I may have killed my friend's pet.
November 21, 2011 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Babysitting friend's budgie and let it out to have a fly. It hit a wall and fell to the ground beside my dog who promptly scooped him up but dropped him immediately when I yelled at him. I rushed him to an avian vet. The bird is in shock and in "critical" condition. Oh, please help. Vet expenses are going to be $400 and I don't even know if the bird will make it. But I don't care about the money. I care about my friend and my friendship with her.

I feel sick and have been crying all day. I'm so scared this bird will die and my friend will stop being friends with me. Her friendship means so much to me. I was thrilled when she asked me to watch her bird because she has done so much for me over the past year - I was happy to do something in return for her. Now I feel like a fuck-up and a horrible person.

As well, I'm just so sad for the bird. He's so sick. He was such a sweet happy guy and it was so nice having him in my home. The empty cage is making me so sad.

I had my fiancé call and tell my friend's husband what happened as I couldn't talk. I still don't feel like I can.

Please don't say it's just a bird. I have a dog and would die if something happened to him under someone else's care.

I don't know if my friend's husband has let her know yet. Suggestion for what I can do to make amends/this awful feeling to go away.
posted by heffalump to Human Relations (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you did and are doing everything you can. It's a horrible accident, and you couldn't predict it. If it comes to the worst, your friend will understandably be shell-shocked, but she's a human being, and a caring and empathetic one apparently. I'm sure it'll be okay. The short-term might be tough, but a good friendship is a long-term thing, and with time it'll become water under the bridge.
posted by Magnakai at 3:47 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

The main thing left you can do is talk to the friend yourself.

Yes.. very hard, yes scary. BUT! Yes, what an adult needs to do. Tell her how awful it makes you feel, that you'll cover the vet cost, and if she wants another bird you will help pay/will pay for the replacement.

If something happened to your dog, you would not die, you would feel like shit for a good length of time. The same applies here. She may well be angry at you, let her have the space to have her feelings as well, whatever they are. But express your desire to make it right (as much as possible) and ask her what you can do.
posted by edgeways at 3:54 PM on November 21, 2011 [8 favorites]

I had my fiancé call and tell my friend's husband what happened as I couldn't talk. I still don't feel like I can.

Well, you have to. You have to show your friend that (a) you are willing to do the emotionally difficult to be honest and real with her, and (b) her pain trumps your pain, in this instance -- it's her bird, and she's not there, imagine how she feels. I'd want every little detail, if it were my pet, and no one but you can provide that.

Obviously you didn't mean for this to happen, and I know it must feel awful. I don't envy you the conversation -- it would be hard for me, too. But being really sad does not show remorse. Doing everything you can to make it right -- that shows remorse.

So call her, right now.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:55 PM on November 21, 2011 [24 favorites]

Call her up right now and tell her everything you told us. Don't let her feel you're avoiding her.
posted by HotToddy at 3:56 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hard truth: you get to feel bad. You feeling bad is not her problem. You don't get to feel more bad than her, either. Be sorry, pay for whatever you need to pay for, be a grownup. You need to stop third-party talking right now, pull your boots up, and apologize personally.

And then: if she's the kind of person who would end a friendship over a bird, it wasn't that great a friendship. (Just to reiterate, however: ending a friendship over your drama over the bird is somewhat more reasonable.)

I don't have friends watch my animals because they are not professionals and I don't want them liable (or to FEEL liable) for whatever weird stupidity my dogs would absolutely pull. If I did ask them and something happened...that's really me being cheap and/or something unpreventable happening, or choosing not-the-best set of circumstances for the animal. (Like, putting a bird in a strange environment, with a dog. What was she thinking?)

Calm down and own what happened. You can't make her not be upset, but you can try to not make her extra upset.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:58 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have a dog and would die if something happened to him under someone else's care.

It feels like it, but you wouldn't. You would feel hurt and upset and angry and pained for a while, and then, eventually, your heart would start to heal. And the same thing will happen to your friend if her bird doesn't make. It will suck mightily for a while, but her world won't end. It won't eclipse everything else in her life, ever like that.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2011

I missed the part where you did something wrong. You let the little guy out to stretch his wings and he flew into the wall. You didn't move the wall did you? You immediately yelled at your dog. I doubt the issue is from the brief moment your dog had the bird.

I mention this because knowing this it should be easier to call your friend. Own up and offer to do whatever you can. Apologize and focus on getting the little guy better.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:13 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was 8 and a little less mature and forgiving than today, my family went on vacation and left my beloved adorable tiny gray hamster with my friend Lindsey. Her cat promptly ate it.
They told me when we got back, and I was sad but I wasn't mad at her.

If I left my current beloved pet with someone and he did something stupid and got himself killed, I would be heartbroken and mad at myself for leaving by I wouldn't be mad at the friend. I would want the friend to come over and cry with me.
Be worried and sad alongside your friend, she will know this is not your fault but she will need some support and someone who knows how she is feeling and takes her emotions seriously now.

Apologizing is great, but commiserating is better.
posted by rmless at 4:18 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is one of my fears when I pet sit, but it happens. And as long you were responsible and didn't take risks (and it sounds like you didn't) your friend will be upset but not blame you. Just get it over with. The longer you leave it, the worse it will be. Try to be supportive for her, but most of all try and let her know of the bird's progress and any news you have.

I am really sympathetic and I understand your meltdown. I actually think your friend will appreicate that you care this much about her and her pet, but your focus should be to try to just help her and her pet any way you can first. You have done everything you can; all you can do now is wait and try and be a good friend.

Let's hope you get good news about him soon.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:24 PM on November 21, 2011

We brought our tiny and energetic cat to an elderly neighbor lady during a time that I had to play a summer gig in some castle a few hours from home. On a rainy day, she vanished, and stayed away. We came back a week later and the neighbor was in tears. I felt most of all sorry for her - was just gearing up to tell our little daughter that cat was gone, when said cat walked into the house like nothing ever had happened.
Hope that little bird is getting better, in other words, but otherwise, your friend will be able to commiserate with you, too, if it's a good friend. Try not beating yourself up too much.
posted by Namlit at 4:28 PM on November 21, 2011

Years ago, I was pet sitting for my landlord and the dog I was watching died. It was hard for everybody, but we all got through it, and the landlord's reaction wasn't nearly as bad as I was afraid it might be. Bird owners understand how fragile birds are and that unforeseen events can hurt them, even when you're doing your best to take super good care of them.

And you don't know, the bird might be fine in the end. Hugs to you, and I know you don't think so right now, but you sound like a wonderful friend to have. We should all have friends who care this much.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:31 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I lost my cat a few years ago when a friend-of-a-friend offered to watch him while I was backpacking. I think the guy waited something like a week to email me and admit what had happened, and I could tell that he felt horrible. From my perspective though, I felt just as bad for subjecting him to all that stress, time he spent combing the neighborhood, etc etc ... your friend will be more sympathetic than you realize, I'm betting.
posted by mannequito at 4:32 PM on November 21, 2011

A few years ago, my cat (that I might mention I love more than almost anything in this world) was staying with my mom while I went on vacation for a week. It was over the Fourth of July holiday and he got scared by the fireworks, pushed out a window screen and disappeared. She didn't call me until the next day because she thought she could just find him and I'd never have to know. When that didn't happen and she did call me, I raced home immediately to look for him. He was gone for a week and toward the end of that time I was starting to have to deal with the very real possibility that I might never find him. During this time my mom was DISTRAUGHT. She was crying so much and blaming herself for the pain she knew I was feeling. I actually felt bad for her. The only thing I was really angry about was that she hadn't called me right away. The rest...well, accidents happen. Not that it was "OK", but she clearly hadn't done it on purpose and just as clearly felt terrible. She also thought I would never forgive her. But that's just guilt talking. In my case I was lucky enough to find him, albeit after he was both attacked by an animal and grazed by a car. He needed a couple of days in the hospital, a cast, and stitches in his ass. But today it's water under the bridge. Accidents happen. Just do the best you can right now. Talk to your friend. Pay the vet bill. Let her know how terrible you feel. She'll forgive you.
posted by troublewithwolves at 4:33 PM on November 21, 2011

Suggestion for what I can do to make amends/this awful feeling to go away.

Well, I'll say it: it *is* just a bird. It had an expected lifespan of 2-7 years. It flew into a wall, which is not a good way of enhancing that lifespan, and which might have brought about shock all by itself. You enabled that, but neither you nor your dog were sufficient to it.

I love animals, and I am glad you are not as callous as the above must make me seem, but they do die, sometimes because of other animals obeying their instincts. Communicate to your friend that you feel terrible, but do *not* make this about making you feel better; it's about the bird, and your friend's attachment to it, and you should express your feelings without redirecting the focus.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:36 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think you imagine what you would like to hear if you left your dog with your friend, and he got injured.

You probably wouldn't want to hear it from your husband, who heard if from her husband, who heard it from her.

You'd probably like her to call, tell you what happened, and apologize. You'd probably appreciate hearing that one of the reasons she is so sorry, is because she's afraid this might damage your friendship, and she didn't want that to happen.

You'd probably want time to feel how you feel, and appreciate hearing from her that she understands if you were angry or sad.

In short, you'd probably appreciate her being a friend. Go be that person. Call her. Don't hide out and wait for her to call you. Be upset if you must, but be present. Go be her friend. You can do this.
posted by anitanita at 4:42 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Birds, especially parakeets, often hurt themselves by flying into things. It's pretty much all they've got, riskwise, aside from predators. The classic is the window, of course, but mirrors are also good for a little budgie broken-neck, and back when I had these birds they would go ahead and fly into a wall if neither of the other two were available. Typically they're looking for an obvious perch, and they can only fly forward, so you get these birds repeatedly smooshing themselves into the wall and sliding down to the floor. I don't know how freaked out, psychologically, they get when taken to an unfamiliar environment, but I'd say the likelihood of injury goes up with dogs and cats around.

Did the vet xray? If so, and the vet is still just saying "shock," then you might be OK.
posted by rhizome at 4:44 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding JohnnyGunn, the BIRD FLEW INTO THE WALL. How did you cause that? It almost sounds like the bird may have had something wrong with it that had nothing to do with you letting it out.

I'd also agree that you need to talk to your friend and let her hear how upset you are and how much you've done to make it right. If I were to get that call, I would be sad, but not angry. Especially as you did nothing to make the bird sick/injured.

Be kind to yourself. Don't let guilt eat you alive - you are doing the right thing and I would be happy to have someone like you as a friend given your level of care for your friend and her pet. Good luck.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:47 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please do everything you can to get yourself together tonight, and talk to your friend tomorrow. She will need to hear this from you, and for you to be empathetic, kind, and most of all, calm. Keep your conversation about her feelings, not about yours.

A few years ago, a friend of mine brought her dogs over to play with mine. They were out in the back yard, and we had gone in for a few minutes. Unbeknownst to me, my (formerly feral) cat had also gotten out. One of my friend's dogs killed my cat. It sucked. But the part that made it extra sucky was that my friend got hysterical because she felt so bad. So instead of dealing with the fact that my cat was dead, I had to focus on calming down my friend. And that shouldn't have been my job.

So remind yourself that this was a terrible accident, but was only an accident. Punishing yourself won't make this better. Taking care of the vet bills and calmly supporting your friend will make it better.
posted by amelioration at 4:53 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you know better than to say something like "it's just a bird": it's HER bird, her pet, and her emotional tie. So far, so good. Definately apologize to your friend, and let her know how badly you feel about the bird being hurt. Definately cover the vet bill; don't 'offer', just make sure the bill comes TO YOU.

As far as the offer to get her a replacement bird if, heaven forbid, the worst happens: only make that offer if it looks like your friend will be receptive. It's a nice thought, but you'll have to see if it looks like she'll take it well, or if it would offend her as 'insensitive.'

(Part of the problem with birds --- especially the smaller ones like parakeets and canaries --- is that they have a very high heartrate; I seem to recall canaries have a resting heartrate around 150-200 beats per minute, and stress makes it go even higher; weirdly enough, they can experience heart failure relatively easily. Sorry.)
posted by easily confused at 4:59 PM on November 21, 2011

guster4lovers: "Seconding JohnnyGunn, the BIRD FLEW INTO THE WALL. How did you cause that? It almost sounds like the bird may have had something wrong with it that had nothing to do with you letting it out."

Nah, the bird was probably just stressed and a little disoriented from being a new place. You know how on Metafilter our stock answer for unusual cat behavior questions is "Cats are weird"? Well, birds are fragile (especially notoriously inbred and stressed budgies/parakeets, who aren't exactly bird rocket scientists on their best days). This exact scenario happened to me, with my own bird and my own dog, after the bird had been living in our house with the same dog and the same wall arrangement for at least a year. It wasn't anybody's fault. Who could have predicted that during his ~400th out-of-the-cage adventure, he would lose his shit and fly into the wall?

Heffalump, this was a terrible accident, there was no way to predict anything like this would happen, and you did your best to keep the bird safe. Hopefully, your friend will be able to see this, sooner or later.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:03 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Please make sure she knows. My cat died while I was on vacation, due to a pet-sitter's medication error. Because I was notified right away, I was able to talk with the emergency vet about options, make decisions about when it was time to let him go, and while it was a horrible experience, I know that he was in caring hands and I know that the decisions were made for him that I wanted made.

I think if I had just come home and been told at that point that he'd died, I would wonder forever if he'd gotten the right care, and if more could have been done for him. I beat myself up enough about choosing the petsitter I did, and not emphasizing his medical needs enough - that's one thing I am relieved I don't have to feel guilty about after the fact.

Please let her have that agency in this situation, she may want to talk with the vet directly and have some say in her pet's care.
posted by Stacey at 5:04 PM on November 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm awfully protective of my cat. And if something happened to him while I was away, I'd want the pet-sitter to tell me right away - just as much for the sitter's sake as my own. I wouldn't want her to spend several days worrying about how I'd react. I've never been on either side of the situation (knock on wood), but I'd imagine it feels just as bad for the sitter as for the pet owner.

Call her and tell her exactly what you wrote here, that you loved the bird and you're really sorry and you care about her. If she's as good of a friend as you describe, she's probably going to be sympathetic.

Avoid getting into a who-feels-worse pity competition with her; you're allowed to feel bad, but keep this about her for now. Whatever you do, do it because it will comfort or calm her, and not because you think it'll help her forgive you. Don't seek reassurance that you're still friends or she doesn't hate you or whatever. Your feelings are still valid, but this is a time for you to support her, not to make sure she's still supporting you.

Pay the vet bill in full and give your friend ALL the vet info you know, including the vet's number and hours. Keep your friend posted with any updates on the bird's condition, including the bad ones.

It was an accident you couldn't have predicted or prevented, and you've done the best you could. You even took the bird to the vet immediately, which not everyone would have done. Continue to do your best by calling her right now.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow. Amazing outpouring. I will read them all soon. I've only just checked back now as I've been talking to my fiancé, mom, and friend whose bird it was.

I just came back to update: The poor bird died. And I again had my fiancé call my friend's husband so she would hear the news from someone she loved in person and I called her myself 20 minutes later.

She was very sad but also very understanding. She felt bad for how bad I felt and told me how fragile birds can be and that she was very happy that I tried to take care of him by taking him an avian vet.

So, thank you all so much for your stories and advice. It means a lot.

I, of course, will pay for the vet bill. I won't even mention to her what it was ($176 in the end, as the bird won't need to stay overnight now). I'm going to get him tomorrow and bring him to her and she's going to bury him in her back yard.

I feel relieved about my friendship and now just sad for the poor sweet bird - he was a lovely little guy. And also for my dog who knows something's up He's not hanging out with us as usual. (He must thing he's done something wrong.) His owner has been acting unstable!

There are a few of his pretty blue feathers left in the bird's cage. Do you think it would be nice if I made a keepsake card for her using them or is that morbid?
posted by heffalump at 5:24 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

So sad. But good for you, talking to her and comforting her. Comfort your dog, now, then have an early night. And YES, give her the feathers. I'm not sure about the card, that is you forming a memorial... Me, I have a hunk of fur shaved before a beloved cat's last operation in a keepsake box. No frippery.
posted by likeso at 5:29 PM on November 21, 2011

I wouldn't make a card with the feathers, it sound too much like turning the loss of the bird into a craft project opportunity. But it's a nice thought to save them for her; do you have a small box you can put them in?
posted by easily confused at 5:33 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would give her a card along with the feathers, but I would not make them part of the card. It should be up to her as to what (if anything) she wants to do with them.
posted by vorfeed at 5:34 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks, guys. I'll make her a card saying how lovely her bird is and how much he'll be missed and I'll give her the feathers separately or loosely inside.

I'm having a glass of wine now and am trying to get through the rest of the evening without beating myself up. If she can forgive me, I can try to forgive myself.

As for my dog, I'll try to make tomorrow as normal as possible for him and take him for lots of walks and give him lots of treats.
posted by heffalump at 5:55 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had my last several deceased pets cremated via whatever vet handled the final arrangements, and every time I've received a little plaster circle with a pawprint. They do make kits for that sort of thing at craft stores (they're marketed for baby footprints, but whatever) if you were able to grab something like that for your friend before interment if she wanted. (I was HORRIFIED the first time, but now I'm all "where's my pawprint??")

Anyway, I'm glad this is okay. I didn't want to say it was just a bird, because it wasn't "just" anything, but it *was* a bird and they are incredibly fragile. You could have been doing nothing but bringing in her mail and checking the bird's water and the chances of it expiring on your watch were still greater than zero.

And yes, hug your dog. He was just acting like a dog, it's not his fault.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:36 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry, heffalump. But, truly, this was not your fault and bird owners understand that these things happen. My supervisor had a bird die at the vet's office just from the vet taking a blood sample. She understood and still uses (and trusts) the same vet. Birds are very fragile and it's really easy to accidentally stress them out.

Hang in there, it will get better. Many hugs to you.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:28 PM on November 21, 2011

Oh, no. I'm so sorry you had to go through this!

Imagine how you would feel if someone were taking care of your dog and an accident happened and he was killed. You wouldn't be mad at the caretaker, would you? You'd be sorry that they had to deal with the stress and hardship of the accident when you'd just signed up to watch your pet for a few days, and sad that your dog was gone. And I think it would be a great comfort to you (if you're anything like me) to hear about how much the caretaker had loved your dog, and what a nice time they were having together up to the accident.

One thing I love about having dogs and leaving them with friends is hearing how much fun the dogs are, how sweet they are, and how pleasant it is to take care of them. It makes me feel great - they are charming but sometimes naughty and it's always nice to hear their charm wins out. Please do tell your friend what a lovely presence the bird was in your house and how much you miss it. People take great pride in their pets and I think most of them love nothing more than to hear how great that pet was, even in the wake of a sad incident.

Also, depending on the breed of dog, many dogs will hold hurt birds like delicate rose petals, instinctively. I would trust my dogs with an injured bird before I'd trust myself. So if your dog is of one of those breeds, it was doing what its ancestors were bred to do and you can be fairly certain it didn't harm the bird.
posted by troublesome at 9:07 PM on November 21, 2011

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that the bird died :(

My family had budgies. One of our budgies flew in to the wall and injured several of his air sacs (part of the bird respiratory system). He actually lived 8 more years after that, but NOBODY expected him to live, and he was in the bird hospital for a few days. It's so true that budgies are really fragile. A medium-strong draft or a really stressful day and they easily die. It really does sound like you did everything you could.

If I were your friend, I would NOT want you to say something like "we can just get you a new bird". People rarely say this sort of thing about cats and dogs nowadays, because the individuality/irreplaceability of each pet is better understood, but many people still view birds as totally replaceable. Budgies are in fact VERY social creatures that develop unique bonds with their owners ("flock") and that have strong personalities. So, if you offer to pay for a new pet bird (honestly, they usually cost about $10), make sure you don't suggest that the new bird will be exactly the same as the old one.
posted by Cygnet at 3:42 AM on November 22, 2011

Definitely do not buy your friend a restaurant gift card.

I had a friend petsit for me for ONE NIGHT and she managed to lose one of my dogs during that one night. She had explicit instructions to pick the dog up, put her in the yard, wait for her to pee, then carry her back in--this dog HATED being outside and would always try to get out of the fence. My friend didn't follow my instructions, Ruby got out, and when I came home the next afternoon I found her on the side of the busy street, run over. My friend seemed somewhat apologetic, sent me a restaurant gift card, and moved on. I really think she thought she was doing the best thing, but...it seemed impersonal to me. What I would have preferred is a heartfelt apology (not just the card from the restaurant), and an offer to pay for the adoption fee for my next pet. Just something to consider.

And I'm sorry this happened to you. Be sincere and you will be okay!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:15 AM on November 22, 2011

Oh, masquesoporfavor, that is awful. I'm so sorry for your loss.

I'm going to pick the bird up from the vet today and give him to my friend. I'm still very sad and teary, but I'm trying to buck up. I will apologise profusely again and let her know what a lovely little guy he was and how much we enjoyed having him and how much we will miss him. I am truly, beyond words, sorry.

They won't want another bird again soon. This one was staying with my friend's mom (who is on a cruise) because my friend has a newborn who can't be around birds for a bit. I will of course offer to pay for a new bird if/when she feels ready for a new one.

I feel very touched that other people feel for me - thank you for that. The guilt has been eating me up and I have been feeling like I don't have a right to feel bad. I know that's not true, but still.

So, more awfulness today when I give her the bird and then I will try to move on.
posted by heffalump at 7:32 AM on November 22, 2011

Aw. Maybe in a year you can make "give her the bird" jokes and it'll be that sad/funny thing that happened a long time ago. Good luck, be strong, be kind!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:45 AM on November 22, 2011

The restaurant gift card may make sense to someone from a culture more accustomed to traditions involving blood money or its parallels. So while I would be dumbstruck if someone did that following the death of one of my pets, that anecdote did cause me to take a step back and reflect on how many assumptions we make when weighing in on these questions.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:58 AM on November 22, 2011

Update: Friend invited me out for lunch yesterday. We had a nice time and talked about all things non bird-related. Then I picked up the bird from the vet and brought it to her. We had tea at her house and cuddled with her baby. It was awkward at first and sad, but it's nice that she wants us to get back to normal right away. We had a nice afternoon together and had a good chat with a few laughs.

I'm really lucky to have such a sweet and caring person in my life. Many thanks to all of you for your kind words and helpful advice. It really did make a very traumatic event so much better.
posted by heffalump at 3:54 PM on November 23, 2011

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