For the Birds

A kept bird (Shutterstock)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

People love their pets. Some, however, love their pets so much that they leave them $100,000 in their will.

The New York Post reported Saturday that Leslie Ann Mandel, a Manhattan entrepreneur who made her millions in the direct mailing business, bequeathed that sum to her 32 cockatiels. The birds currently live in an aviary in Mandel’s $3 million East Hampton property.

Mandel, who died in June, left careful instructions for the care of the birds, which she mentions by name. (Go here for the full list; my personal favorite is “Tattoo.”)

She requests that the birds stay where they are, but if they must be moved, that they’re placed in an identical replica of their aviary “for the rest of their natural lives.” Her will states: “It is my wish that the birds be fed and the building cleaned each Monday and Thursday and their food shall be purchased from Avi-Cakes, carrots, water and popcorn.” The New York Post reports that a 20-pound bag of Avi-Cakes, a brand of bird food, costs $115.

Mandel’s final wish for her birds, while unusual, is hardly surprising. In recent years, humans have come to treat their domesticated animals as real members of the family, giving them not just love and attention but, if they choose to spend the money, also providing them with expensive toys, clothes, and health care. Pet food labels now include words like “gourmet” and “all-natural,” and some people have started giving their dogs massages.

Earlier this year, I asked my dad, who grew up with cats, if he would ship me some cat food using his Amazon Prime account. “We used to just call it ‘food,’” he said, reading with awe the description for Hill's Science Diet Kitten Indoor Dry Cat Food for Healthy Immune Function, Healthy Development of Vital Organs, and Healthy Digestion.

So a hundred thou for your beloved beaked companions? Why not.