by T. C. LoTempio
In my new series, Urban Tails Pet Shop, the main character, former actress Shell McMillan, inherits a pet shop from her Aunt Tillie. How did I happen to decide on a pet shop for Shell’s profession? Well, I confess, poor Shell had quite a few occupations before I hit on Pet Shop. And the main reason for doing so was that an editor at the time wanted a series set in one. But once I started writing it, old memories came flooding back. I’ve had some pretty good times in pet shops.
I remember going into one near fourteenth street in New York City, where I grew up. We lived in an apartment above a restaurant and no pets were allowed. That was a horrible thing for me, because I’ve always loved animals – all kinds – especially dogs and cats. It killed me that we couldn’t have a dog. I remember going to the circus and begging my mother to get me a chameleon (they were selling them there). Well, she did, and things were fine…until the poor thing got out of his glass cage. We found him weeks later. No more chameleons for Toni!
There was a pet shop a few blocks away from where we lived, and I loved going into it. They rarely had dogs, but they did on occasion have a few kittens. Such sweet things! Sadly, I couldn’t get one. There were fish aplenty, but they didn’t interest me. What did were the birds! There seemed to be hundreds of them in cages, tweeting and chattering happily. At last my parents relented, and I got a beautiful blue parakeet that I named Happy.
From the first, Happy was no ordinary bird – at least not to me. He came when I called his name. When I’d come home from school, my mother would let him out of his cage, and he’d fly straight to me and perch on my shoulder. I’d tap my shoulder, and no matter where that bird was, he’d fly right over and land on it. He used to play “stairs” going up and down my fingers.
But the best trick of all? He used to dance! Yep, honest. I’d play my records, and he’d bop back and forth on the bottom of his cage in time to the music. Sometimes I even fancied he sang along! He was a very talented bird, and he was with me for three wonderful years.
So, when I created the parrot in Killers of a Feather, I confess, I drew on the spirit of Happy. Today, I’m the proud owner of a tubby tuxedo cat who’s inspired another mystery series, but when people ask me about my first pet, I proudly say “Happy.”
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