Author: Helena Bristow
From: Mission Hills
Blogging since: 2002
Post Date: November 29, 2007
Post Title: Behavior Therapy for Creatures
My pets are neurotic freaks of nature. My bird, Byron, is a bulimic pervert who spends much of his day engaged in his two favorite activities: vomiting and masturbating. How, you ask, does a bird masturbate? There are many videos posted various places on the Internet (by the birds' perverse human owners), but it boils down to an activity not dissimilar to human masturbation. And, natural a process as it is, no less disgusting. I mean, really, at least humans have the courtesy to do it in private and not speak of it to their friends.
I was reading up on bird behavior and found two pieces of good news about Byron's condition. First, he seems only interested in masturbating with inanimate objects in his cage, which means that he does not perceive me as his mate. This is actually GREAT news.
Second -- and this is perhaps TOO logical -- bird behavior is affected by bird environment, particularly lovebirds', who are prone to the bird equivalents of cabin fever and depression, hence they require much distraction and frequent changes of environment. So, over the weekend I bought him some new toys and perches and a different kind of bird seed. So far, my efforts have been successful as there is no sign of vomit or any instances of bird masturbation. I also learned that birds are more apt to be all machismo and perverse when they can fly. I'm not exactly sure what the link is, but it seems logical -- wing clipping as a sort of metaphoric castration. So, yesterday I clipped his wings, which was really quite sad but seems to be helping.
My cat, too, is a neurotic freak. I love him to pieces, but the creature has issues. He's a tremendous fraidy cat, and will jump and run to hide under the nearest piece of furniture if, while petting him, I move, breathe too loudly, reach for the remote, or pet him differently. He runs and hides for 20 minutes (sometimes longer) before venturing out again. Then he'll sit on the other side of the room and stare at me for another 10 minutes before he decides that it's probably okay to come back because the likelihood of me eating him is slim to none. I'm a vegetarian.
The cat also has this lovely habit of pooping in the bathtub. It's got nothing to do with the level of cleanliness of his litter box, because it can be all shiny new litter and he still poops in the bathtub. Pervert. The only solution to this seems to be to always leave one inch of water in the bottom of the bathtub (since I have an open tub with a shower curtain; I do not have a shower door or any such apparatus that prevents cat entry).
The cat problem is a substantially more difficult case than the bird. The cat doesn't seem to understand that, when he poops in the bathtub, I know he did it, and furthermore, I will find out about it. He always seems so surprised when I discover the poop in the tub, as though I have some mystical, mind-reading skill that allows me to see his secret shame.
It's extraordinarily difficult to train the creature to understand that love is a good thing. Because if I pick him up and force him to let me love him, well, that's not so happy for anyone. As much as I like ice cream, if someone were to hold me down and force-feed me ice cream, I would hate every minute of it and would probably end up hating ice cream by the end of the experience. So, I need to find gentler, more subtle ways of showing the cat that it is okay to be loved. Again, not as easy as changing the environment. Unlike the bird, the cat is not confined to a cage, and I can't afford all new furniture.
For now, baby steps. The bird is surrounded by lots of shiny new things and seems to be doing much better, at least until he grows accustomed to those new things and becomes depressed and perverse again. The cat has a new food, which is supposed to be much better for him (and may very well make him less crazy, or at least in a better mood, right? Eating vegetables ultimately makes humans feel better than eating pizza, even if the pizza is tastier). And I give him love and avoid ever punishing him in any way or raising my voice or turning up the radio or television or walking too loud or laughing or coughing or crying or moving unnecessarily or showing any kind of emotion except I AM A STOIC ROBOT AND I LOVE TO PET YOU, BUT ONLY WHEN YOU WANT TO BE PETTED. Maybe one day he will love me back.
Comment from Zee: My stepmom had a cockatiel who liked to masturbate during our dinner. When she first moved in with her bird, we always thought he just liked to move his rope with the bell on the end. Then she explained to us what he was really doing. So every time we'd hear the tinkle of the little bell, my brother and I would look at each other and start laughing.