The Humane HEART

Pigeoni (pee-joe-nee), My Pigeon Friend

Ow! Why does she do that! Stands on my head and pecks me. Well, it's good for a laugh anyhow; by those who watch it or hear about it - as long as they aren't getting pecked.

Pigeoni is a pigeon; living wild and free in the concrete valleys of downtown New Orleans. But for a time she stayed with me. That's a story worth hearing.

When I found her, she was blind; lying on her back in the middle of the wide going-to-Canal-Street side of "neutral ground" divided Loyola Avenue, right where the Ida Kohlmeyer sculptures are, if you know where that is. Thinking she was a dead pigeon, I went right over her in the Pontiac Grand Am my friend Charlie gave me after Hurricane Katrina. Gayle and I would have been in a fix without wheels at that time. Actually, Charlie's neice Tori (who's real name is Vitoria) wanted to loan us her car, a great gesture for a young lady. But, Charlie had a new one, and he decided to give us that great little car.

It's a good thing it was a holiday, I can't quite remember which. And, because of that, there were no other cars there at the time.

After I passed over her, it occurred to me that she might be alive. So, I stopped in the middle of the street, and backed up to check her. When I bent over her, I noticed her wings were moving slightly. Now, this is a fine thing, I'm in a hurry, and now I'm having to see about this misfortunate bird.

I picked her up, put her in the car, and proceeded on to the WWL studios where I was to be interviewed by News Anchor Angela Hill about an anti-cockfighting bill that I was hoping the lawmakers in Baton Rouge would enact into law. It was getting near the time when, after many years of trying to get cockfighting outlawed in our state, circumstances of fear regarding the transmission of a deadly strain of avian influenza through fighting birds, would force an end to it.

Arriving in the walled-around carpark behind the studio, I left her in a box that I picked up along the way. I hated to leave her like that, but there wasn't any choice if I was going to do the interview, which I thought was important.

After the interview, and when I got a good look at her, I noticed that her eyes were encrusted with yellow growths. It was pigeon pox, a viral disease that pigeons get where the encrustation can be so bad as to limit or prevent vision.

I brought her "home" which at the time was the actual home of Gayle's cousin Lynn (more like a sister to Gayle because they grew-up together, even though Lynn was ten years older) and her Husband John Celestin who were graciously sharing their home with us because ours was badly damaged by the deep flood that followed Hurricane Katrina and stayed for weeks.

Fortunately for Pigeoni, the outward signs of pigeon pox disappear in several weeks. It was great to learn that her blindness would only be temporary. But, until she could see again, I was stuck looking after her.

I kept her in a large blue cat cage in Lynn's piano teaching studio. (How I came to have the cat cage is another whole story for another time.) The studio was part of the house, but off the garage space on the first floor. It had two doors; one leading in from the garage, and the other leading to the outside. It was a nice little room packed with stacks of Lynn's sheet music. Incidentally, John is a jazz sax and clarinet musician who also arranges music; that's apart from his paying job as a draftsman/manager in the offshore oil drilling business. Their house holds a lot of great memories. Lynn's father and mother, Herbie and Beverly Sharpe (both had passed away), had lived in the house, making it all the more lively and happy. Beverly loved socializing with the many friends who came to the house, often for parties where there was a lot of food, music and great times. Herbie is well known, especially in New Orleans. He was an artist and innovator of art-forms, including reviving the ancient art of intaglio die cutting for the making of coins. He was the "inventor" of the Mardi Gras Doubloon, something of no little significance in Carnival crazed New Orleans. But, again that's another, albeit very interesting, story. (Maybe I should turn this little tale into a book.)

Anyway, getting back to the story of Pigeoni (I called her Pidge too.): While we had her, with my often getting pecked on the head, a lot happened. A friend who I had never met in person, but who I helped a bit with the "Primate Freedom Tour" gave us her car because she was getting a new one. I know she was especially sensitive when it came to storm victims, having donated her time to helping them, and besides that, she knew me personally. A lot was happening in her life too. And what about the car Charlie gave us? Well, we decided to take Linda up on her offer because the car she offered was a small SUV: a Suzuki Sidekick. It was better for hauling things, and that's what we needed. Charlie gave his car to another family who also needed one. Gayle and I named the car Selkhet after the Scorpion Goddess of Ancient Egypt. That's because the Sidekick was so cute. To explain a bit: When the Tutanhkamun Exhibit came to New Orleans, Gayle and I were talking with Herbie about the Egyptian Antiquities. Herbie was an adventurer who adored the mysteries of History. He also had sailed the seas, which was subject matter for much of his artwork; but, as I said, that's a whole other story. Getting to the point: Herbie mentioned that the little Selkhet figurines on one of the funerary boxes from the treasure of Tutankhamun were "cute as a bug's ear!" So, since we thought Linda's Sidekick was so cute, we named her Selkhet.

I had to go "on the dog" (Greyhound bus) to San Antonio to get the car, and I met Linda at the Alamo. I had arrived in the night, and I waited out the rest of the night on a bench in front of the old mission. Linda Howard was a wonderful person with great hopes for the future, having just returned from a trip to Africa with Shirley McGreal of the International Primate Protection League in anticipation of Dr. McGreal's taking her on as her successor. Linda got a big kick out of it when I told her how Pigeoni would peck me on the head. While I was with Linda in San Antonio, I mentioned that I offered to take a rat (I would name Monsieur Raton.) that a pro-cockfighting legislator, Troy Hebert, used as a prop in his pitch in committee in defense of cockfighting. He pointed out that where he bought the rat they were selling them to people to feed to their snakes. He questioned why people wanted to do away with cockfighting while at the same time not having a problem with feeding a living mammal to a large snake, as some people would do. He had a point. However, most serious snake owners would kill the rat first so that the snake would not be harmed. When I asked Mr. Hebert what he was going to do with the rat, he said he would let him go on the grounds of the Capitol. There's a lake there and the rat, which he called Rooster, might have made out OK, but he was a white rat, and he likely would have gotten into trouble and not survived. I said I would take him, and either find him a good home or keep him myself. Guess what happened? But again, that's another story. Linda recounted a bit about her Newton, another rat who she called Newton because gravity kept getting the better of him, bringing him to the floor from his preferred spot on Linda's bed.

One day, I came into Lynn's piano studio and noticed Pigeoni hanging upside down. Somehow, in flying up against the side of the cage, she got her toe caught where the door of the cage closes. When I got her loose, I found her middle toe on her right foot was broken and the flesh was torn. It was a bad injury. I splinted it with a piece of drinking straw and treated it against possible infection with an antibiotic a soldier had given me to treat myself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but, of course, that too is another story.

The toe didn't heal, so I removed it at the point where the bone was broken. What was left healed, and Pigeoni was "none the worse for wear" as they say.

The weeks went by, and Pigeoni's eyes returned to normal. By that time Gayle and I had moved into a FEMA trailer at the flood-damaged property of my grandparents in Lakeview. FEMA stands for Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA trailer's were provided to people, such as Gayle and I, whose homes were rendered unlivable by Hurricane Katrina or the flood that followed. Living in the trailer was no hardship for us. Actually, it was an interesting experience.

Pigeoni came with us, and stayed mostly in the bedroom of the trailer; no longer having to be caged. She never did stop her occasional pecking of my head.

When I felt she was ready, I took her back to downtown New Orleans near where I found her. Quite a number of buildings in the area had been torn down and there was a lot of open area. I set the small carrying cage I had her in on the ground near the car, opened the door and waited for her to come out. When she did, she got to the top of the cage, and then after some minutes flew up just enough to land on my head. I set her down on the ground, but she wouldn't leave me. So, I scooped her up and brought her back home to the trailer.

This same scenario was repeated at a later time, but with the same result. It was beginning to look as though I was to have my pigeon friend for life.

Then one day, I had her outside for flying exercise as I had done before. But this time, I had Gayle take her a bit further away along the walk that ran along the house to release her back to me. Gayle threw her into the air fairly steeply. Pigeoni flew upward and was well above my head. She landed on the roof of the house which was only about a dozen or so feet from the trailer where I stood on the platform at the trailer door. I didn't know what she was going to do. Would she fly back down to me? Would I have to go up and get her down from the roof?

She took off. But she went upward. I thought she would return to me, but she didn't. She flew up and away, without circling as pigeons normally do to get their bearings. I was very worried. I know pigeons have a wonderful ability to find "home", which in her case was in downtown New Orleans. I wasn't worried very much about where she would end up;. I was concerned that she might not have enough energy for the flight of several miles; and, I was concerned about something else. Since Katrina there had been hawks in our somewhat deserted neighborhood. I saw one swoop in and just miss a squirrel that swayed just at the right moment while running along the top edge of a wooden fence. And another time a hawk just missed running into me while I was working on our garage roof among some tree branches. That time, the fairly large animal (I don't know what it was.) the hawk was carrying didn't get away. I moved to save the victim from the hawk, but I couldn't. It's easy to say, "Well, that's nature." But, I do what I can to save things in danger, in spite of the fact that it's "nature" and predators have to survive too.

I went back looking for her to the place in town where Pigeoni likely was. I went two or three times, but I was not successful in seeing her, or having her come to me. I really didn't want to get her back, if she was alright back where she belonged. But, I was hoping that I could know that she had escaped danger, and was back in her home area.

Then, one day, something happened that you'd find nearly impossible to believe. I was in town late one evening walking up Iberville Street going toward North Rampart Street (away from the River). I was surprised to see a pigeon fly downward between the buildings toward me, and hover a few feet above my head. The pigeon flew down and behind me and into the open alcove of a building. I went around into the alcove and she was on the pavement. She didn't fly away, but she didn't come to me either. Then I noticed her middle toe on her right foot. The end of it was missing. For a moment neither she nor I could move. I'd like to say that she flew up, landed on my head and began to peck me. But, I guess she had learned to be wild again. Her recognition of me put her into a quandary. The wild side won, and she flew up and away once again.

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