes for cataracts or any vascular anomalies. Then she dropped water into each nostril to check for proper drainage. She then used two small strips of what looked like shoelaces that were looped to hook his upper and lower beak and hold them open to peer into his throat. Finally, she felt his breastbone and probed for any masses.

His eyes were proclaimed clear, his nasal passages open, his throat and mouth in good shape, and no masses, though she said he was a bit on the thinner side. She then released him back onto his cage where he looked a little annoyed, but then wiggled his tail and started to fix his feathers, none the worse for wear. He seemed to have taken it all in stride with hardly a complaint.

She pointed t various structures and then said “There are his testes…” and I blurted out….”So he IS a boy!”

We’d always guessed, but had no evidence beyond certain behaviours. But after 26 years we finally knew for certain.

We had a discussion about what next. Dr. Meyer told us that she’d like to do an ultrasound and some radiographs. We sucked in our breath and thought about the costs to come. We’ve spent a lot of money on veterinary care for the cats in the past few years. Ultrasounds have cost us between $800 and $1500….and there had been a few. Xrays are less costly, but it still adds up. So we asked the costs, remembering that options would probably be limited depending on what was found. And we thought we heard wrong. About $100 for the ultrasound, and about the same for the radiographs. The checkup was $75, a few costs here and there for oxygen and such, but by our math it was going to be around $300, which, after Loki’s ongoing bills, seemed like chump change.

Do what you think is necessary we told her.

She asked us to come back in about four hours to pick him up, so we popped downstairs to West Coast Tropical Bird Studio to pick up a few new perches and toys for the little guy, and then went home to pass the time until then.

When we came back to get him we had a bit of a wait, but eventually we were ushered in. The problem with waiting is that the longer you wait, the more your imagination takes wing and you are sure that you are going to get the worst possible news.

She said there were no real surprises. She brought up the radiographs to show us and I stopped her, because as soon as I saw the image I just had to know…. “How, exactly, do you take a radiograph of a parrot with its wings splayed out like that?” She told use that they”… pull his wings away from his body (OK, I do this when I clip his wings, but I have him wrapped in a towel so he can’t attack me)…..and then his wings are taped down on the plate.”

We stared at her for a moment and then Kirk asked “And how did that go?”

“Quite well” she said. “He was quite tolerant.”

I can only imagine what an intolerant bird must be like!

We had to digest that for a few moments before having a conversation about the ultrasound. I’m sort of sorry that I didn’t get to witness Gizmo taped to a metal plate for an xray….and then again I’m glad I didn’t. How completely undignified!

So how did it go?

Well, for a 30 year old bird of a species that typically lives about 30 years, he’s actually in pretty good shape, all things considered. Unsurprisingly, he has degenerative heart disease and possibly a small focal issue in his liver. Other than those not completely unexpected findings, the radiographs showed that everything looked amazingly good for a bird his age, though he is now to go on to two medications, which will be its own interesting adventure.

When we were leaving a young man was bringing out the evening meals and water for several larger parrots being boarded up front and he saw Gizmo on the counter. He came over and was chatting away with Giz before he told us that he has a ten year old Senegal at home. He then asked “Is he really 30 years old?”

Yes, he is really 30 years old.

And maybe he’ll see a few more years.

He’s a tough little nut, but his time is definitely running out.

And as many terrible names as we have for him, it’s hard to imagine life without this gigantic personality wrapped in a 100g body.

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