[TAE] Do Pets Have Bucket Lists?

Monday, July 21, 2014

This particular post has come about due to a strange conversation with my best friend, Nyx. Nyx recently lost her cat, Taru, and has been telling me about how – near the end – he did a couple of things she’d been trying to train him to do for his entire 15 year life. He jumped into her arms, and he laid across her shoulders like a stole.

Almost all of the pets I have owned have behaved in a similar way. Suddenly (and most of the time only a handful of times, if not once), they exhibited behaviors that either were entirely new to them or that I had been trying to train them to do for their entire lives, within a few months of passing away. This lead me to the question that I’m posing today:

Do pets have “bucket lists”?

I imagine most people are clear on what a bucket list is, but for the sake of being complete, I’ll define it. A bucket list is a list of things one wishes to accomplish or do – even if only once – before one dies. Or, as it were, “kicks the bucket.”

For people, these things can be incredibly varied – from far off places that they’d like to visit, to experiences they’d like to have, right down to movies they’d like to watch and books they want to read. Whether or not you’re aware of it, you likely have one as well.

Some items on my own personal bucket list include traveling to Dublin, Ireland, and London, England, among other places. As well as visiting several specific natural history museums (including the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, the Denver Museum [I went when I was young, but I’d like to go back], and others in varying countries from Canada to Russia), visiting several theme parks (Disney World, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Universal Orlando, and others), eating exotic meats, learning to hunt and perform taxidermy, and varying other things.

At 31, even with all my health problems, I’ve managed to knock a few things off the list. I’ve been to the Chicago Field Museum. I’ve taken a road trip across the country. I’ve fallen in a life-long love. I’ve eaten bison, elk, octopus, frog, and other exotic (and just outright weird) meats. I still have quite a few things to go, but I am only 31, after all. I have time.

But animal’s lives are so much shorter than ours. In my 31 years, I’ve had almost that many animals that I’ve known and been with in one form or another as they crossed the rainbow bridge. So do animals, with their small lifespans, have some sort of bucket list? Things that they want to do before they die?

Animals do seem to know when their time is almost up, at least if old age is what claims them. I’ve witnessed everything from a parakeet to a cat suddenly change behavior in the days leading up to their deaths. But a simple change of behavior is to be expected – their bodies are preparing to shut down, their minds are perhaps becoming clouded and distant. Of course that’s going to have some sort of behavioral effect.

A bucket list goes beyond a behavioral change, though. It implies a kind of knowledge and conscious thought that a lot of people suspect animals to be incapable of. Like how Nyx wanted her cat to jump into her arms for the entire thirteen years she had him – but he only did it twice, and it was within the last few months before he passed away. That was an obvious choice – and not a consistent one. He only did it the two times, not every time. Perhaps it was a gift for her?

As most people who have known me for awhile know, I’m transgender. I was born female, and my birth name was Kathryn. This is relevant, just stick with me. My first pet was a blue parakeet named Buddy. He lived for about three years – cancer took him from me at what should have just been budgie middle age. But for his entire life, my mother kept trying to teach him to say my birth name.

Buddy1Buddy talked – a lot, actually. He even made up his own words – combining pretty, silly, and absurd into his favorite thing to call himself: a “p’surdy bird.” He said all sorts of things, though never full sentences or anything like Disco the internet famous parakeet does. Still, he did talk. And when we made an active attempt to teach him anything, he generally learned it.

Except for my birth name.

He only said my birth name once, and not only was it only a few months before he passed away, but it was also on my birthday and as a punctuation to absolute and complete silence.

Buddy was sitting atop his cage (he was a free-flyer, as the only pet, and generally stayed with me). I was in the room, as were my parents. I don’t remember what we did for my birthday that year, but whatever we did was over and done with by then. I think we were trying to decide on a movie to put on that night.

The room was silent as we thought, and Buddy was all fluffed up and I would have thought him asleep except that his bright little black eyes were open. Suddenly he broke the silence with a single word, loud and clear. He said, “Kathryn!” And he said it perfectly.

He never said it again. I seriously wonder if it’s possible at all that his little bird brain knew that it was a special day for me and he wanted to do something cool. I wonder if he saved up all his energy to say a word with sounds that parakeets find difficult (the “th” and “y” sounds aren’t easy for them, in general), or if perhaps he knew he didn’t have much longer on the physical plane and it was a way of thanking me for being his person.

For whatever reason, I doubt that I or my parents will ever forget that moment. We praised him for a long time afterwards, and my mom kept trying to get him to say it again, but he didn’t.

So was saying the name of his best friend on some kind of birdie bucket list? Was there anything else on that list, if so? I remember him doing a few other strange things in his comparative old age – walking onto a plate of hot pizza, for one. But somehow I doubt that was something he would’ve wanted to do if he had any idea how hot the sauce was.

He even flew out the door one time near the end – and went right back inside. Were these the things he wanted to accomplish before he went? Or were they just the eccentricities of an already eccentric bird as he entered the end of his life?

There’s no way to know, obviously. But Buddy and Taru aren’t the only animals I’ve known that seemed to have a bucket list. Almost every pet I’ve had has behaved in interesting and new ways as they neared the end of their physical time in this world.

What about you, my readers? Have any of your pets ever behaved in a way that makes you think they might have had a bucket list? Share the story in the comments!

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