So we have two parakeets.
Mind you, we don’t own the parakeets. We’re hosting them for yom tov. We have parakeets the same way we’re having my in-laws. They make noise, hog the newspaper, and I have to keep putting out food.
(Note: This article was written before Sukkos.)
The birds actually belong to my neighbors. We’re watching them because my neighbors are going to Eretz Yisrael for Sukkos to visit their son, who just had a new baby, so he’s totally up to putting up his parents for two weeks. And they have to leave their birds here, in the States, because it’s complicated to fly with birds. Ironically. Kids they let you bring directly onto the plane, and in-laws as well, but that’s where they draw the line.
It turns out that if you have birds, then whenever you go away for yom tov, you have to go around your whole neighborhood trying to find someone who’s willing to take responsibility for your birds and the Shabbos & Yom Tov questions that come with them, which this person has never actually had a reason to look up yet. Whereas if you own fish, you just leave, and then when you’re on the plane, you go, “Oh, no! I forgot about the fish!” and then you come home and you buy new fish. Though usually, they’re still alive. You can go for a while without food, as long as you have water. If you forget to put water in your fish bowl, you arguably shouldn’t have fish.
So I jumped on the opportunity, and not just because I have a column to write that doesn’t think of topics on its own. It’s also because my wife doesn’t really want to own pets, because she says we already have kids, and we’re not doing great with those. But we do occasionally have a pet for a short amount of time, just for the experience, until our kids get bored of it. We’ve had a gerbil for a weekend, a snake for a few months, some fish at various points, and random outdoor pests that we caught in a cage and which I had to then chauffeur to the park, including multiple skunks. Also, a few summers back, a neighborhood cat gave birth in our garage after our kids (who as I said we’re not doing great with) accidentally left the door open, and we were left with a litter of kittens that we managed to get rid of before the school year started, thank goodness.
So two weeks sounded like a nice amount of time to have birds. Particularly since my in-laws were coming for yom tov, and they have a bird at home, for which they had to find a bird-sitter. So we could make them feel right at home. And maybe get some tips, given as loving advice.
My neighbors did give us some instructions. Like for example, they said, “You can keep the cage on that corner table in your living room.” To which I said, “Yeah, that’s out pet table. That’s where our fish lived. And our snake.” To which they said, “Lived? Maybe we’re not so comfortable giving them to you.”
But I’m definitely a good person to choose for your pet-sitting needs, because if your animal dies in my care, I replace it. At one point, some other neighbors gave us two fish to watch for a week and I accidentally killed them (the fish), and I replaced them. And I didn’t even actually kill them. It’s not like I dropped an anvil on the fish tank. But I took responsibility. I waited until the day before they came back so I wouldn’t have time to accidentally kill any replacements, and then I went out and bought them fish that looked exactly like the original fish. And when my neighbors’ kids came back to get the fish, they looked in the bowl and said, “These are different fish!” And I said, “That didn’t last two seconds.” And I don’t know why I felt so bad – these were the same people who took one of our kittens to the Catskills for Shabbos and it froze to death. What did they expect? It’s called the Catskills! But they didn’t come back with a replacement cat. Though to be fair, we didn’t want a replacement cat. We were only taking care of the cats in the first place because we didn’t want to be responsible for their petirah. So they probably did us a favor.
Our neighbors did give us some Shabbos instructions about the birds, but they didn’t cover all these yomim tovim that would come up. For example, they brought the birds right before Yom Kippur, so they could go to the airport as soon as the fast was over, and we wanted to know, “Do pets have to fast on Yom Kippur?” Should we take the food out of the cage? I mean I know that your animal is supposed to rest on Shabbos, and it’s supposed to keep Pesach too. And get drunk on Purim, I’m assuming. But does it have to fast? I mean, it’s not bar mitzvah.
So my feeling was that we should just put the food in the cage, and if the birds eat it, that’s their aveirah. On Yom Kippur. See if they last the year. Though I hope they at least last the two weeks. But is that lifnei iver? I mean, animals don’t have a calendar. Though they do have a newspaper in their cage with the date on it. So really it’s on them.
Also, on a similar note, should the birds be eating in the sukkah with us? That sounds like a bad idea. What about sleeping in the Sukkah? Should we give them candy on Simchas Torah?
The thing was that if I had any questions, I couldn’t really ask them, because the entire time they were gone, it was basically always yom tov either for them or for us.
Though we did see them in shul on Yom Kippur. In fact, I was going to make a joke about how we’d remembered really late in the day on Erev Yom Kippur that we’d forgotten to do kaparos, and on an unrelated note, to they know where we can buy replacement birds? But when I told my wife, she said, “Really? On Yom Kippur?” And I said, “When else would I make a kaparos joke?”
There’s also a whole bedtime routine that they told us to do, which there isn’t when you’re taking care of, say, goldfish. According to our neighbors, every night we’re supposed to cover the cage with a towel so the birds know it’s nighttime, and as we’re doing so, we’re supposed to say, “Good night, Sheifeleh! Good night, Zeeskeit!” Because they understand the words “Good night,” and they also know their Yiddish names, as well as which one of them is Sheifeleh and which one is Zeeskeit. We’re also supposed to sing Shema and Hamalach Hagoel, although we were not told how much of Shema we’re supposed to say, so I’ve been going until Emes. (More for me than for them.) Plus Hamapil. But they say that birds need a nighttime routine so they know it’s coming. Because in the wild, there’s a song that plays before the sun goes down. This is totally normal. My mother-in-law, for example, sings a song called, “Good night, Carlie,” to her bird every night, except when I’m around, in which case I have to sing it.
“♫Good night, Charlie...♫”
“Charlie’s dead. This one’s Harry.”
Does the bird know its name? Is it now going to stay awake all night, wondering, “Who’s Charlie?”
The other hassle of birds, I would say, is that they make a lot of noise. Way more than fish. I would say that Sheifeleh and Zeeskeit probably spend like half their day bickering. And when the phone rings, they make extra noise. Which is annoying, because after the phone rings, I have to conduct a phone call, and it sounds like I’m at the zoo. (“I’m sorry, did I call you on your Chol Hamoed trip?”) They’re like little kids. Who, I should point out, also don’t know it’s time to go to sleep unless you cover them and sing a song.
But the funny thing is that as long as there’s a towel over the cage, they don’t make a peep. Or a chirp. In fact, there was one day that I forgot to take the towel off before I went to shul, and there was no noise until I came home. So now I’m considering putting the towel over them during phone calls, so I could have quiet. But then I would have to do the whole Shema-and-Hamapil thing every time the phone rings, while the phone is ringing, before I can pick up. And then I wouldn’t be allowed to talk.
I have two weeks to figure this out.