April 5, 2010
The elder of our two female canaries, Princess, passed away in her sleep last night. It was not unexpected, as she has been ailing since last Friday, and became progressively worse during the day yesterday. Three days from now would have marked the ninth anniversary of Princess being in our household. In canary terms, that is a long life span, and is two years longer than George was with us. He died in January 2008.
We bought Princess in April 2001, a few weeks after our first canary, Goldie, died. Princess was plagued by bad luck from the very start, unfortunately, as her leg was injured after getting stuck inside a faulty box on the way home from the pet shop in Arlington. The veterinarian's attempt to help her leg heal by putting on a tiny splint only made things worse. Even though she was lame from then on, Princess was a very active, energetic, and "flirtatious" female canary. She had strong reproductive instincts, and started building a nest not long after moving in with us.
Princess made an excellent companion for George, and the couple's "romantic encounters" were quite a delight for us. On the occasion of Valentine's Day in Feb. 2005 I posted a video (pre-YouTube) of the two of them for the first time. Every few months or so, Princess would lay a clutch of three or sometimes even four eggs, as was the case in March. 2005. Because of her bad right leg, however, she was prone to occasional injury, as happened that summer. By Sept. 2005, she had recovered well enough to fly around again, and was soon back to flirting with the Goldfinches outside. She continued doing the darndest things, such as pulling threads from the corner of our sofa to get material for her nest (Oct. 2005) or taking a bath in small plastic cup (Feb. 2006). For some unknown reason, as she got older, she started singing, which is very unusual for a female canary; click here to listen. We never figured out what emotion or desire she was trying to express by such singing. What amazed us most over the years was her prodigious output of eggs: over 150 altogether from May 2001 until the final clutch at the end of Nov. 2006.
Her physical difficulties only grew worse over time, sadly. In June 2007 she suffered another minor injury, and lost one of her toes (on the lame right foot) in the process. The tragedy was compounded after George died in January 2008, as the new male canary, Luciano, was overly aggressive in his "courting" of Princess. Some time in the spring of 2008, her right wing was injured, presumably when Luciano was chasing her, and from that point on her ablility to fly rapidly diminished. By June 2008 her left leg was no longer strong enough to support herself, and she had to flap her wings just to move around short distances. It was a pitiful sight. By July 2008, she relied on "assisted living" just to take care of the basic necessities of feeding and cleaning herself. (That link has an audio clip of Princess "singing," which is unusual for a female bird.) As late as Jan. 2009 she was still in good shape in terms of outward appearance, but the months of sitting in the nest basket with accumulated droppings eventually took their toll, as she lost most of her tail feathers. We put a lot of effort into keeping her as clean as possible, and eventually Jacqueline made "diapers" (small squares of cotton cloth cut from old T-shirts, etc.), which we would wash almost every day. Another accident happened while I was out of town in Aug. 2009, and Princess left foot (the good one) somehow became infected. We ended up taking her to veterinarian, who amputated the infected foot and lower portion of the leg in last September. The stump gradually healed just as the vet said it would, but from that point on, Princess lost almost all mobility, and she became totally dependent on us.
Now, for a normal, non-pet-owning person, the extreme measures we took to keep Princess alive, clean, and reasonably healthy might seem quite irrational. Perhaps. We consider ourselves lucky that Princess got to spend an extra seven months with us after the emergency surgery, and I'm pretty sure it was worth it. We knew she was getting old, so we tried to give her the "royal" treatment whenever we could. We knew it would be her last Christmas with us, and for the first time she got to experience snow, which I brought inside every time we had a significant snowfall. (Many times!) Princess can be seen in the last portion of a YouTube video along with Luciano and Lucy, posted this past January 1. In recent weeks, as spring finally came, we took her outside for short walks several times, and you could tell from her animated reaction to the wild birds flying around that she was really enjoying herself. When we drove up to Northern Virginia two weekends ago, we took her with us, knowing that she needed constant care and attention.
Late last week, Princess became increasingly lethargic, and after a brief improvement late on Friday, she took a turn for the worse again, and we could tell she was in mortal agony. It's hard to say what the problem was, but she seemed to be trying to expel an egg -- even though it had been over three years since the last time she laid any. Strange. At least she managed to survive until after Easter Day had passed. Just like Goldie and George before her, Princess was a real blessing, making our lives happier. She was very special, quite "spunky" and tolerant of being touched by us. We will miss her very much -- especially Jacqueline.