Death in the garden - pigeons this time
So they stayed until two events forced my hand.
Eight months after moving into the Claremont house, my wife got a stomach bug that persisted for several months. Night after night, she was in the grip of cramping pains. Her doctor was baffled. Each new course of medication failed to bring any proper relief, let alone get rid of the condition. It was only when her doctor heard about the pigeons and how they often strode into the kitchen demanding food that he realised she’d probably picked up some sort of parasite from them. A new prescription quickly got rid of the cramps. From then on, the lower part of the kitchen stable door was always kept closed. Yes, they definitely had to go.
Still we didn’t get rid of them. Not until one of them got ill.
One afternoon I found one of the smaller ones standing in the corner of the back porch. I approached it, expecting it to rush back into the garden. It didn’t flinch at all. As I picked it up, I could feel its nervous heartbeat but it made no attempt to escape. A bird with a broken foot or wing would still have tried to get away. This bird displayed no sign of fight; its fear was completely muted. Realising there was something wrong, I turned it over. I almost gagged. The smell of putrefying flesh was overpowering. Its anus was a mass of seething maggots.
In Africa, elsewhere too I’m sure, if you’re not careful, animals with flesh wounds often have fly eggs laid in them. Within a few days they’ll hatch and the wound will crawl with maggots feasting on the diseased flesh. Timely application of the right sort of disinfectant easily gets rid of them and the wound usually heals rapidly. With some species of dog, you have to be especially vigilant about eggs being laid around their eyes, particularly during the hot, dry months when flies descend in black, sticky clouds. This, however, was no ordinary infestation - nothing I could do with the bottle of disinfectant in the medicine chest was going to do the pigeon any good. I’d never been fond of ‘our’ pigeons; the rat infestation and my wife’s stomach bug had put them on borrowed time. There was absolutely no reason for me to feel for it. So I abandoned it to the rats? No, I took it to the vet.
‘Please see what you can do for this pigeon,’ I told him. ‘’It’s not a pet or favourite animal or anything, so don’t spend too much time on it if it looks unlikely to survive. I just don’t want it to suffer.’
Some 36 hours later, I got a call from his receptionist. ‘Mr Nomad, I’m very sorry to give you bad news,’ she said in her practiced sympathetic tones. ‘Your pigeon didn’t survive its illness.’
‘It looked very poorly, I didn’t think it would make it,’ I said. ‘I just didn’t want it to suffer.’
‘We tried our very best,’ she said, her voice lowering a few more octaves.
‘Oh, that’s alright, it wasn’t a pet.’
I knew that my Samaritan act wasn’t going to be free, vets not being known for their altruism, but some painkillers and, possibly, the assisted death of a pigeon shouldn’t cost much.
‘How much did you say?’ I asked when she told me how much I owed them.
‘Three hundred rand (*),’ she said again.
‘What did you do? Put it on life-support for 24 hours?’ I wanted to say. Instead I said, ‘I really didn’t expect to pay that much.’
I should have stomped on that fucking pigeon, not taken it to the vet! In the next few weeks, I got rid of them all.
(*) A lot of money for not saving a pigeon's life in 1993.