Monday, February 07, 2011

Sugar Bird

Several years ago Sugar Bird was fired. Although it disturbed me it never seemed to affect him. I brought it up to him but he just whistled the first phrase of Winchester Cathedral, and said, "Sugar Bird's a pretty bird." It made me feel better about his termination and he went happily back to his seed.

The policy manual said, as a chaplain, I could do "Creative therapies" (That has been changed since then to be clearer). So, I bought the sweetest bird in the shop and began working to prepare him to become a therapy animal. I decided that I was going to take classes in Animal Assisted Therapy and get him certified. My supervisor agreed with my interpretation of the policy but we never got that far.

One day I got a call from the compliance officer who said, "We don't have a protocol for pet therapy."

"Animal Assisted Therapy," I corrected her.

"Whatever," she said. "We don't have a protocol for it." her words were brisk, clipped and officious. I felt like I was back in the Marine Corps. My suggestion that she allow me to do research and write policy for approval by management went over like a concrete airplane. "There's too much liability." The tone of her authority ratcheted like a pair of handcuffs as she recited the oldest management excuse on the planet for quashing creativity.

I broke the news gently to Sugar Bird because he'd gotten rather attached to several patients. One was a person who rarely talked but chattered on about her life when he perched on her shoulder and picked at her shiny glasses. Another lady enjoyed watching birds at her feeders and expressed interest in birds. I offered a visit from Sugar Bird. She didn't want to hold him but loved petting him as I held him. She fell in love with him so fast and so deeply that I must confess to smuggling him in to see her one day after the edict so she could say goodbye. She just wouldn't be satisfied until I did and Iron Mike, the compliance gunner never caught us. Sugar Bird and I stopped with that one felony.

The best story I have about Sugar Bird's short career with patients is about a man whose cancer went to his brain and he stopped doing everything but sitting and staring. The family gathered in the living room for our visit and we sat together watching Dave stare blankly. I got Sugar Bird off my shoulder and Dave's wife formed his hand so that it was resting on his thigh with his index finger extended enough for a perch and Sugar Bird stepped up.

At the feel of the cool, bony feet on Dave's finger and possibly the color of his feathers, Dave's eyes lit up and he focused on the bird with obvious pleasure. Sugar Bird cocked his head, seemed to make eye contact with him until Dave drifted off to sleep. Between the time they connected and our attention was recalled to them, the family and I talked together. Dave's wife suddenly pointed to the pair and said in a stage whisper, "Look at that! Isn't that amazing? They're both asleep!" Sugar Bird had picked up one foot, tucked his head under a wing and went to sleep too. Now it was our turn to be speechless.

We all sat with mouths hanging open until a sense of peaceful quiet settled over us and we became a part of the connection between Dave, Sugar Bird and the peace that passes all understanding.


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