The Pet Keeper
One morning on the way back from Mystic CT, we stopped at a stupendous outdoor used book shop called the Book Barn. It’s a cross between a tag sale and an abandoned carnival but with more cats. We roamed the grounds for nearly an hour and eventually found a cashier. In an effort to understand Fred the Parrot‘s wily behaviors, Chelsea got some pet-bird oriented books including A Man for All Species: The Remarkable Adventures of an Animal Lover and Expert Pet Keeper. The cover did not appeal to me at first, but there is an old saying about that.
As she began reading it over the next few days, Chelsea couldn’t help but show me excerpts from some of the more astonishing parts and soon I was drawn in. This guy, Marc Morrone, had a childhood idea that he’d have as many pets as possible, learn all about them and share all the knowledge he gained with the world. And he totally stuck with it (btw my early childhood lifeplan was to become a Lego designer, but I did not totally stick with it). In this book he shares a firsthand, conversational account of his…well…adventures.
It plots his course from the bedroom menagerie to the sparrows, crows and parrots that would follow him around the neighborhood and to school, to the ups and downs of his pet store and pet import/export business, to TV appearance hijinks, to near death experiences with snakes and monkeys, to prairie dogs as pets, to pet wolves turning on water faucets, to catching and banding falcons, and the list goes on and on. And in case it sounds like it’s all tooting of his own horn, it’s not. There’s a disarming, egoless candor to the presentation, as if he’s telling you these stories while he’s scrubbing poop off a birdcage or crawling around after yet another escaped reptile. After finishing the book we checked out his store’s web site, and finding that he was not too far away, we decided to make a day trip of it.
The store was in Long Island, and the storefront was unassuming. When someone writes a book and the name of their store is Parrots of the World, you sort of expect an ‘international headquarters’ level of grandeur, but from the outside this place could easily be mistaken for a laundromat. The inside was also utilitarian, but it was a much bigger deal than expected. Although probably a quarter of the size of a typical chain pet store, there were vastly more live animals – all quite animated and thriving. The first half of the store was about aquariums – probably about 80 or so tanks of various fresh and saltwater creatures altogether. The center was a glass walled bird section with literally hundreds of birds of all types and ages – macaws, doves, conures, amazons, cockatoos, lovebirds, eclectus – even kookaburras. In the back was everything else – rabbits, lizards, dogs, cats and a few wild animals that had come to be his personal pets via one remarkable anecdote or another.
And as promised in the book, Marc himself was there on Sunday, just as he is every day, doing what he loves. During most of our stay, he was feeding baby parrots but we were able to flag him down for some questions about a particularly chatty Cherry Headed Conure that had been trying to get our attention in the bird room. Marc said the bird’s name was ‘Ratchet’ and, in the blink of an eye, the bird was found and put on my shoulder. Marc doesn’t ask a bird to ‘step up’, or wait to see what it wants to do; he just grabs it places it as if it were a Christmas tree ornament. They too recognize his authority.
We told Marc we’d come to visit after reading the book and with a grin he pointed outside to where, as described in the book, he’d awkwardly scaled a nearby church steeple to find an extensive rooftop boneyard that had collected beneath the resident falcon’s roost. He reminisced about the amazon parrot that had flown down to save him from a gang of neighborhood bullies; “They probably thought I was like the Beastmaster“, he laughed. After some more stories, he pointed out, “You can read about some people and think you know them, then you meet them and they’re totally different in real life. But I don’t change. I’m just an Italian guy from Long Island. I’m just how I am in the book.” Then conversation turned to the very talkative bird on my shoulder, and after discussing some parrot species’ personality traits, he signed our book and took a picture with us. By then the place was crawling with customers and Marc returned to his flock in the bird room.