Episode 9 – “A Dancing Dodo? Seriously?”
“The Stories of Animal Control Officers Joe Tuesday and Bill Cannon”
(With a nod to Jack Web’s ‘Dragnet’ TV series…)
By Keith Kaniut
Our morning started with a call to extract a pint-sized pachyderm from a local homeowner’s basement. It had interrupted the homeowner’s 10 year old’s birthday party to the great delight of the attending young boys. We successfully reunited it with its owner, a nearby zoo where someone had left the gate open.
I’m Animal Control Officer Sargent Joe Tuesday and this is my partner Bill Cannon. We get interesting calls here in Minnesota, where the suburban meets the wild– uninvited wild animals in un-wild places, or pets creating mayhem and mischief. Those are routine. But every once in a while we get a real head-scratcher. We were back at the office completing the paperwork on the elephant in the basement when the phone rang.
“Animal Control; Officer Tuesday here.” I listened, took a couple notes and said “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone mention its extinction status!” Bill looked at me quizzically when I hung up.
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I read from my notes. “Yeah. The caller, Mr. Duayne Debunkler reports a dancing dodo bird outside Dirty Dan’s Delicious Donuts shop on Dennis Doily Drive, next to the Dairy Delight.” Bill nodded.
“I’ve been there. Decent donuts.”
“At the Dairy Delight?”
“No. Dirty Dan’s.”
“That makes more sense.”
“Joe, how can it be a Dodo? The raphus cucullatus has been extinct since 1681 and lived only on the island of Mauritius off the southeastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean!”
“I know. And they were flightless. It’s a long walk. What else could it be Bill?” He checked his phone.
“Well, the closest living relative is the Nicobar pigeon but they’re brightly colored and don’t look anything like a dodo bird.”
“Or, it could be a Shoebill, the balaeniceps rex. They’re about the same size and from that same part of the world? They’re blue.”
“Sad? Dejected? Disgruntled?”
“No. The color. Blue-ish.”
“That makes more sense. We’ll find out when we get there. Check if any nearby zoos are missing a bird.”
We headed for Dirty Dan’s Delicious Donuts, the site of the sighting. A small crowd had already gathered.
A tall young man in his mid-20’s greeted us as we pulled up.
“Yes. I’m he.”
“You mean ‘him’? You’re ‘him’?” I’m a stickler for proper grammar. It’s part of our code. (somewhere…)
“Yes. I’m the one who called. The Dodo is dancing down there.” He pointed his digit at a blue bird in front of the Dirty Dan’s Donut Shop and continued. “I must go. They’re degreasing my Dodge Dart down at Dean’s Decent Auto Repair and Dry Cleaning. They really get the seats clean!”
“As I would expect. Thanks Duane. We’ll take it from here.” He left.
It was a blue-colored bird. Definitely Not a Dodo. Every few seconds it would strike a pose, hiding its head under one wing while waving the opposite appendage up and down slowly.
“Strange behavior, Joe.” Bill observed.
“Yes. Notice the tuft of feathers at the back of the head?” Bill nodded.
“I think we have a Shoebill, uh….Bill.”
I edged closer to try and establish an emotional bond with the bird. I thought of something and turned back to Bill.
“Do you know how to speak ‘Shoebill-ese’?”
He shook his head. “They prefer dance moves – something like ‘interpretive dance’.” I didn’t like the sound of that.
“…Or, maybe we could try some food as bait? I’m pretty sure they like Dairy Delight ice cream! I’ll go get some.” I doubted that was true but figured it was worth a try.
“OK. Go grab what we need. I’ll try to keep our Balaenicips Rex occupied in the meantime.”
Although I wasn’t fluent in the bird’s native language of dance and nuanced clucking, I resigned myself to attempting dance-based communication. Maybe something from my Peacock liquid movements repertoire coupled with a low-pitched rendition of the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” masterpiece from the mid 1980’s, would serve?
I was acting out the final verse without any observed change in the Shoebill’s behavior when Bill returned with the bowl of ice cream. Or rather two bowls, one of which he was diligently tasting. He saw me looking at the two bowls.
“Two-for-one sale” he grinned and set it down. I tried miming a bird eating the ice cream and muttering appreciative and enticing clucks. The crowd started clapping, something I’d not anticipated. Bill motioned for them to stop.
But the Shoebill suddenly perked up. It began to strut dramatically, gesturing with its short wings and clucking contentedly. The crowd did a reserved golf-clap. The Shoebill lost all interest in the food and began dancing to the crowd’s appreciative hoots. Then I got it. This bird was an entertainer! It needed an audience.
Then the Shoebill took it up a notch with a series of fluttering backflips. Bad idea. It was too close to the road and sure enough, an unsuspecting Uber driver passed by just as the Shoebill completed a perfect double-forward flip with a 360-twist, landing in the middle of the lane. It happened too quickly – the screech of brakes, a cloud of feathers, and then silence. The crowd groaned.
Bill and I exchanged looks. We both shook our heads sadly. Suddenly, the crowd cheered. I turned and there was the Shoebill, limping but continuing its display. A remarkable bird and surprisingly resilient. Bill and I both had tears in our eyes. That happens sometimes even to hardened professionals.
I had a thought. “Quick Bill. Give me your notebook.” I grabbed it and approached the bird. I assumed the formal attitude of one requesting an autograph and the Shoebill immediately stopped dancing and came over, grabbing my pen with his beak and executed a precise signature on my pad. We both bowed in Japanese style.
After that, it was a cinch. Bill located the zoo with the AWOL Bluebill while I coaxed our new friend into the truck. We discovered he liked locusts; popped them like peanuts! Luckily we had some in our refrigerator back at the office. And I ensured that the second bowl of Dairy Delight didn’t go to waste either!
Then my phone rang.
“Officer Tuesday, Animal Control. What’s the problem?” I listened a moment and then hung up. An interesting call; a code 486, “bear at the bar”; in this case, the legal bar. A 485 would have been “bear in a bar”, much more common due their love of brews. But this black bear was in the city courthouse. Several lawyers were cornered and concerned. The bear had refused their offer of professional courtesy and amnesty and was insisting on inspecting their lunches. I briefed Bill. He grinned.
“You mean Joe, that we need to ‘dis-bear’ some lawyers?”
“That’s the idea.” I made a note of his pun. He’s definitely growing into this job. We set off walking to the courthouse. I didn’t see any point in hurrying. The bear was pretty safe from the lawyers…
Stay Tuned to Blue Water Healthy Living for more episodes of “The Stories of Animal Control Officers Joe Tuesday and Bill Cannon”.