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Story ID:3714
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:In Memory
Location:Gilboa New York USA
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Everybody who met him loved him. Everybody thought he was precious, and he was. When we obtained him, he was about three months old. He was big and beautiful. He had the sweetest temperament you could imagine. He loved people and he loved to be held and cuddled. We named him “Precious” because the name fit him.

We set up a cage for him in the middle of the kitchen and we attached a perch on the top of the cage. While we were around during the day, the cage door was left open. In the beginning we closed him inside the cage at night, just for safety sake. Eventually we knew it wasn’t necessary. Other cockatoos we had were not that trustworthy, always getting into mischief. Precious was different. He didn’t get into mischief the way our other parrots did.

Whenever I sat down at the kitchen table, Precious jumped or climbed to the floor. He walked over to me and gently climbed up my leg and nestled into my lap. The bird loved me. I returned his affections. The two of us came to love one another deeply.

We soon discovered that Precious was afraid of the dark. In that and other ways he was so much like a human child. I left a night light on in the kitchen for him and he settled right down. I made him a solemn promise that, for as long as I had any control over it, he was never going to have to be in the dark.

Precious jumped off the perch on top of his cage one day and landed quite hard. It actually broke some of his tail feathers but other than that he seemed to be all right. In a few days, he began to have diarrhea. We took him to a vet who took care of the birds in the shop where we obtained him. She examined him and told us he had a low-grade infection. She gave us a prescription for him. We took the prescription to a pharmacy. The pharmacist explained that it was very complicated, that it had to be mixed by hand and then be kept refrigerated. We had to wait until near closing the next day. After using the prescription liquid as directed and a refill after that, nothing was working.

We took him much further away to a vet that some friends recommended highly. When we went there, the staff at the animal hospital fell in love with Precious. The vet had to remind them they had work to do. When he examined Precious, he agreed there was a bacterial infection. He admitted that he did not know enough about birds to be sure of what he was doing, since the prescription from the other vet didn’t work. I gave him the name and phone number of a doctor who ran a bird hospital. This vet was in Fort Plain, N.Y. and the bird hospital was in Hopewell Junction, N.Y. near Fishkill. They were about three and a half hours from each other. The vet phoned the bird specialist and they discussed the case at length. He gave us an antibiotic to be injected. The injections had to be given every few hours in the breast. The vet showed me how to inject it, gave us a two-week supply, and sent us on our way.

The diarrhea seemed to slowly diminish but, though less frequent, it did not stop. The smell when it happened was terrible. With the injections, the smell began to diminish. When we ran out of the antibiotic, it came right back again. The bird hospital at Hopewell Junction was a two-hour drive, but no one else could figure it out. I took Precious to Hopewell Junction. The vet examined him and said there was something wrong that was causing the bacteria to survive. He gave me an appointment to come back in the morning in a couple of days. He wanted to do some tests that were going to take all day.

I came back with Precious at the designated time, turned him over to the vet, and sat down with my book. The vet gave Precious some barium. Then every half hour he took an x-ray, following the barium through the digestive track. At the very end, after eight hours of this, the pictures gave some clue as to what was happening. The cloacae was extended several times its normal size.

Further examination revealed spinal paralysis in the tail. There was no feeling in that region at all. The waste is dumped by the digestive track into the cloacae. When the cloacae has enough waste, a ring-shaped muscle inside the anus is supposed to sense it, contract, and expel the waste. Because there was no feeling in the anus muscles, there was no contraction and no emptying. The waste collected and bacteria worked in it, creating gas. The gas was swelling the cloacae and stretching it beyond normal size. When it could hold no more, or if the bird began to call loudly or flap his wings, it forced the waste to expel. The vet said the bird must have had a blow to the end of the tail to cause the paralysis. As soon as he said that, I knew it had to be the time he jumped and landed on his tail in the kitchen.

The vet gave me a tube of antibacterial ointment to use. We had to manually squeeze Precious several times a day to make him expel his waste, then insert the tube of ointment in his anus and squeeze some of the ointment inside to kill the bacteria. In a few days Precious was getting better. He even began to evacuate on his own without help. The paralysis was leaving him. All was well.

On the first day of May, Precious was feeling well. The sun was shining through the kitchen window. Precious ate well and all was well. About 8:00 A.M., Precious began to show signs of distress. He was obviously not feeling well. I picked him up in my arms and sat in a chair. I was holding him and talking to him when he closed his eyes and breathed his last breath. Precious was just eleven months old. I was heartbroken.

I could not understand what went wrong? Why did this happen? Precious was the sweetest, gentlest creature on the planet. He never did anything wrong to anyone. It wasn’t fair. Why Precious? There were no answers. I called the bird hospital and talked to the doctor. I wanted answers. I drove to Hopewell junction with him for a necropsy. The doctor was not able to come to any conclusions. He sent the remains to Texas A&M to a renowned bird specialist there. After two weeks the remains were returned from Texas with a report.

The report said that there had been a prolonged period of stress. The stress had caused the adrenal gland to enlarge to ten times normal size, and the adrenal gland finally exploded, resulting in his death. Sadly, I drove the two-hour drive home with his remains, listening to Jim Reeves cassettes all the way. I seemed to be in a stupor of some sort as I drove home. The grief was unbearable. I had lost my baby – my child it seemed.

Remembering my promise to Precious about his never having to be in the dark, I buried him under the magnolia tree in my yard. At night I hung a lighted kerosene lantern in the tree over his grave. I began collecting stones and other things to make the grave special. I added more lanterns to the tree. Suppose one of them burned out or blew out from the wind? Surely one was not enough.

Gradually the tree began to show signs that perhaps all those burning lanterns hanging in the tree were not good for it. I began placing more of the lights on the stone border around the grave. It soon came to my attention that there were some rumors going around town. Everyone was wondering about the lanterns and lamps at the tree every night, summer and winter. They knew my wife was Japanese and they assumed it was some sort of Japanese religion.

A few people stopped when they saw me in the yard and asked me about them. One woman stopped one day. She thanked me for the lights. She told me she worked a long way from home and it was night when she passed by on her way home. She said it always gave her much comfort when she passed those lights, as she knew then she was only another twenty minutes from home and it was a comfort to her. Little by little, as it was explained to more people, they all smiled and said they thought it was a nice, loving gesture. I fully expected people to say I was some kind of a nut, but they never did.

Eventually the lanterns and lamps were causing distress to the tree. I purchased some wire and a sodium vapor security light and mounted it thirty feet up on the trunk of a nearby sycamore tree. It lighted the entire area, and people were grateful as it lighted the intersection on the corner too. In January 1996 a flood came and the entire area was underwater, but the light remained on. The electricity was unaffected. The following year in the summer, FEMA destroyed the remains of the flood-damaged house and we had to find a new home.

When we moved, I dug up the remains of Precious and some other birds I had buried there later. I took them to the new home and created a pet cemetery where I re-buried them. I had a security light installed on the front of the garage and at the rear of the side of the garage facing the pet cemetery. The cemetery remains lighted at all times. I am still keeping my promise to Precious.


Photos are of precious on his cage in the kitchen, his burial place both in daylight and with the lanterns lighted.


Please visit my website at: www.fredsstoryroom.com.