Sociopath noun: person with a psychopathic personality whose behaviour is antisocial, often criminal and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.
Harry came to us in 2009 as a captive bred baby raven. He was pale and featherless, apart from a covering of soft penned feathers still rolled into their protective sheath. His beady, attentive eyes were slate blue, his beak black, over large and pastel pink inside. He eyed us – I should qualify that – me with deep and lasting suspicion. His unconditional love was reserved solely for my husband. We had cared for crows and ravens before but Harry wasn’t wild or injured. He was our family pet.
His growth was rapid and invasive. Having begun life in a cardboard box he now declared the house his own and the 18 x 9ft aviary we’d built for night use and safety, was nice but not for him. Many a fruitless hour was spent trying to coax Harry into the aviary. He loved this game often feigning interest in entering, placing a claw tentatively on the threshold, waiting for me to move into ‘door securing’ position and then torpedoing off for another investigation of the garden. I would place tantalising morsels of food into the entrance of the aviary, including the universally acknowledged ‘all species’ favourite, ‘Wotsits’. This was deemed beyond fair play and would send Harry into an apopleptic rage that generally resulted in him delivering a well-placed beak hammer to some vulnerable part of my anatomy, ankles and headshots being choice.
Harry was not encouraged to explore on his own, an opinion which he didn’t give two hoots about. His roaming was finally curtailed when a lady in our village, who bred Chihuahuas called us to say that if she caught ‘that bloody bird’ dragging her dogs round the garden one more time by their tails and ears, her husband would dispatch him with his twelve bore. Harry also delighted in peeling all the rubber seals off our neighbour’s car, stole and hid their gardening equipment and would land heavily onto the wing mirrors of moving vehicles in order to terrify postal workers.
Harry’s relationships with other species were complex and unpredictable. He loved our three dogs and would often stand proprietorially next to them while they slept. He would also devote hours concocting new methods of tormenting and antagonising them. I’d watch him saunter casually past our Labrador as he slept and bury his claws into his snout. He’d then take lazily to the air and observe the chaos from the roof of the aviary. He perfected barking, so I’d open the back door to let in a dog and Harry would barge past me into the house shrieking triumphantly and as his home invasions were generally destructive, I would race after him, shrieking as loudly.
Harry’s nemeses were the chickens. Large and dangerously stupid they would ignore him as he sat glowering on the fence planning the day’s assault. He’d finally spot an opportunity, fluff himself up and launch. The hens would all instantly rush at him, stomping and kicking until sure that today’s lesson had been delivered and then go back to their scratchings. Harry would then be forced to sit in next door’s garden his back to us, head slumped between his wings, looking like a sulky Count Dracula.
With the amateur scientist’s zeal for experimentation we would spent hours inventing new food rewarded puzzles for Harry. These would involve string, twigs and Tupperware containers, none of which lasted more than mere moments. What couldn’t be manipulated instantly by brainpower would be ripped apart with claw and beak. Delayed gratitude was an anathema.
Heartbreakingly Harry is no longer with us. What he left, apart from the destruction and scars, was a deep belief that consciousness is a dimmer switch and not the sole possession of homo sapiens. It is easy to anthropomorphise a loved pet but it was hard not interpret his sulkings, shrieks, determination and ability to swoop from a hundred feet and springboard off the top of my skull as anything other than the pleasure that accompanies intelligence.