How to raise a talking crow, and other tales from people with unusual pets
How does one end up with a pair of pigs as pets, or a chicken, or a crow? Usually by accident.
Neuter the crow has been living with the Mirandas — Keith, 66, a retired captain with the merchant navy, and Farida, 65, an animal welfare worker — for 24 years (incidentally, urban crows can live to 40). He came into their lives on a stormy August afternoon, when his nest was blown down from a tree. The elder of the Mirandas’ two children, Shevaun, then 13, brought the days-old chick home. Since the family had no other pets, they agreed to keep the bird. At that time, they didn’t know if he was male or female, so they named him Neuter.
Sandhya Satyamurthy, 36, took in two orphaned piglets last September. A former manager at a pet boarding facility, she says she’d always wanted to have a pig as a pet. Last year, a friend heard about some weeks-old piglets whose mother had died, and Satyamurthy decided to take home the two that survived.
Her four-bedroom bungalow in suburban Bengaluru is getting a bit crowded, with her two pigs (Iggy and Chops) and five dogs. There are other challenges too. With no other pet pigs in the neighbourhood, she had to depend on the internet for tips on how to rear hers in the initial months. It helped that they really do eat anything, from chicken and vegetables to dog food and table scraps. “Iggy really likes cabbage,” Satyamurthy says.
For the Mirandas, the challenge was accepting that poor Neuter would never live the life of a crow. The bird has shared the children’s room all its life (now that they’ve moved out, he has the run of the room and the flat). He’s very affectionate and loves to be stroked, Farida says. But he’s spent his whole life divorced from other crows, so he never learnt how to fly. By the time he was large and strong enough to mingle, he’d been with humans for so long that the other birds wouldn’t accept him. So he just uses his wings to hop on and off things around the house.
In 2017, another unusual bird pet shot to global fame with the documentary short Tungrus, about a Mumbai family that had adopted a chick on a whim, only to have it grow into a hell-raising rooster. It bullied the family cats, crowed around the clock, and fluttered onto everything, including the two sons’ laptops. One of the young men speaks of how embarrassed he was to bring friends over, because he never knew how to explain why there was a rooster flapping about.
The crowing, in the midst of a crowded housing society, was a particular nuisance, as the innate habits of unusual pets can be. Satyamurthy, for instance, struggled with her pigs’ rooting. “They dig their noses into stuff, looking for treats. If you have a garden, they will root out everything. None of my mother’s plants survived,” she says.
In Neuter’s case, the surprise was a pleasant one, when the Mirandas discovered just how well crows can mimic. “He has a vocabulary of six words, including maa, which thrills me, yummy yummy, love you, and no no no no, when he doesn’t approve of something,” Farida says. “He’s been a joy and blessing in our lives.”
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