My Friend

RITA

Rita is the inspiration for the title of this blog.  I thought I should finally credit her.  After all, if your byline is based on the life of a character, you ought to say a little something about her, don’t you think?  I don’t have many followers who are parrot keepers.  The reason I know that is because nobody asks questions about her.  If you aren’t a parrot keeper, you probably think parrots are just messy birds who sometimes entertain us by parroting what we say or performing silly tricks for our amusement.

 This is the earliest picture I have of Rita and me.  I am sharing it although it is a bad photo of both of us, because it illustrates Rita’s general attitude.  I was amused that she was suspicious of the camera in anybody’s hands except mine.   Her wariness of people persists to this day.

We had an unusual snowfall in the winter of 2004.   Even Rita liked it.  She ate the snow and loved the snow cream that Miss Sarah and I made.

I suppose I should start at the beginning for those of you who don’t already know.  Our life together started when our paths crossed in a local feed store in the spring of 2003.  Rita was in a crate in the middle level of a wall filled with crates of parrots of various species.  I knew nothing of parrots.  As I walked by the stack of crates, I heard a loud call pierce the general din of parrot chatter.    Ariba!  I would learn much later the meaning of that Spanish word:  UP!  It is the first command  a parrot learns.  He is asked to step up onto a hand or a stick perch as an absolute requirement for his care and safety.   In that fateful moment, I simply thought it  was cute.  I turned back and spoke to the friend who would become my alter ego.  She tilted her head and listened with curious eyes.  I told her she could come home with me.  And she did.

When I got home with Rita, I had no idea what to do.  She was frightened.  I did all the wrong things so she bit chunks out of my arms and hands  in self defense.  Eventually, I read enough about parrot behavior to understand what I was doing wrong in this budding relationship.   I apologized and started over.  Parrots have long memories.  Finally, we came to an agreement and I was accepted.  Parrots demand mutual respect in their relationships.   Absent that, somebody is gonna’ get hurt.  Much the way of  people too.  Parrots want desperately to understand what you want of them.  If you make it clear, they are happy to oblige.

After we made our peace, Rita began to discover what I wanted her to do, and I began to understand what she was saying to me with her body language, her tone of voice, her calls and her expressions.  Parrots understand human behavior and emotion.  They are sentient, empathetic creatures.   Living with a parrot is comparable to living with a child.  Or so they say.  Uncontrolled, a parrot would be impossible to keep.  Rita spent the first years of her life on her six-by-eight-foot Java Tree behind the sofa in the living room.  She could see everything that happened all day in the house.  She played, ate, napped and walked back and forth from her tree to the sofa.  On nice days, she played on her open-top cages on the open porch.   She sometimes became bored and walked back into the house if she saw the open door.   She belonged and she knew it.  She takes her bath in the shower in the winter and on her porch tree in the summer.  She loves the water and acts really silly.  She tells herself she’s a “pretty girl” the entire time!

Java Tree

Rita spends her days on her Java Tree or on her play stand beside my desk.  Sometimes, when she is in a bad mood, she fusses and stays in her cage.   She lets me know what she wants by calling out:  “Come here, Granny!’ or “Want a cracker!”.   I always respond.  Sometimes she just wants to talk.  We call back and forth from wherever I am.  She dog whistles and I respond, “Pretty Girl, Rita!  Then we go through the repertoire of everything she knows how to say.   If the phone rings, she answers.  If I call the dogs, she calls them too.  Amazons can be moody, but Rita rarely exhibits that behavior although her species is one of the most difficult to handle of the hookbills.   I think parrots who don’t have enough human interaction become depressed and difficult.

This out-of-focus photograph is the result of my trying to get Rita to be still for a closeup of scratching her under the chin.  Since she has seen the full-frame Nikon for years, she pays no attention to it, but  the little Lumix is somehow offensive to her.   When I reached out my hand, she wanted to bite n’ play as I call it.  She can feel the crunch of the cartilege and ligaments in the joints and she loves it.  She doesn’t bite hard, of course.   I finally clamped down on her beak and held her head with the other finger in an effort to make her be still.  Of course, it didn’t work.

Rita shares meals with me.  I bring  doggie bags home from restaurants for her too.  She eats anything I eat with the exception of onions, avocado, cabbage and other foods that are toxic to parrots.  They don’t automatically eat foods that they don’t recognize.  You have to show them that you eat the food.  Then, they will eat it too.  Parrots can’t smell food.  They taste it to determine if they like it.  I tried eating parrot pellets,  making all kinds of yummy noises, but Rita didn’t buy it.  Sigh…  🙂

She loves steamed broccoli that is still crunchy.  China Inn broccoli is her favorite!  I always bring a piece home to her.   I think she’s telling me it’s delicious here.

Rita sleeps and sometimes rests in her large cage in the living room.  Paul Draper made it.  He lives in a rural area of New York.  He is a wonderful craftsman, designer, and fabricator.  He also made Che’s cage.  His cages are comparable in price to retail market cages.   I highly recommend him.  (The black rope perch is from the original over-spray on the cage.)

My husband died in July 2009.  He was confined to a hospital bed for a couple of weeks before he died.  We installed it in the living room where Rita’s cage is located.  The phenomenal thing about it all was that Rita didn’t say a word during that time.  She sat quietly in her cage and watched.  She didn’t call out or demand a cookie.  Sometimes, I remembered to take her out to the porch, but if I failed to take her, she didn’t complain.  During all of the nursing traffic, late hours, and confusion, she never called out her usual “Ariba” when strangers came and went.  That was entirely remarkable.  If I had any doubt about the ability of my friend to understand, I no longer could have doubted her.  She knew.  She had called Pops for years when she wanted something.  Now, she knew he was dying.  I have no doubt about that.  She still calls him sometimes.  I often think she knows something about him that I don’t understand.  She is my loyal friend and companion.  Yes, I suppose I am the kind of woman who keeps a parrot, after all.

62 Comments on “My Friend

  1. George
    Dropped by to thank you for your comment on the supermoon. Hope all is well with you. It’s a mere 106 degrees today. Staying near the A/C, but it was even too hot for the car. I thought the A/C was blown but it’s good when the temp is below 90.

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  2. This post was a joy to read. Thank you so much for sharing your life with Rita. Parrots are indeed very special creatures that touch many people’s hearts. My day is brighter for having visited your site.

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  3. I enjoyed this post immensely. The human/ creature bond can be a powerful one if we humans simply open our minds to it. So sorry to learn of your husband’s passing. I’m sure Rita is a comfort. Your photographs and posts are wonderful. I’ll be following:)

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    • Thank you, Elena. Dean and I had a wonderful life together. All is well that ends well. And his life did. There is no sorrow for me. I appreciate your kind comment and the follow. I am fascinated by your work. I am happy that I found your blog! 🙂

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  4. How could I resist a blog with this title? And what an irresistible creature she is. I know nothing about parrots, but am a little wiser now. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Sweet Rita! Oh I love her 🙂 You just have to have a bird to understand how friggin fabulous they are.

    I was just wondering about my boo boo today – if she misses the people she was with before, I think she does. I found her almost a year ago and never found her owner, she had been on her own awile but she seems a little sad sometimes.

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    • What kind of bird is she? Birds form such bonds with people that they actually grieve and become depressed when they lose their people. But, she will bond with you and be fine. If you’ve had her for awhile and pay lots of attention to her or keep her where she can see you, she will adjust. Thanks for coming by and telling me about boo boo.

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      • boo boo is sun conure. She gets tons of attention and I work at home so she is never more than two feet away from me. We are bonding but I just wish I knew where she came from and if people are looking for/missing her. I have her listed on parrot alert and I made a web page for her, and if I ever find her old owners I will make sure she gets back to them. I do think boo boo is an older bird so hopefully I will outlive her and she won’t have to lose me too! They’re such sensitive little things 🙂

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  6. It’s great to meet the parrot behind the blog! Rita seems wonderful…it’s great to have such an understanding and caring companion. She’s just gorgeous

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  7. It was lovely to learn a lot more about Rita. She’s a very beautiful, intelligent and compassionate bird. That is obvious. The only bird that I have ever had in a cage was a turquoise-coloured budgerigar (is that how you spell it?) named Chip. The lady next-door had bought a pair that she called Chip and Dale. Then she discovered that they were both males, so Chip crossed over the back fence and came to live with us. I used to let him out of his cage and he flew around the house. He would come back to the handle of the feather duster, or onto my finger, but not Mum’s, to go back to his cage. Budgies are Australian birds and fly in huge flocks of thousands when they’re in the wild.

    Here in Canberra, I have Saffron Crested White Cockatoos, pink and grey Galahs, red and blue Rozellas, as well as yellow and green ones (and a few cross-breds too). There are many other birds, but those are the main hooked-beak ones. There are a lot of crested pigeons too. Australia is a land of birds and reptiles. We have an astounding variety of both.

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  8. I so enjoyed this tale and pictures! Rita sounds unique and perfectly wonderful; how magical that you found each other! I especially loved hearing about Rita’s response to the changing energy surrounding her as your husband approached the end of his life; I’ve seen this often in “other animal” companions. I enjoyed hearing she can be “moody,” too; good for her! Thank you for this post!

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  9. She is beautiful! But i have to admit, i’m wary of any pet that can potentially outlive me… makes them a bit dangerous if they can do math. Fur lined cages, with gold leaf bars… and all of the steamed broccoli a bird could want!

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  10. Perhaps she feels Dino’s spirit is still in the house. maybe he is the guardian angel watching over you, and Rita feels his presence. I think our angels give us signs they are with us, but we are too busy to notice and realize. Example: I bought a new car 4 days ago. I went to Laredo for a mass for my friend that died 3 years ago, and to visit friends. Last night a young man wrecked into my new car. I was terribly concerned I wouldn’t be able to drive home safely. I prayed and asked my guardian angel to help me. This morning I found a penny on the ground when I was opening my door to the car. My guardian angel believed that if you find coins lying on the ground, the angels are telling you they are taking care of you. Well, I made the 3-4 hour trip without any problems. Think what you want, but I knew when I found the coin placed exactly where I would see it, that my angel was with me. SURE made me feel better!

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  11. I just adore this post on so many levels. Rita….oh, what a beauty. And you as her mama….if I’m a parrot in my next life I want an owner just like you. Doggie bags, and all. And the touching part about your husband and Rita….and how Rita knew…Oh so lovely. Such a beautiful post. Thank you so much. I’m a bird lover. I see them as connected to the heavens. Hugs, Sam 🙂

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    • Thanks you, Sam. Parrots are special creatures. I am fortunate to have encountered Rita! You are so delightful that I have no doubt you’ll get lots of treats as well as doggie bags! 🙂

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  12. I have a sister named Rita. She’s just as colorful – LOL
    What a sweet story. I say she does know more that we humans could grasp.
    Fenway is always more clingy a day before I get hit by a migraine. He doesn’t leave my side.

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  13. Thank you for sharing Rita, George. It’s amazing that she likes to gently nibble on your finger to feel the tendons and ligaments roll around. Scary and fascinating! Animal companions are truly remarkable blessings. Sometimes I think they are sent here to care for and watch over us, instead of the other way around. I’m glad Rita found you. 🙂

    I too believe they can feel and sense things that we humans are not evolved enough (or maybe too evolved) to understand. I know my life would be much less colorful without them, and I sure hope they are with us in the afterlife.

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    • Sometimes, I am convinced you are right. They provide a level of unconditional acceptance that humans are not capable of. Indeed, she did find me. I would have walked on without ever having seen her if she hadn’t called to me. Serendipitous encounters are sometimes the best kind! Thanks, Lori!

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  14. Had to come back to read. My internet’s driving me crazy here.
    Rita’s beautiful and intuitive. Yes, other species have a knowing way that we don’t understand. You’re lucky to have each other.

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    • I know. It was a serendipitous encounter that day in the feed store, for sure! Thanks. I bleed for you and that dial-up-slow connection. Aaauugh!!

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    • Honestly, I appreciate that. I have a tremor that is almost prohibitive in photography. On a good day, the little Lumix pops up her message: a shaky camera icon! That tickles me. Once, recently, I got an hourglass (on the camera display) and a message saying “Unable to read video”. I about fell over laughing. So, I am happy when a photo turns out kind of sharp. Otherwise, I try to work around it. Could be worse. I haven’t started drooling yet … well, not noticeably.

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  15. Dear George and Rita, I don’t know if I have told you, but I am a parrot mom too. Georgie is a Congo African Grey, and my baby. I will have to write a post about him and the others too too. He is spectacular in my eyes! Rita sounds fabulous, and I’m certain she understood about Pops, they have special souls. Nothing and nobody can prepare you for the bond that develops between a bird and a human. You have to experience it! Wonderful post and tribute to a beautiful friend :). Georgie blows kisses and says Hello

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    • I would love to see Georgie. Greys are the smartest of the parrot family in general. I had an African Grey who came along with Rita. She was absolutely beautiful, but we didn’t connect. She lives with a friend in a different town. They adore her. They moved from an apartment to a house when the apartment became too small for everybody. She was a major consideration in the choice to move. Non-parrot-people, as I refer to people who don’t know parrots, would never understand how a parrot could influence you choice of where to live. I understood it perfectly well. Parrots are family members who outlive most of us who are their families. Blowing kisses is just too much. I would really like to see that. People here are on waiting lists for the Congo Greys. They are supposed to be very gentle and smart and not so shy. I knew somebody in our community had a parrot, but I forgot it was you. Thanks! And post Georgie soon!

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  16. I honestly never want other people’s pets, but this is just a glorious ode to a wonderful friend and companion. I would be thrilled to have a companion like Rita while I toil away in isolation throughout my day. As always I am reminded how beautifully you tell a story my friend.

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    • Thank you, Michael. You would enjoy Rita. She listens and chats. She is content to sit with me wherever I am. I appreciate the vote of confidence. Your opinion is important to me. You have been with me since the beginning and I am grateful. I am thrilled with your new venture. You are taking such remarkable strides! The future looks bright and promising for you and Schmee. I am pleased as any granny would be! 🙂

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      • There is always room in my world for another pleased Granny 🙂 Please offer Rita some broccoli from me and I look forward to seeing you on the other side!
        A big Blissful Hug!

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    • Yes they do, Carl. Dogs are known for sensing things humans miss. I depend on my dogs for that. I also depend on Rita. She knows what is going on too. I am lucky to have her with me. I can only hope that she is cared for by somebody who appreciates her when I am gone. She is so young still. I worry a bit about that. Parrots form lifelong attachments, you know. I have a consultant friend, Shari Beaudoin, who is the president of the Amazona Society. She will take Rita. Thank goodness. I can trust her to find a place for Rita since everybody in my family is afraid of The Diva. 🙂

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  17. I had told my daughter about you before and was excited to show her your picture, and of course share the story of the lovely Rita with her. She loved it, as I knew she would!
    🙂
    elisa

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    • I know your daughter is a sweetheart. How could she be otherwise? 🙂 I remember thinking you were handling the boyfriend really well. I was proud of you. You hardly look old enough to have a daughter of marriageable age, but maybe I’m just too old and have lost my gauge somewhere! Thank you, Elisa. I see you everywhere encouraging all of us!

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  18. Delighted to meet your beautiful friend! I can’t get over your description of her behaviour during your husbands illness! Thank you for sharing Rita with us.

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    • I’m glad you liked my Diva friend! 🙂 Yes, parrots often grieve just like humans at the loss of a family member or another animal. Sometimes, they don’t recover if the attachment to that person is too close. Pablo is going to tell us the story of the parrot who showed up at his aunt’s house and stayed. When her husband was dying, the parrot went from the kitchen to his bedroom, sat and watched him, and kept saying, “Lo siento, Abuelo!” Sorry with emotion, not just a polite sorry. Pablo says she actually converses with people. I can’t wait to see her. Thanks, Madhu.

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  19. Oh dear George, of course I wondered your parrot always… and I know the name of your blog. I am so glad that you made a special post for Rita. Rita so lovely and you did really so nice shots… I noticed her cage is beautiful, and big and full of toys… 🙂 You are so beautiful together with Rita… Blessing and Happiness for you both. I know how sensitive they are… Thank you dear George, as always you did a wonderful post I enjoyed, and I love birds too but can you imagine with my cat 🙂 Love, nia

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    • Birds and cats get along famously, really. You would adore a bird. Just not an independent thinker like The Diva. A sweet cockatoo would be really fun. I appreciate your attention to us here at my little place, Nia. You area always so patient and kind and supportive. Thank you.

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    • Thank you very much. I have been visiting your photographs and I am fascinated by them. You capture the look and feel and mood of old analog 35mm black and white film. I am amazed by the consistently superb quality of your work. I am so happy to see somebody do this since that is my very favorite style of photography … like the old street photographers and the legendary masters of field photography.

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  20. Wow I learned a lot about parrots today,My husband had one before we got married, i just loved all that i read here. George the way you write about things, should be done in school textbooks. That way students will be interested in learning too..
    Madam Rita is one Diva I must add and i loved her 🙂
    I didnt know Parrots( birds) understand so much,in terms of understanding what their human friends are going through…
    loved the write up
    HUgs 🙂

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    • Thank you, Soma. Yes, she is quite the Diva! I hadn’t thought of that, but she really is. Ha Ha. In European history, I remembered the anecdotal stories and forgot the dates and other significant stuff! We do remember if we associate a fact with a story. You should have a rose-breasted cockatoo. Or any cockatoo. If I didn’t have Rita, that’s what I would choose because they are so snuggly and lovable. The rose-breasted ones look unreal like pictures. They talk too. The Goffins Cockatoo is a nice bird as is the Sulfur Crested. Double-yellow Head Amazons like Rita are not recommended for the novice parrot owner. According to the books. Rita should have warned me! I only learned that much too late. 😉

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  21. What a lovely post and tribute to Rita! I love the photo of her in the snow – beautiful! Our animal /bird friends really do understand and sense our pain. It does not surprise me that Rita would respect the situation.

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  22. I think that’s a really wonderful tribute to Rita! She’s so funny and interesting; I like her a lot too!!

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  23. Hi George, this is a wonderful post. It was a pleasure to meet Rita. How interesting to hear of her relationship with Pop, too. I enjoyed the pictures.

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    • Thank you, Naomi. I enjoy Rita tremendously. She nagged Pops when she was on her tree behind his sofa at the old house. He kept Boy’s toy golf club to bang on the sofa pillow when she came down and pecked his arm. Soon, he only had to pick it up to inspire her to scurry back home! 🙂

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  24. This is an amazing and remarkable post George!

    Rita is quite a model and all the photos of her are really beautiful, I loved the one where she is with you.

    Some years ago a relative found a parrot in her house, she just arrived there and stayed.

    That parrot still lives there and I got to know it a couple of days ago, she is like a human, she can hold a conversation perfectly and tells you such complicated words but everything makes sense; when my relative’s husband died, the parrot knew it was going to happen, she used to go from the kitchen to his room and when she saw him, she used to stare at him and tell him “Abuelo, Lo siento” which is “Grandfa, I’m sorry”, and after he died, she didn’t speak a word for 2 weeks.

    This little guys are amazing, thanks for sharing some info about them George!!

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    • Oh, Pablo! I am delighted to hear this wonderful story of the parrot who came to dinner! And stayed! “Lo Siento”. She isn’t just sorry in the polite sense. She understands emotionally too. You must photograph her and tell us her story. It is common for parrots to grieve for a lost human too. They become depressed sometimes. It sounds as if your parrot has a good life judging from her freedom to move about the house. Please do give us a photo or two and a little description of her! 🙂 Thank you!

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  25. What a sweet story. I have not seen a picture of you before and you and Rita are just lovely. You have a beautiful smile. Isn’t it amazing what animals pick up on? My dogs know too when something is wrong and will act differently or come to me when I have a scrape and lick that spot as if to say, get better. How sweet that Rita has done that for you as well.

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    • Thank you, Susan. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I depend on my dogs for everything. I always have. I take them for granted until I lose one. Their absence leaves a real hole in my security blanket! I stopped attributing aphoristic qualities to animals somewhere along the way after the crush of having lost my first dog, but I have loved and depended on a number of dogs throughout my adult life. They are being used in all sorts of medical ways now to alert people to impending problems. They also sense our physical and emotional well-being. I think we are not so far apart as one might imagine.

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  26. A fascinating and wonderful post, and it was a pleasure to get to know Rita just a bit. Having had animal friends in my life, I can easily understand your feelings for her, and hers for you. Friendship is a a wonderful experience… just as much when it bridges between two different species as when it is between brothers.

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    • Thank you, Shimon. Rita is a wonderful companion. I enjoy my dogs and even depend on them to help me since my hearing is impaired, but there is just something about a parrot that is different from any creature I’ve ever known. Kelli had a cat who was almost like a person too. Nechama reminds me of him in her photos. Some cats are special characters, I think. I’m happy that you enjoyed this visit with Rita!

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