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)