It was an early summer evening, still bright enough at 7 p.m. or so to seem like afternoon. We had just finished watching the news when it came shooting across the living room like a slot car on sticks.

"WHOA! What was that?" my son and I said at once.

Close, but confused, on the heels of the rapidly zigzagging little dervish came our sort of simpleminded tuxedo cat, Sly.

Our dog, large enough to look imposing on the porch, but unfortunately given to frequent anxiety attacks, crouched under a table with her teeth chattering--her usual method of explaining that it wasn't "her" fault.

The little creature made one sharp turn to dash under one side of the couch and almost immediately reappeared on the other end. It was obviously no mouse. It was a large marble-sized ball of fluff stuck on top of two-inch legs that pumped like a mini-ostrich on methadrine.

The dog chattered under the table and the cat went flying out the door as we finally cornered the little racer in my office and lifted it gently to safety. It had a long beak with a solid stripe across it and a pair of big frightened eyes that took up most of its little head, but it seemed unhurt.

This, obviously, was somebodyís baby from the nearby wetlands, but we knew its chances of survival would be slim if we simply turned the critter loose. So I called a friend who formerly worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to ask advice. Silly me.

"Uh, oh," said my friend when he came the next day to examine our new boarder, now settled in an aquarium with sand and some shore plants to make it seem like home.

"Whatís uh, oh?"

"Uh, oh, ibis. I mean, where did you find this?"

"I told you, it found usóran right across the living room."

"In your house?"

"Yeah, sure. What are you trying to say?"

"Well, itís just that this is a little baby ibis. Theyíre protected, you know. You canít mess with them. Did you know the Japanese consider it a sacred bird? The Chinese..."

"Okay, okay. Well, good," I interrupted. "So we saved it. Now what?"

"Well, the law technically says you canít mess with their habitat either, or disturb their nests, and I..."

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You gonna say my house is his habitat?"

"Well, I... Where did you say it came from?"

"It came like a bullet after Peter Jennings! I donít know. I guess the cat dropped it through the flap in the window. We saved it."

"You actually touched it?"

"Oh, man. C'mon."

"Well, youíre not supposed to touch these guys either, you know. The mother won't take it back now. Say, whatís the matter with your dog?"

"Okay, you guys take it. You know what to do?"

"I can't take it. It's against the law. It needs a bigger habitat, you know. This aquarium is too small."

"So, what? You want me to give it back the living room?"

"Well, not if youíre going to be walking around in there. That dog always shake like that?"

My friend advised me that no matter what excuses we might have about the cat, the federal authorities that be would not look kindly on our adopting the little waif.

"Theyíll take it away," he said. "Might even want you to do some explaining. Where did you say its habitat is?"

The little guy was about the size of a Christmas ornament. Within a day, it had somehow learned that nesting in someoneís hand provided a cozy, warm feeling, and the tiny snails that Roxanne brought from the nearby canal were greatly appreciated. Troublesome, but tall and handsome and with a love for escargot, its name naturally became Lafitte.

The cat was so offended by being tossed out during the chase that she didnít come back home for two days. The dog eventually got over the chatters and went back to sleeping on the porch. And Lafitte?

Tell you what; I admit we have a chicken and a duck and an Australian parrot, a couple of cats and a hypersensitive dog.
But you think I'm a nut?

I ain't coppin' to no ibis.

Tim Findley admits nothing to federal agents these days.

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