During the summer of 2004, a couple of months after I completed my undergraduate program, I worked in five places.
My goal was to work in my field, which was working with animals or in any environmental project. But of course it wasn’t easy finding a good job; as I imagine it would happen to any recent graduates—especially in less traditional careers such as environmental geography.
Coming back from a trip to London and Italy, I started working in anything I would find: the kitchen of a nursing home, a daycare, an Italian restaurant and a Chinese restaurant…
It was a very interesting summer, on one hand I was in contact with both extremes of human life; newborns and elderly people and on the other hand, I was experiencing the reality of restaurant workers.
After quitting my job at the nursing home because it was too far from my home and after my contract at the daycare ended, I started job at the Chinese restaurant. There, I worked the evening shifts so I kept looking for a day job. I was in charge of the bar, telephone and the cash register. Except for the waitresses, I was the only non-Chinese. They treated me very well and told me I could eat whatever I wanted. However, despite all the food I ate, I worked so hard that I think I actually lost weight instead of gaining some.
In the middle of the same summer, I was hired by a big pet shop specializing in birds.
The owner was an Italian man, he was friendly but had a horrible personality; he would yell non-stop at his employee who has been working for him for a decade. She was a very experienced worker and she carried out the business only when the owner was away, which thankfully happened frequently, so she had a little bit of peace.
She was very nice to me; she taught me a lot of things and told me a lot about her life. Her dedication to animals never ceased to amaze me.
I promised her that once the owner started yelling at me, I would hand him my keys and quit on the spot, since I didn’t see why I should endure his unjustified yelling. Luckily, it wasn’t necessary because at the end of the first month, I decided to quit my two jobs and travel during six months in Argentina.
The pet store had nearly 2,000 birds, cats, reptiles, fish and ferrets. I had to clean and feed all of them three to four times a week while I was working there. After that I had to go back home, take a shower to get rid of the feathers and the seeds in my hair and then head to the restaurant to work until the end of the day. It was quite a busy period.
When I arrived at work, I took my favorite animal out of its cage. It was a young Goffin’s cockatoo that looked like a baby it would have itself. Hence, with this name I decided to name it my Baby during that month.
These pink parrots are characterized by their fondness of people, and this one was no exception.
He liked when people scratched his neck so much that I had the impression that he could spend all day being petted, to the point of even forgetting to eat and drink water.
That’s why I put him back in his cage once in a while so that he could eat! Since he had the feathers of his wings trimmed in order to keep him from flying around the place, he was used to hopping along the aisles while looking for me and jumping on my shadow whenever he saw me
And that is how I cleaned the other cages, with Baby on my shadow. There were other animals as well: macaws born in captivity and that were sold in no time despite their high price, ferrets that loved when I got them out of their cages and played with them. There were also terrariums with emperor scorpions in them.
They were of a deep black color and carried their white babies on their shoulders;
I had to handle them with salad tweezers. I remember an unforgettable goldfish (it’s the name of the species but the one I am talking about was black with protruding eyes) that loved to be petted and that would swim between my fingers.
When I decided to quit, I seriously considered buying Baby, since we loved each other so much. However, considering the fact that I was about to travel and he costed so much stopped me from leaving with him (he cost as much as my ticket for Argentina!). I think it was the right decision to not buy him; with my life of traveling, I am not always home and it would have been very difficult to accept, and of course it cost me tears and tears when I left.
The following weeks, there was a parrot exhibition, considering Canada’s big business of breeding these birds in captivity—and the pet shop where I worked had my cockatoo.
With great joy, I came back to see him and met the young couple who would buy him. I do hope that they have been able to appreciate the value of the animal they were adopting and that they dedicated thousands of hours for the neck-scratching he liked so much.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa