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'Smudge' by 'And'

This is a tribute to Smudge, the last of a very long line of pets that my children, now grown up owned, or once owned and that I inherited.

From time to time many of us have mentioned much loved pets on these pages, Earl, his Travis and Gretchen, Nippy her Major, Posie her Leonard, and Reds her Barkley, amongst others. Well, now it's my turn. Twelve days ago I had to have my little feathered psychopath, Smudge, put to sleep. Most people would have thought him just a cockatiel, but those who knew him well knew just a little differently.

I looked on various 'deceased pet tribute' sites with the intention of perhaps putting a few words there. All seemed to say how utterly wonderful the deceased pet was, how gentle, how loving, understanding, empathic even, how almost human……. and how unlike Smudge.

One of Smudge's party tricks was to fly up, sit on your shoulder, blow kisses in your ear, lull you into a false sense of security and just as you were relaxed, nip your earlobe REALLY sharply.

Any hand coming anywhere near him was fair game unless protected by his special blue handling cloth. With the cloth as protection you were reasonably safe, although it never paid to become overconfident. The same cloth, carefully tied to the top of his cage, did duty as a substitute female cockatiel from time to time…. Well, very frequently, to be honest.

Smudge came to us as a stray in July 1996, but anything less like a stray in appearance would be hard to imagine. We have no idea how old he was then, but he was fully - grown and a really beautiful bird, strong and powerfully built (for a cockatiel.)

As a stray he had survived for weeks flying round an industrial estate feeding on crisps and sandwiches supplied by concerned workmen, before deciding to allow one to adopt him by landing on his shoulder.

With a small baby in his new owners' house and cage confinement not suiting him, he came to us. He quickly made his mark. On picture frames, the brand new leather settee, plaster, wallpaper, books, fingers……

He never learned to talk, but as he clearly saw himself as a superior being to us, that wasn't surprising. We all became reasonably adept at squeaks, chirrups, whistles and Smudge - speak. Smudge, for his part, had learned a note – perfect wolf whistle from the workmen, and a disconcertingly accurate telephone ring from his new home.

Some years ago he developed diabetes, which, according to the manual, is normally fatal in cage birds. Fortunately, Smudge couldn't read. We couldn't find what dose of insulin would treat him, but although much weakened, he survived. He had lost the ability to fly fully, but zipped around his cage as normal, and pursued his old interests. His diabetes stabilised, and life continued.

Two weeks ago, he was suddenly noticeably weaker and unable to stand. He propelled himself around by dragging himself with beak and claws, and had to be helped to his food and water. In this, he was as bloody minded as ever, and it soon became clear that his would not be a quick release.

His last act on earth was to have a damn good go at biting the vet as he was held for his final moments. We expected nothing else. He was wrapped in his much-loved cloth, and I stroked his face for the first and only time.

He won't be replaced. Cockatiels love human company and I'm just not around the house enough these days. Added to which, I've never liked birds anyway. But I loved Smudge dearly. He, and he only, shall always be my bird.