• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 08

Cage, Kennel, Home in Times of Pandemic

Our resident animal friends could teach us something about sheltering in place.

Birds come, wings clipped, in cages of metal or bamboo, natural or painted, suspended above the traffic of humankind. Staring through their narrow bars, they cling to a swinging perch, perform miniature circus acts, various feats of agility and balance, feathered trapeze artists swaying above last week’s newsprint.

Certain breeds of birds endowed with vocal prowess give impromptu concerts, crooning melodic riffs like a long-lost flute in the forest, while others do stand-up comedy, spilling secrets overheard in kitchens, front parlors, bedrooms. Accomplished mimics, they blurt out one phrase jokes in someone else’s voice, as if they take no responsibility for the meaning. They blast sirens and channel appliance noises, ready to heckle or applaud themselves should we prove a dull audience.

Dogs come as a multipurpose species with or without documented pedigree, each breed wired for action. They are equipped with slobbery jowls and drooping eyes, with corkscrew or graceful, billowing tails like the Marquis de Sade’s favorite quill or tails that salute, slick and straight rods, an extra digit to alert the hunter, to test the wind, but all tails are a handy Geiger counter of a canine’s shifting emotions.

As we have houses so do our canine companions and roommates. Those who board with us lie on pillows, sofas, armchairs, rugs, or inside kennels crafted as movable abodes. Or they stretch out on decks or porches or lie in cooling mud on the threshold of a miniature house in the backyard.


Cage, Kennel, Home in Times of Pandemic

Tethered by leash, they learn we are their home. Tethered by leash, we learn to walk and care for them.

Bird and dog fanciers rarely live with cats. For cats sit and quiz themselves on the fragility of bird cages while they map the room’s topography and calculate the distance and trajectory of their approach. They barely tolerate those animals of the canine species. They lap at gourmet foods that reek of Boston harbor fisheries. We approach our miniature tigers with caution and respect, always expecting feline havoc.

We live in the house that our cats visit, for whom it is a way station on an eternal hunt. They climb and drape silken joints, bones and furry flesh over straight-angled edges of tall cupboards. From there, they survey and manage their territory while we tiptoe through their domain.

We all make our homes or they are foisted upon us according to our needs, personalities, or circumstances. Now with pestilence and plague upon us, quarantined and isolated, we hiss, bark, trill, and bemoan our fate.

Inside our cages, we gather together—claw, fang, beak, wing, fur, feather, skin—to make a home within a home, to surrender the wild within us, to ask the lion to lie down with the sheep.