Coping With the Loss of Your Pet

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Moab, Utah Pictured: Swainson Toucan "Fiji"

Sometimes I feel like I'm not cut out for owning birds, toucans or parrots... it's like a catch 22 because they can bring so much joy into your life, but losing them is so hard and to bear it over and over again with multiple pets makes me feel like I'm not strong enough to go through it more than once.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Saipan, Northen Mariana Islands Shown: Swainson Toucan "Fiji", Blue and gold macaws "Jersey" & "Chayko"

We lost our 6 year old Swainson Toucan, Fiji, on October 12th while performing in Springfield, MA. It was a complete shock, as just a month prior we'd had tests done and blood work drawn just to make sure everything was looking good. In fact, all our birds were given physical exams by qualified avian vets and every single flock member checked out in perfect health.

Including Fiji.

Photo by Dave Location: Dawn Princess Cruise Lines My pal: Swainson Toucan "Fiji" 

But that afternoon after facing her travel cage against the wall of the building (inside, of course, while the aviaries were being set up) so no one would be tempted to bother her while we went out to lunch with some fellow animal trainer friends, we came back to a devastating scene.

When we came back from our 2 hour long lunch, we flew our small birds in the arena, then we flew all our large birds (macaws) and then we went to Fiji. We found her... body still warm, eyes still glossy, it must have happened within 20 minutes. Dave found her and told me not to look, but I rushed over and because it was so recent, she still looked alive to me. I thought maybe she was still fighting to breathe and I threw open her travel cage door and touched her. Dave was right; she was gone.

I've never seen a grown man cry that hard before. 6 years of performing side by side with her, over 2,000 shows, tons of countries visited with this beloved friend and so many funny stories. It wasn't real. 

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Saipan, MP Playing with a ball: Swainson Toucan "Fiji" 

We both cried all day yesterday, and first thing this morning. The only thing that gets me through is forgetting for a few hours each day by busying myself with something - anything.

Her body was sent out this morning for necropsy. We should hear in seven days or less on what the cause was. Of course, blame and guilt overcomes us as we think of the possibilities. The imagination of one's mind makes them endless.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Saipan, MP Playing with a ball: Swainson Toucan "Fiji" 

I had to grieve. It's so necessary to grieve first.

I can't help but replay everything in my head over and over until the tears come, until it hurts too much to cry anymore. Until my body is too exhausted to have the energy to cry anymore.

Now I've been going through my photostream looking for pictures to use for this blog post, and I am reminded how few I ever uploaded of her. And wishing I would have taken more, even if I'd taken more, I would still wish I'd taken more.

The photo above was around Christmas in Saipan... I strung wooden Christmas lights outside her cage and thought I was so clever. They're cute really, but Fiji didn't seem to notice them. 

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Saipan, MP Playing with a ball: Swainson Toucan "Fiji" 

It helps to talk about the good memories with her. But it still doesn't feel real. And I know there's going to be a lot of moments in the future that make it more and more real, and they're going to hurt real bad.

Her favorite things were playing with balls, and shoes, and she hated the stuffed animal toucans we had made to look like her. She liked water bottles, because we traveled so much I taught her to drink from them. I used to carry her in what looked like a gym bag through buffet lines and drop fruit inside for her. She'd growl and purr and I'd get the weirdest looks from people around me.

Photo by Dave Location: Dawn Princess Cruise Lines Sleeping in the port hole: Swainson Toucan "Fiji" 

On cruise ships she would live in the shower on a shower perch, bathe every day which she loved, and we could rinse it all down. She'd even jump to the sink sometimes to give herself a drink (but she never knew how to turn the faucet back off) and at night sometimes we'd let her sleep in the port hole where she had her own privacy curtain. It was one of the cutest sights you'd ever seen.

Photo by Dave Location: Orlando, FL With me: Swainson Toucan "Fiji" 

So I guess I should tell you how to cope with your own loss, and say how I'm doing it now. But I'm not really coping. I'm directing my attention to other avenues. I'm paranoid and checking on the rest of my birds every hour, I'm thinking constantly about what I can be doing better and I'm anxiously awaiting to hear what I did wrong. 

How do you cope? With time. If only we could move time forward, or back and try to make the outcome different. But both are impossible. So surround yourself with what makes you happy, and realize they brought more joy than pain. This pain will pass, but the joy they brought will stay in your heart and memory... forever.

Thank you for everything, Fiji.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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