Rescues; Deplumed (Part Three)

Every time my phone buzzed, every time my dog lifted her ears, and every time my pet Illiger’s macaw Stevie gave his guard bird screech at people passing by out front, I felt my entire body turning inside out. I was full-blown triggered.

I was on the fence about this organization and I thought this day might come. I saw and heard many disturbing things this year but there was little I could do to seek outside help. It was apparent that the state inspector was failing these animals to the grave, despite the efficient and well written laws.

This is what can happen with group foster homes. There aren’t enough people seeing what happens to the animals. The president of this particular organization is the heart of the problem. He believes that a shelter building and more money will fix everything, yet he refuses to acknowledge limits on the number of animals and the required standards for minimum care. He respects people who let him get away with murder and it creates a very sick social dynamic of enabling.

People see illegitimate animal shelters in the news when they are finally so bad that you can’t even cover up the smell anymore. People ask, “How did this happen?!”. I believe wholeheartedly that what I witnessed are the stepping-stones towards a warehouse full of dead animals. I refuse to be just another face that saw tragedy, walked away, and tried to forget it. Not just for ethical purposes; but also for personal reasons.

 Countless times I had flashbacks to moments I was helpless. Looking down at the floor and seeing my hair, cut up in choppy segments and scattered like a mosaic. Running my hand over my prickly scalp and feeling blood rush to my stomach as if I had swallowed the weight of the world. Looking into eyes that met mine and immediately turned away, the people who saw it taken to that level and didn’t stop it. I don’t know what makes people capable of torture. All I know is that being a victim of it really, really hurts. I won’t go into what happened, but the way it affected me has left its scars. I can’t see it happening to other living creatures and pretend like it isn’t as bad as it is.

I didn’t want any of this in my life. This is not what I signed up for. All I wanted to do was foster a parrot or two and help train them so their behavior wouldn’t be a problem in their new home. I was attracted to this organization because they had an event and were selling a training DVD by my hero Barbara Heidenreich. I have volunteered for really great animal shelters in the past. They provide vet care, foster homes are respected and thanked for taking on just one, and animals are rehabilitated and adopted. The ratio of animals to volunteers allows this to be possible.

I couldn’t have imagined the situation I was now in. I didn’t know the DVD was kindly donated and they were only selling it for a profit. I never ever wanted to be someone who had 20+ pet birds, even if most of them are budgies. I don’t want to be that person and I had ambitions I wouldn’t be able to accomplish until most of them died of old age. We all know how indefinitely that could be.

Making the report to the state meant that I would be adopting all my birds. I couldn’t let them back into that shelter system. Marty’s separation anxiety would drive him absolutely insane if he went through it again. The other birds were thriving in the environments I made for them, I couldn’t rip them away from that. Their wings would stay clipped, their cages would be small, they wouldn’t get to come out, they’d listen to screaming macaws and cockatoos all day, and eventually would be split up and rationed out to children as beginner pets. I could not let that happen.

I tried to look on the bright side. I couldn’t help with training even if the shelter wanted me to because there were too many birds in the homes. Training consultations can also be incredibly challenging in ways I didn’t expect…with the people more so than the parrots. Many adoptions for the little birds made me uncomfortable. I am better off finding a different way to help parrots.

I got really lucky when one of my “rat house budgies” was adopted by a girl who has been incredibly committed and patient towards forming a healthy bond with her little birds. I still keep in touch with her, in fact her emails really kept my spirits up throughout this whole mess. It made me so happy to see how she actually did the work and was able to get closer to her birds little by little. I was sad that I wouldn’t have more opportunities to help people do this but I was incredibly grateful for the one that I did.

The big worry for myself was my own mental health. At times I felt my sanity cracking. It was not easy to see the parrots in those conditions without reliving personal trauma. After the things I had been through, I felt very damaged and like I could only be loved to a limit because of the baggage that comes with PTSD. Triggers affect my relationships. It puts me in a mood that is upsetting to people who care about me, more so for my family.

I have struggled with this for over a decade. I am the luckiest woman in the world to have my husband Ryan. I love every single thing about him. Although he said the feeling was mutual, part of me could not truly believe it. Part of me would jab my gut and whisper ‘He’s only saying that hoping you will believe it and be better. He secretly feels burdened when you have flashbacks. He would be happier if you were normal.’ I felt so much guilt about my inability to accept that others could truly love me. At best I couldn’t fully believe him but I could be courteous and say nothing about it. At my worst I asked him to not tell me he loved me until I was more emotionally stable.

When Sebastian was first home I would glance up the hall 20 times a day, just to look at him in his cage. It was hard to believe he was really here. He needed space when he was tired and weak and afraid those first couple weeks. Just to see that he survived when so many others died, to know how he would escape from his cage and let the others out, and to feel those soft red feathers between my fingers as he tilted his head down for affection….all of those things made me love him more than I could ever express.

What a beautiful creature to survive all that and still be hanging on. Sebastian kept his ability to show kindness to people when he’s not even domesticated. To live like Hell for 30 years and come out such a gentle giant, he was a truly sacred being.

Seeing him come out of his shell was so incredible to experience with him. I was so proud of him when he did something that was scary, and everything was scary to him. Stationing on the center perch instead of hiding up top when I opened the door, stepping on to my hand, climbing up his jungle gym, going to the vet every month, and playing with me while sitting on the floor. He responded so well to training. I never had to coerce him to do anything and it was wonderful.

The way he talked changed, too. He went from barking commands in a scary voice to copying me and my higher female pitch: “Hello!” and instead of “GET OVER THERE” he was saying “wanna go back. wanna go back”. He wasn’t shutting down anymore. I only had to ask him what he wanted and he would tell me, usually with his body. He wasn’t afraid to express himself as a parrot and seeing him heal was healing me.

I said to Ryan, “I just love him!!! Ahhh I love him so much. LOOK AT HIM. Don’t you just love the heck out of him?!?!” I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. There wasn’t enough of me to express it! “I mean….I like him but I don’t know him well enough yet to love him.”

Love is a powerful word, after all.

“I just love him so much with my whole heart, like my whole heart is exploding with how happy I am that he’s here because I love him so much. But even before I heard him talk and saw how brave and amazing he is, even when he was all broken down, I felt the same.”

Ryan said to me,

“That’s how I feel about you.”

This time I believed him, and a part of me I thought would always be broken had assembled itself whole again.

Looking much better now.

These animals mean the world to me. They are my angels and I do my best to be theirs. I had made the report to the state and got in touch with adoptions to keep all my foster birds. Ryan got a check for their adoption fees, adding up to several hundred dollars. Rent was due this check but we would make it work. The Adoptions coordinator was coming to my house tomorrow to get everything from me. I filled out the paperwork for my diamond doves, budgies, cockatiels, green cheek conure, and African ringneck.

A volunteer was coming over to get the signed documents. I would never have to worry about them anymore. Including my pet budgies and my mini macaw Stevie, this added up to 25 birds I was committing to taking care of for life.

My phone buzzed with a text:

“Hello Caitlin. I think it’s time Sebastian comes back home. I will ask the adoption coordinator to pick him up when she comes to your house tomorrow.”

Sebastian would make that number 26.

I had never once expressed my disgust towards him for the way he treated the parrots. I was terrified that doing so would prevent me from making a deal for Sebastian while staying on good terms with other volunteers. Conflict can be truly horrible for my mental sanity. I moved away from the town where I looked over my shoulder, terrified that I would run into one of them. It had happened to me a handful of times and it was not good. I didn’t want that here. But it was all over now, there was no going back.

The man would not talk to me on the phone. He was such a coward that he only felt powerful controlling clipped birds who weigh less than a pound and manipulating the volunteers who care about them.

I responded via text.

“Yeah over my dead body. Btw Monday he’s seeing an ophthalmologist for his eye. Not that you give a crap, but he was dying in your basement. If you think I’m gonna let you kill this animal, you’re out of your mind. Don’t drag the other volunteer into this either. You can freaking deal with me yourself.”

He denied everything. I told him I had pictures and paperwork from the vet to prove it. All he cared about was being right, winning, and using Sebastian like a pawn. He was grasping at straws, telling me to not take him to another vet and cancel the opthamologist visit. All in the name of “it’s MINE not yours”.

“Why do you want to torture this bird just to punish me? You’re a monster.”

He didn’t deny this one.

The good thing about dealing with him this way was that I had him on record saying lots of stupid things. He tried to tell me not to take Sebastian to the vet, and in Kansas it is illegal to deny an animal of necessary vet care. He tried to say that the mold in his basement wasn’t dangerous and when informed of the hazards and the process of eradication, he said that there was no way he was doing any of that.

He said I had “no legal right to take pictures”. Not true, his private home is a licensed shelter with tax exemption for public interest, which makes it lawful to document abuse. Same goes for anyone who is asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement. There’s nothing you can sign that makes criminal activity OKAY to cover up.

He threatened to come over with police to get Sebastian. It’s good to know that possession is 9/10ths of the law. If you have a Hyacinth macaw and I want to take it from you, could I go to police and lie by saying “they have MY bird!! Make them give it to me!!”? No way! it’s important to know your rights in these situations.

I had this animal for nearly 6 months. He never asked about him. He never gave me any money for his care. There was no agreement. This can classify as surrender or abandonment in some states. He has NO paperwork for legal ownership because he kept this parrot without paying an adoption fee. The dispute would require a warrant, which nobody would issue without a court hearing that deemed him the legal owner, which I couldn’t imagine he would win after everything he did.

I was not worried about Sebastian going anywhere. I was worried about being dragged away in handcuffs for going berserk if he showed up to my house. I was worried about legal fees that could easily run $10,000 if this imbecile actually tried to take it to court. The thought of all that money being wasted when it could go to these animals in need was making me sick.

“What do you want for him.”

I wasn’t asking. I was telling him to give me a price to settle the dispute of ownership. I don’t know exactly when I became the kind of person to put their foot down and feel completely unafraid, but I have Ryan and Sebastian to thank for it.

“There is only one price I will take for him. $900. I can’t take payments.”

On top of the adoption fees for the others is was over a thousand dollars. While rent was due. And we did it. We had money saved for emergencies and the vet visit for his eye and it pulled us through. Ryan wrote up a contract for ownership and went to the man in person with a cashier’s check. Then he came home and it was all over. The nightmare was over.

He came through the door, signed contract in hand, and hugged me tight. Tears rolled down my face, which turned to a steady cry, and quickly I became a sobbing mess. 10 months worth of worry and anguish while putting on a professional happy face were finally crumbling apart. I cried tears of relief, grief for my dreams that died, and gratitude for the deeper life I had instead. I felt safe to feel the pain I pushed away because I had my happy ending, and so did Sebastian.

Copyright – 2014 – Parrot Earth – Rescues;Deplumed (Part Three)

Rescues; Deplumed (Part Two)

I wasn’t able to visit Sebastian this month. I had a tremendous load of responsibility in February, 2014. I went on a rescue call for a bunch of small birds abandoned in a house while it was 4°F. It was rat infested. The owner died weeks earlier and the cigarette smoke still lingered. I suddenly had 9 Cockatiels and 10 Budgies quarantined in my apartment, and I had to give them several Dawn soap baths before they looked or smelled remotely clean. I was in the middle of moving. I took in a Conure who went neurotic when he was surrendered. He was driving other foster homes crazy with his constant screaming, and in addition to all that I also started fostering a wild African Ringneck.

Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Rice

The more I learned about shelter operations, the angrier I became. It was all such a complicated mess. More and more birds came in while there were good parrots who had been in foster care for years. They weren’t getting adopted and they were developing problems in the chaos. Foster homes were bursting at the seams with dozens of parrots in each home. Nobody wanted to talk about this devastating catastrophe. They wanted to use volunteer homes as warehouse space for birds and expect us not to complain about paying for everything ourselves. They always did more and spent more than we could imagine, our work was thankless and never good enough.  

I would think about Sebastian and my mind was temporarily cleared of these trauma-inducing thoughts. I had to get him out of there and I was going to put on a happy face no matter what.

February 22 I went down those steep steps and through the rickety old doorway that led me to my big red buddy. This time he had a bowl full of food and the man looked concerned.

“He hasn’t touched his food…..I don’t know what’s the matter with him.”

Sebastian was in a different cage now. The state inspector had been by for the yearly visit, perhaps she told him to make the change. Still, the new cage was hardly a step up from the old tiny one. He willingly stepped out of that cage and onto a perch for the man.

“Hold out your arm!”

I was nervous. He talked it up like this bird was so awful and now he was thrusting him into my arms.“You can pet him! He lets some people get all in there and scratch his head.”

Despite being in this dungeon with that man present, I felt nothing but indescribable joy. To finally hold Sebastian in my arms after all those tearful nights…words just don’t do it justice.

The man showed a softer side. I wouldn’t say it was huggy or emotional, or remotely indicative of someone who was [temporarily] leaving a pet they had for ten years, but it was softer. I could see how volunteers might be led on by these moments and feel the need to protect him, with hopes that he would suddenly become this person they imagine he could be. I, however, was not so easily romanced.

He drove Sebastian over to my house and let him out of the carrier. Suddenly I felt protective. I wanted him to feel safe and easy in the new environment.

“Give him the command! Tell him to step up!”

I pretty much ignored that and set the perch next to him, waiting for him to make the choice. Then I put him in his new cage, 78” tall and 46” wide, his old cage nearly fit inside twice.

“You’re going to have to be firm with him, he will be harder to control in a bigger cage. Do not underestimate this bird.”

I thought to myself, do not underestimate me.

Sebastian was finally in my home and I was so grateful for every moment we shared together. The first thing I did was take him to the vet. His nails were curling, his beak was overgrown, he had very foul-smelling excrement. The vet could feel his skeleton. I had to follow-up every month with the vet, getting him weighed and groomed until his feet and beak could function properly. He put me in touch with a special animal opthamologist and I made an appointment for July. It would take time to save money for that.

I was talking to another volunteer on the phone and she asked me how Sebastian was doing. I told her how I would hear him say things that sounded terrible. GET OVER THERE. GET OVER THERE. STEP UP. STEP UP.

“Did Mr. President tell you about how he rescued him?”

He did not.

Before he ever lived in a basement, Sebastian was violently abused. The first owner grabbed from his cage by his tail and flung into a dog crate. He shared the cage with a scarlet macaw named Happy who came along as well. They traveled away from that life with the man I was now dealing with.

“He said he felt like punching the guy in the face but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to get the birds out if he reacted harshly.”

Well…I guess for that moment he knew how I felt for the 5 months leading up to me re-rescuing him from this ‘rescue’. Happy got his happy ending, Sebastian seemed to have been lost in translation.

 I spent time with him every day, building a bond and training in approximations. For the first two weeks he did nothing but eat, sleep, and drink. He wasn’t difficult to control; he was just terribly afraid and very easily startled with his disability. His body often trembled in the presence of other people. I trained him to target outside the cage and he was gaining some confidence, but then he would get nervous and inch all the way to one side of his T stand until he stepped into thin air on his blind side.

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Rice

He wanted to be up high. He wanted to sit on top of his cage and never come down. I built a big jungle gym for him, arranged in a square so his disability wouldn’t get in the way. It braced against the ceiling so he could flap those glorious wings with all his might. Working with him on this stand every day changed his whole world. He developed confidence and became remarkably easy to train. I am so proud of him for how brave he has been.

The man never once asked me how he was doing. He had made comments to others about the environment I set up.

“He’s going to be spoiled and difficult to handle when he comes back”.

I wanted to ask about keeping him but I was so afraid. I’d tell him how Sebastian was doing and all he had to say was,

“He’s my bird. You can’t have him.”

It made me sick. I didn’t want to ask him until it felt absolutely right.

 Caring for birds at home became my full-time occupation. I didn’t have time to help the president keep his basement clean every week. I went over about a month later and some unsettling information came to my attention. Other foster homes were in scary conditions, I overheard. Birds that were up for adoption had been dead for months. I was white as a ghost. I didn’t know these people. I could hardly help this guy, let alone a whole network of others just like him with basements full of birds like Sebastian. I felt horrified at the thought.

Foster homes weren’t given specific guidelines on cleaning and feeding. There were no limits, no standards, and no consequences. How could they enforce rules that were not in place? How could volunteers do home checks with the number of birds they each had to care for? Some of these people had 30 to 40 birds under their roof, in addition to children and jobs. This wasn’t fair to the birds, but it wasn’t fair to the people either. It wasn’t fair to their families and it made me really sad.

“What is on the home check sheet? How do you define clean water? How do people know what you expect of them?” I asked.

He wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Some people were “too anal” according to him. They didn’t know how to write standards because of….political reasons? It got personal because of the awful conditions? I didn’t know. But I knew who could define it for everyone: Kansas state laws.

I researched these laws and studied them like I was getting ready for the board exam. There were some really serious violations within this shelter, and foster homes had no idea what they were agreeing to. I spent months writing a proposal with solutions.

I went to help him clean again several weeks later. There was a noteworthy exchange that is still eery when I think of it. Every time I helped him clean I would bring a pad of recycled newsprint to line the cages. I never wanted to use that old newspaper he had because it harbors a mold that can cause aspergillus. I learned this from Irene Pepperberg when she spoke of Alex’s death in her memoir Alex and me.

I had been doing this for 6 months and he finally picked up my newsprint and commented,

“Wow this is handy. Fits right in the tray!”

I explained why I used it and immediately his demeanor changed, he put my newsprint down, and picked up his newspaper piles to continue lining the cage trays.

You see, he had wanted Irene Pepperberg to speak at an event for his shelter, but she charges a $4,000 fee. Much of that money benefits parrot conservation and scientific research. But he believes it is such an unreasonable amount of money, that he can’t stand to hear her name. Doesn’t matter that she changed the world’s perception of parrot intelligence and inspired people to raise the bar for parrot care and conservation all across the globe. He will spite her ‘outrageous’ fee by adamantly disregarding warnings about the potential deadliness of moldy old newspaper. Riiight.

“She overworked that bird you know. He started plucking.”

Meanwhile, not four feet behind him, an African grey sits in a dirty empty cage with no toys, in all the glory of her plucked chest and abdomen.

The next time I went into the basement was also my last. I was helping with an event at Mr. President’s house while he was at work. I smelled something wrong. It smelled like the rat house where I rescued the 19 little birds. I had to check. I didn’t want to but I had to.

The smell of rodent urine wafted in and out of my nose as I walked around, trying to find the origin. And something else I couldn’t put my finger on….fungus. There were piles of mold in the cage trays. Mold growing on the floor covering ⅓ of the cubic feet that I could see. Furry looking piles under the food bins. Roaches crawling in the food supply. Plants growing out of the mold. Ants crawling around the food debris caked with bird poop.

No wonder he had so many birds die down there. Now I understood why some of them would throw large volumes of their pellets into their tray, despite being hungry. The ones who ate all their pellets must have been the ones who died. Grain food becomes deadly when it harbors certain kinds of mold. When the air dries in the cold season, that mold powders into dust and they breathe it in. Bugs and rodents leave feces and urine everywhere they go. What would have happened if I didn’t help him that winter? And now I understand why there was such an unusual amount of dust. No precautions were taken during the summers and this must have happened over and over in cycles.

And the biggest irony of this?

He had once said something that chilled me to the bone.

“All those birds died and Sebastian is still here.”

sebastian.4

Sebastian was the last one to be fed and I had even seen the man skip him because the bird was “too mean” to risk putting his arm in the cage. Mold and other contamination would be less present on food that is deeper in the bin. Sebastian was getting less food and the food he did get had less mold. Perhaps this monster gave Sebastian a terrible life for killing one of his only friendly birds, and his torturous treatment was the very thing that saved him.

One other volunteer was present and I showed her what I saw. I called the rescue adoptions coordinator. I sent her pictures of what I saw. I told her that he needed an intervention. I would help get every bird out of there ASAP, take care of them in my basement while he got a professional company to eradicate the mold and bugs, and we would have to get serious about what was going on in these other foster homes. She told me that if I were to take in any of those birds, I should not let a single cage from that environment enter my home. But she also began to worry. I told her I wrote a proposal and I was waiting to present it. She cut me off,

“We are doing EVERYTHING BY THE BOOKS, Caitlin. Do not use words like ‘law’ around the man. It will trigger him and he will shut down emotionally. He will not allow anyone down there anymore to check on those birds if you do that.”

I gave her an ultimatum: Help me get the birds out of there ASAP and make him do something different or I will report him. He is the president of this shelter and his actions are infecting the entire organization.

“Do you understand what that could do to the birds in this shelter?”

I did understand. But these people were made to believe that if the ring leader was shut down, all their birds would be taken away and euthanized. This is not the case but I could not waste any more time going in circles with her. She could look it up herself. She was choosing to believe this crazy man and stay ignorant. None of this was my problem anymore, I was done.

I ended up making a report. I used my proposal to cite all the laws; it was relatively easy to make sure the state would take immediate action since I had spent months doing all that work. The other volunteers helped him cover things up. The inspector didn’t enforce the laws he was still breaking. He passed inspection and got a stern talking to. For that entire week I could hardly sleep as my body surged with adrenaline. I was a victim of a heinous crime, years ago. I was suddenly triggered and afraid. My heart was constantly pounding. Then I got the text that I was dreading:

“I think its time for Sebastian to come home now.”

Copyright – 2014 – Parrot Earth – Rescues;Deplumed (Part Two)

Rescues; Deplumed (Part One)

I recently received an email inquiring if I would be interested in the flip side of parrot rescues and the epidemics of rescues becoming hoarding situations.  I of course was intrigued and asked for a sample of what she was talking about.  Little did I know that I would get a very well written glimpse into her very heartfelt detailed story of volunteering and just trying to make a difference in birds lives.  I decided to take the piece written by this young lady and make it a series. Rescues; Deplume.

 My life changed the day I walked into that basement and looked into the eyes of a Greenwing Macaw named Sebastian. I thought it was pretty bad down there, as I was greeted with a thick musty air and a claustrophobic feeling from the clutter while my ears were ringing from the loud parrot calls. I walked down a row of cages as he told me the name of each bird. The lack of toys and enrichment was my least concern; this man clearly needed help and I was willing to do what I could to see if any short-term improvements could be made.

I was helping him clean the cage trays one by one when I had made it to the back corner and suddenly my nose was overpowered by the worst stench.

I uttered the words “oooh stinky!”

“Oh that’s Sebastian. He’s always had stinky poop. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with him, it’s just like that.”

I looked at the floor and saw a splatter of green slime that extended 4 feet, tracing back to a 32 inch wide cage, leading up to a big red parrot clinging to the front bars and ready to aim fire.

It was hard for me to imagine any vet saying that this was no big deal and judging by the current conditions of the 15 or so big birds down there, I couldn’t imagine this man was detail oriented enough to order and pay for the extensive testing it would take to rule out everything. I’m no vet, but I know bird poop is not supposed to smell like anything, especially rotten eggs and vomit. But that was the smell encouraging me to hold my breath and take short little gasps of air through my mouth.

“Hi Sebaaastian” He would say, in the dialect of a snobby elementary school bully.

“That bird is just meean” when I gave Sebastian extra attention. His cage was plastered head to toe with rotten green slime and it took weeks for me to scrub most of it away, as I would visit once a week to help clean the cages. I would bring bird treats in my pocket and sneak them in his food bowl while I scrubbed. I hoped to build a friendly repertoire with this supposed feathered buzz saw.

The first time I was ever there, the man pointed out a conure with toes missing and told me “that was Sebastian. He escapes and lets other birds out. Bit the toes off this one and killed my favorite sun conure”. He could point to scars on his own body from this bird and he wore them like badges of honor.

He told me that a vet had come and checked on all the birds because he had lost nearly a dozen last year and didn’t understand why.

“There was no virus, I don’t know what it could have been.”

I felt sick. I couldn’t imagine the degree to which a person would have to be in denial to not understand why an animal would die in this environment. Food bins had no lids and the newspaper used to line the cages was very old. The amount of dust left everything coated with a visible layer. There were times where I looked in the water bowls and felt a rush of intense horror and sadness at the thought of being one of his birds. No living thing should ever be asked to drink that water or breathe that air.

I felt bad for this man. I truly did. I believe that the conditions we provide for our pets is a reflection of ourselves and when I looked in his eyes, I got the feeling that he did not like what he saw in the mirror. I was willing to help make things better and he seemed to become more enthusiastic as time went on. I helped him haul away a hoard of things that he didn’t want any more and it really did look a lot better in that basement. I was proud of him for what he was willing to do and I felt optimistic about the future. It was Christmas time and I made him a dreamcatcher with feathers from parrots I had cared for over the years.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better. Later they got much, much worse.

I was honestly afraid of Sebastian but I still cared deeply for him. Being a mean bird doesn’t justify this treatment, and aggression in prey animals is not their natural demeanor. This is not something they come out of the egg destined to do; it’s the responsibility of people to lovingly nurture them and train them to coexist with us.

The man would reach in his cage to take care of food/water and Sebastian would veer towards him. I would hear “Get back! Get over there!” and turn to see the poor guy shivering in the corner of the cage. One time the man just said “forget about it, he’s too mean” and just left it as it was, right in front of me. I tried to see if he would target for a treat, maybe the man could do this so it would be easier to feed him. But it wasn’t working. He wouldn’t touch the target stick.

“He’s blind on that side, he can’t see you.”

I learned that his right eye couldn’t see a dang thing, but that a vet might be able to fix it with an expensive surgery. I made a mental note of this. Later I learned that Sebastian was also abused, violently, before he came to this basement.

I understand why the caged bird bites. One day I cleaned the cages by myself and it was the first time I ever had to unlock the chain and open Sebastian’s cage door. My hands trembled. I was so afraid I would jump and startle him into biting me, so I closed my eyes as I unscrewed the thing that held the water bowl in place. The reason his bowl was screwed on the inside was because the side doors were bolted down. I could hardly imagine his big head and body fitting through those tiny doors, but that was the reason they were permanently shut.

There was about ¼ inch of what looked like oatmeal and smelled like vomit in his water bowl. His food bowl was empty aside from a few crumbs. The smell burned my nose as water splashed into the bowl. I nearly threw up and tucked my face into my shirt while I washed the bowl with soap and water. I was choking back tears as I walked back to Sebastian’s cage and thought about what he was being forced to live with. He couldn’t even open his wings in that 32”x33”x22” cage. It was plastered with poop and he had no food or water. No wonder he kept escaping. The amazing thing to me is that he would go to the trouble of letting other birds out too.

He rushed towards my hand as I was reaching in to screw the water bowl back on. Despite every gut reaction in me screaming ‘pull your hand away!! Look at that beak!!’ I refused to leave this parrot without water and if he bit me while I put this bowl in there, I considered it a forgivable offense. But he didn’t bite me. He started drinking from the bowl before I had it fastened to the bars. At that point I could no longer hold it in. He is not a bad bird I thought as tears rushed down my face and cooled my cheeks, flushed red-hot by the surge of intense feelings. This bird was the product of a tragedy and I vowed to do something about it.

My husband Ryan went down there with me to see the birds and I showed him Sebastian. It was funny, his whole head fluffed up like a big happy clown wig and Ryan reached out to pet him. No aggression, nothing that looked dangerous to me. No “negative association with men”. I told the man and he made a comment about how he thought the bird would probably make a good pet for somebody, he just seemed so “unpredictable”. But this was his personal pet, not part of the adoption program.

I would have offered the man cash and walked away from that group then and there if I didn’t live in an apartment. Soon we would be moving in a house and I was counting down the months until I would be able to say that I wanted to take care of him. My pillow was soaked with tears the nights I would come home after helping him clean. I hated leaving Sebastian there. My husband listened to me as I would often say, “I wish I could tell him and he could understand, don’t worry, I’m gonna do everything I can to get you out of here. But instead he has to live like that, with no hope.” Ryan loves the birds too and it wasn’t easy for him either.

I have volunteered for animal shelters in 4 different states in the US and one of the top highly rated organizations in this country. I am not new to this scene and I am very aware how sensitive an issue it is to deal with hoarders and animal abusers. I knew I had to be extremely casual and discreet with this man if I wanted to help him or his birds. I asked questions after several weeks helping him and I did so in a pleasant manner. I wanted to know two things: who’s in charge here and what procedures are in place to prevent this from happening.

I was under the impression that this man was just another volunteer who liked to socialize with other parrot people. However, I learned that he was president of the parrot shelter and education club I had started volunteering with. I’m sure you can imagine the cocktail of emotions that began to flood my body.

I went to a business meeting to find out more.

It was at this business meeting where I overheard one of the volunteers (who is also buddy buddy with the president) talking about how she had to put up plastic on the walls to prepare for Sebastian. My entire body started to tremble as I felt a fluttery surge of panic flood my stomach.

Nooo. Not her. Please God no.

I tried my best to stay cool, to look unintrigued. She had more birds in her home than one would care for in a lifetime, and out of all the volunteers she was least knowledgeable about them. Standing in her driveway you can hear the collective screams of dozens of large parrots. She was one who wasn’t afraid to use force with the big birds who bite. She would use towels to grab perfectly normal parrots to go in or out of their cage. It was by the grace of God that I overheard this conversation and was able to offer my residence for housing Sebastian, since I didn’t have any large macaws it would be more convenient. It was only four more weeks until we would be living in a big four bedroom house. Please, just let him hang on until then.

Copyright 2014 – Parrot Earth – Rescues; Deplumed  (Part One)

Goals…Not Just a Destination.

I got Picture It here.

I got Picture It here.

Picture it, Sicily a beautiful young… oops this isn’t a story by Sophia from The Golden Girls (if you don’t know who they are, I suggest you google).   Let’s try this again… picture it, you have brought your bird home, you have your Parrot Earth Poop T-shirt (yep, shameless plug) and you know your training dvd’s like the back of your hand.  Things are going fantastically well for you and your companion and you could not be more thrilled!  He steps up on command, whistles for you and even says hello on cue.  Isn’t that the greatest?  I will be the first to congratulate you on your successful training regime.  However there is always a catch.  

I got Goals here.

I got Goals here.

Just because you have your bird in a nice routine and the original goals that you set out are met, doesn’t mean your parrot doesn’t need goals and growth of its own.  We as humans have the abilities to change, alter perceptions and make goals for ourselves because that’s what helps us evolve as beings.  However, imagine if you had the same old list of things you were good at and you were only asked to do that list.  Every day, every month and eventually every year for the rest of your life.  Not so appealing now is it?  I firmly believe that it can hinder any animals development as a sentient being when their development is stifled.  Does this mean that what you are doing is all wrong?  Nope, never even thought that, I am just offering a thought or two to ponder.  

I got Einstein here.

I got Einstein here.

How about teaching that “old” bird of your new tricks (and I may not be referring to the feathered companion that you have in a cage), getting out of the comfort zone and not only rekindling that spark that you once had about aviculture (or still do) and add a little more pizzazz.  Try new toys, try new words, try new tricks and at the very least try.  Granted there are times when you go out on that limb and fall flat on your face, but isn’t that what life is all about?  That risk of the unknown and the rush that you get when it works out?  I was always taught that is what is called “living”.

Our companion birds are so smart!  Sitting in the corner in a cage, serving the same things for breakfast, playing with the same rope toys or foraging puzzles is like putting Einstein in the corner without a piece of chalk and chalkboard to work out his amazing scientific theories!  So why do the same to your bird?  

I got New Tricks here.

I got New Tricks here.

It really only takes a few small approximations here and there.  Start by alternating toys frequently, and if you have pieces or as I like to call “parts is parts” of other toys, rope them together.  Your bird isn’t a label fanatic and it’s going to scoff at your if it doesn’t see a new price tag on it.  Begin feeding your bird in different bowls in different parts of the cage, or how about morning Chop on his play-stand in front of the window?  How about moving cage locations when you clean?  A different view of the room can help alleviate boredom and produce a different thought pattern.  I even have friends that will swap cages to keep things fresh and new.  Maybe,  buy your bird a harness or a portable bird carrier and start going on walks.  Imagine all of the sounds and smells that your bird has been missing in your living room.  Look for a local Parrot Flight group and join.  Every bird loves socializing with other birds.  Imagine it being like happy hour, with out the crappy pick up lines and the cheap drinks.  Work on counting and colors, because I guarantee that your parrot will probably pick those up easier than some of my friends kids.    

I got Quality of Life here.

I got Quality of Life here.

I actually have the same philosophy with all animals.  I think that every companion animal has the right to not only a quantity of life, but more importantly a quality of life.  They should all be given new goals and have the ability to smell the roses along the way.  Rewards in life are just that rewards, you have to earn them.  

If we don’t get them off the perch, we will never know the full extent of they can do, now will we?   So… what’s your first goal going to be? 

Copyright – 2014 – Parrot Earth – Goals…Not Just a Destination

When Parrot Adoptions Go Wrong

Mealy before APR rescue.

Mealy before APR rescue.

There are countless exotic bird rescues and parrot rehoming organizations across the United States and spanning into other countries all over the world.  These organizations work their hearts out to make sure that the birds they take under their wing (pun intended) are given an excellent quality of life and are found “forever” homes.  But what if that “forever” home that you found for one of the birds in your charge, was possibly even worse than the home it came from.  I got a call from a local bird buddy that told me about a situation, involving a parrot that had been adopted out from All Parrot Rescue and was being neglected.   I felt it my duty to do a phone interview with Sonya Brewer and find out the facts.

Mealy's 3rd degree burns

Mealy’s 3rd degree burns

Mealy a 27 year old DNA sexed female Mealy Amazon parrot who was adopted out from All Parrot Rescue in Graham, Washington 6 months ago after being there over a year.  In 2012  Mealy was discovered on Craigslist with photos of an over grown beak and appeared to be malnourished.  Sonya Brewer of All Parrot Rescue offered to trim her beak but ended up bringing Mealy home.  After a thorough vet examination from All Parrot Rescue’s regular avian veterinarian, Dr Ferguson, it was revealed severe malnourishment, due to beak over growth, had caused liver panels to be elevated and other vitamin/mineral deficiencies.  Mealy was also suffering not only from a staff infection, but 3rd degree burns on her feet.  It was not determined if the burns were caused from flying into hot oil or being left outside in the direct sunlight with no shade.  Mealy was placed on zero seed and healthy leafy green/vegetable and pellet diet.

mealy

Mealy, after months of antibiotics and extensive care.

After months of antibiotics and regular beak trimming, the infections went away and Mealy began to put weight on again.  She appeared to be a normal Mealy Amazon that would required extensive specialized care and needed a home that could provide such.  “Cheri appeared to be a very sweet woman and came to APR and appeared to have fallen in love with Mealy”, Sonya Brewer said.  “I was a little reluctant because of her special needs, but she said that she was home all day and she thought that Mealy would be a perfect companion for her and she promised to provide her with nothing but the best care” Sonya added.

Mealy at APR

Mealy at APR

All Parrot Rescue has become an established rescue here in the Pacific Northwest and has done more than over 30+ adoptions into healthy and happy homes, while housing 28 more birds that are looking for their forever home.  They have an extensive screening process that includes home checks and an interview process.  “The bird picks the person”, Sonya Brewer said of her rescue’s adoption process, “We don’t just let anyone take any bird home with them”.  This process is true of many rescues around the world.

“We have had great luck with finding adopters for our birds” Sonya said, “or so we thought, this has shaken us to the core.”

mealy.4

Mealy with extremely overgrown beak on July 27th, 2014

All Parrot Rescue requires regular “photo” checks, which means a current photo is sent via email/text etc., so the rescue can see what the welfare of their birds are. They also make surprise “in person” welfare checks. After seeing that Mealy’s beak had not been groomed, for what appeared to be since she was adopted out in January, Sonya immediately contacted Cheri to make arrangements for a “beak groom” at Cheri’s residence.  Sonya and Steve Brewer received text messages asking them to “come in” and to “come to the back yard, through the sliding glass door” where Cheri was working in the yard.  As they came through the back yard, they noticed what appeared to be a very skinny Mealy on a perch with a Cockatiel.  “She had pin feathers she couldn’t even groom herself because of the overgrown beak”, Sonya said.  Steve approached the bird and said “this has gone on far enough, she needs to go to the vet immediately”.  While he picked up Mealy, Cheri allegedly reached for her as well.  “Steve had the feet and body and Cheri grabbed her head and neck began yanking her towards her chest”, Sonya said.  Steve began yelling “stop, you’re choking her, you’re choking her”. During the commotion, after Sonya tried to get in the middle and break it up, allegedly all parties involved fell over a railroad tie and into a rose-bush.  This prompted a call from the next door neighbor to the police.  During this Mealy was freed and Steve grabbed her and ran to their vehicle.  Cheri then laid under the Brewers vehicle to prevent them from driving off, until the police arrived on scene.

A very thin Mealy on July 27th.

A very thin Mealy on July 27th.

After the police arrived and interviewed all parties involved, Animal Control was called and Mealy was deemed appearing to be “in need of immediate vet care”, however City of Federal Way Animal Services does not deal with exotic birds and could not give an “educated and official” opinion.  If you would like to contact them regarding this case #14-10001 you may click here.

All information was taken by Federal Way Police Department, statements were given and Mealy was returned to Cheri regardless of the stipulations of All Parrot Rescue’s contract with Cheri or the appearance of neglect.  Neither Sonya or Steve Brewer were officially charged with any type of theft or assault, however the case has been sent to the prosecutor’s office and they were informed they would be notified by mail.

lettersonya

Click to enlarge.

Later, Sonya received an email from Cheri, which was also cc’d to the police and animal service officers stating Mealy’s beak was trimmed a few hours after the attempted repossession yet she refused to release any other information.  According to Federal Way Animal Service, Cheri allegedly told them Mealy had an appointment a vet to have her beak trimmed on Monday, however she refused to release the vet name or location to them.  Cheri also allegedly told animal services the same vet told her to “leave the beak alone and just let it grow naturally”.

A certified letter was sent to Cheri by All Parrot Rescue giving her reasons the contract, that was signed at the adoption in January 2014, is now in breach and Mealy is to be returned to APR.  It is also informing Cheri All Parrot Rescue is ready to take full legal action to ensure the return and rehabilitation of Mealy to a safe and healthy place.

There has been a petition set up for Mealy’s return which you can click here.  If you would like to be a member of the Bring Mealy Home community page on Facebook, please click here.

I hope this can be resolved quickly and justly.  For Mealy’s sake.

It still amazes me that exotic birds are not on the priority list of animal services or other animal control organizations, especially considering they are the third most popular pet in the United States.  It shocked me that Federal Way Animal Services would not take Mealy in their possession, take her to a vet and get a viable opinion on her health.   Animal Services would have taken Mealy into custody for mistreatment, neglect or abuse, if she was a dog, cat or even a horse.  In fact it just hocks me off anytime an animal is mistreated, for any reason.

Copyright 2014 – Parrot Earth – When Adoptions Go Wrong