Leaving on a Jet Plane

Last week I was sitting with a cold beverage watching the news and I saw a story about Lovebirds was “coming up”.  I was hoping that it was a happy article, well insert Mr Grinch and you will get the idea of the news story.  

tikiLinda Barfoot of Shoreline Washington (which is a suburb of Seattle) owns two lovebirds Tiki and Hoppy, who happen to be her almost constant companions. Linda bought tickets with US Airways back in August for a trip to see her 80-year-old mother in Phoenix for Christmas, as a surprise.  Accommodations were also made for Tiki and Hoppy to attend the trip and have a warm snowbird holiday.  However, in October US Airways changed their animal policy and removed birds and other various animals from their acceptable pets roster.  Linda was never informed of the policy change.  Nor was she given more than a week prior to her trip to make other arrangements.  She was told they would not honor her original reservations and would only be able to refund her money.  You may be thinking, “hey, at least she got a refund” and you may have a point, however I feel that her original reservations and contractual agreement should be honored or they should pay for the change to another airline that does accommodate birds or let her fly.. Of course that’s just me.  I contacted US Airways and they were aware of the issues with grandfathered in tickets, however  a spokesperson had “no comment” if anything would change regarding the tickers being honored. 

I understand some people having the opinion “it’s only a week trip, her birds will be fine” however we as bird owners know that certain stresses can affect our birds (especially our absence) and in less that 24 hours we can come home to a bald plucked chicken.  I am sure that her birds will be fine during her trip, I just wish that one of the airlines that accepts birds would have seen the news story and stepped up to give her the holiday trip that she, her family and her birds were hoping for.  That would have been a lovely holiday story happy ending.  

I got Tiki and Hoppy here.

I got Tiki and Hoppy here.

 

I have spent hours doing research, and the only airlines that currently list  (birdchannel.com has US Airways listed, also Air Tran merged with Southwest and they no longer allow birds so scratch that off.  Also Northwest Airlines merged with Delta.) allowing birds on board are,

Alaska

Delta

United

There are various restrictions depending on the airline and it is important to call with any questions regarding travel. I called Alaska Airlines who also is subsidiary/partner with Delta and they were very knowledgeable about in cabin travel, dimensions of the pet carrier needs, fees and check in times etc.  I don’t know about you, but I love talking with someone who knows their stuff and has it together.  It just makes me want to do business with them over and over.  

If you’re planning a trip with your feathered friend, make sure you  yourself are updated with the airlines policies on birds, or any other animal for that matter.  It’s very important that if there is a policy change, you aren’t stuck out on a wing without a parachute because we all know how expensive last-minute flights can be.  

Copyright – Parrot Earth – 2014

The Flash!

I got The Flash here.

I got The Flash here.

I have been a huge fan of Parrot Nation‘s own Patricia Sund, not only for her commitment to parrot nutrition but for creating the “Chop” concept and bringing it to the forefront of the avian community.  There are not a lot of people, that I know, who would put it all out there.  Trust me, writing a blog about your life and opening your veins to let them bleed onto a computer screen just to be judged is no easy feat.  I learned the hard way, it’s all about not taking things too harshly and with a grain of salt.  It can be however the most rewarding experience that a writer can experience.

Awhile back I ran into a “different” approach to “Chop” on Facebook, actually it was in the Parrot Pantry group to be exact.  Emily Swezey author of “Life from Scratch” came up with the idea of flash freezing chop.  This is geared to be an alternative to bagging chop, granted, at first I was a little reluctant but now I’m sold.  I am the type of person who usually lives by the “if it aint broke” modo especially when it came to “Chop” and feeding my birds, however I am open to improvements, especially when it comes to my animals.  A few weeks ago, I began pondering Emily’s logic and research.  I decided to contact a professor friend of mine back at Colorado State University Agricultural Experiment Station, who specializes in growing, harvesting and transportation of various crops (including most of the vegetable ingredients in “Chop”). I asked her about “The Flash” and if it was going to be more beneficial than what I was doing.  Indeed, I came to find out that flash freezing can be incredibly beneficial in saving the nutritional integrity of your ingredients.  It can also help the cell structure of the ingredients not lose their integrity (which causes them to become mushy) while frozen, then allow the thawing process to restore them to their “almost original form”.  Hmmm, I was intrigued.

chopimage2So, what’s “The Flash” freezing process you ask?  Ok….Let me tell you.  After you put in all of your various ingredients into your “Chop” mix, you take something shallow that will fit in your freezer (I used a casserole dish).  Spread your “Chop” into the dish and place the dish into the freezer.  Wait about two hours and comeback.  You will notice that there will be a nice sheen of ice crystals throughout your “Chop”.  Now this is where it gets good.  The next thing you need to do is grab a spoon and begin breaking the “Chop” apart.  It’s very similar to fluffing rice in a rice cooker.  After the fluffing is done, you simply pour the frozen product into your freezer containers.  I used small individual freezer Tupperware and I also used a large freezer Tupperware container because I wanted to see if there would be a difference. I will report there was no difference in the consistency nor the quality of product after using both for four weeks.  I even put some in traditional freezer bags to see if that would make a difference.  Nope.  With this experimental batch, I only made ten quarts, simply because I was not sure how it was going to work. But it worked out marvelously!

How do I feed? In the morning and evening both Dexter and Cooper get a tablespoon and a half, while little Hugo (our lovebird) gets a teaspoon.  This is the kicker, the birds love the new method of pulling it right out of the freezer and into their bowls.  The consistency is crunchy and eventually thaws into something totally different (the thaw only takes about 15-20).  As we all know, birds love novelty and anything that is a bit off the beaten path. The bagging method of “Chop” without “The Flash” involved doesn’t really allow to add fruits to your mix because.  However with “The Flash” method, you can flash freeze your “freezing friendly fruits” separately and then add them into the containers you feed your birds right out of the freezer.  Talk about saving time, if I can just pull it out of a container, scoop fruits and veggies into the bowl and place it in my bird’s cage for a couple of hours, until they are finished ravaging it, then why the hell not. When fed the birds would eat for a bit then give up, with this method I am happy to report, it’s like having a two course meal in one bowl.

Exciting right?  Okay, maybe only for us “bird folk” but taking a method and adding a twist to keep our birds happy is worth it in my opinion.  Before you abandoned all of you know about “Chop” I still recommend alternating between the original bagged method and “The Flash” because just as I said…..variety is the spice of life!

WWSJDI think it’s such an exciting time in the parrot community! We can all share ideas and make changes to existing formats to help suit our needs.  I have referred to Patricia Sund as the Steve Jobs of the avian community, and I stand by those words.  Without her Parrot Nation blog and her conceptualization of her own “Chop” mix formula, we would not be having these conversations today. I also would not have had the courage to begin Parrot Earth and write about the birds that I love so much.  I’m also impressed with Emily Swezey for bringing us a different view-point regarding flash freezing fresh parrot foods and “The Flash” method.  She had the gumption to see “Chop” a bit differently and try to create her own that would work for her household.  Good job Emily.

Whatever your methods for feeding your birds are, remember who has paved the way for your journey into aviculture, tell them how much you appreciate their accomplishments and look to the future.  Because with a world of innovative people the parrot nutrition train is picking up steam and who knows where it will go!

A Place for Every Parrot and Every Parrot it’s Place.

cage.afterI take great pride in my home. I also take great pride in my parrots. I have had friends visit that own parrots and they just can’t seem to figure out how I keep everything together with owning two greys and a lovebird. Well, let’s be honest shall we?  I work my tuchus off to keep it that way. Greys are powdery birds so we have air purifiers in every room, not to mention I have my cleaning gadgets (3-1 Steam Mop, Hoover Floormate and Dyson Animal) that help in the process. I don’t know what we all did with just a mop bucket and a mop back in the day.  Don’t get me wrong, if that is your preferred method, I salute you. I just personally love the idea of making a couple of trips around the room with my Floor Mate than having to do seven buckets to get my bird’s area clean. If it works for you, then that’s all that matters. With the spectrum of animals that we have in our house we have to vacuum and use our other cleaning toys every other day, if not every day. I am very fortunate that I live with a man who has the same standards of cleaning that I do (thank you Rita, my mother-in-law).

However, you can be the cleanest and most organized of housekeepers but the truth is everything has its place and everyplace has it’s thing. That includes your birds.  

I am not the type of person to let my birds run around my house like a cat/dog. There are too many dangers that are out there and let’s be honest, parrots can be a demolition crew in a pint-sized package.  One of my Facebook friends saw some of my photos and sent me a private message asking me how I kept my baseboards and framework intact. I immediately responded with “I keep my birds away from them”. They are expensive to install and you have to think about the things that are also associated with wood in your house.  There is almost always paint or stain, glue and other chemicals that have soaked into the wood when it was being installed.  Granted parrots don’t ingest everything their beaks come into contact with, but I would rather not risk it. It’s just dangerous.  You may think that your house is “parrot proof”, but you never know.  

chew.1

I got Chew here.

I have also seen photos on social media of parrots destroying laptop keyboards.  I don’t agree with this at all.  You are allowing them something to chew on that is expensive firstly, and secondly by allowing them to chew on the item you are reinforcing the behavior.  So when you get up and walk into another room and your bird flies over and rips off your space bar and nine other keys, in reality you have no one to blame but yourself (P.S. if you know your bird is going to destroy your keyboard, then why would you allow it anywhere near it or any other expensive object?).  It’s similar to giving a dog an old shoe to play with and then getting upset when he eats your Manolo Blahnik or Jimmuy Choo heels.  You have given him an item that looks like Jimmy or Manolo, smells like Jimmy or Manolo yet he cannot differentiate the difference between that designer shoe and the old converse sneaker you gave him.  Same with a parrot. Granted, things happen, I get it.  But you don’t have to enable the behavior along. 

When I brought the greys home, they were both shown where their areas were. They have a variety of play-stands around the house.  Some of you may be reading this and thinking “my bird doesn’t stay put and goes where he/she wants”.  Hey I understand, parrots can be free-spirited, but do you let a two-year old run around your house with no supervision? Yeah I didn’t think so and they probably even have their own playpen. I try to make sure that my birds have a wide variety of toys that they can chew on, all with different textures and in different locations. I also have a backup supply, that I trade out and rearrange, so it’s something new.  Novelty and variety is a parrot’s spice of life.  In the wild they fly sometimes over sixty miles foraging for food, and things rarely get “boring”.  Try to keep them entertained.  They also have the attention span of a two-year old at times.  You can be in the middle of training them and then…. SHINY OBJECT!! appears and it’s all over.

store-500x500I spend time with the birds together and separately.  I also like to grab one and take them into the bedroom or while I’m vacuuming, so they get that one on one time and a change of scenery. I take them in the shower with me, even when it’s not their shower time, I look at it as a “flock” bonding time.  They are however never left to their own devices nor are they left unattended, unless they are on a play-stand.  If your birds are fully flighted, it may be more difficult to have them stay put.  

standI recently bought a lovely manzanita play-stand that was exceptional quality and it was beautiful.  There was just one problem.  Because it didn’t have a tray area above the floor, Cooper was able to climb right down and go on “walkabout”.   Before I knew it, he would have Sheldon cornered or be searching for human toes to attack.  I knew I had to find an alternative stand that he could not get down from, but also had enough area for him to explore.  I discovered the bottle brush stand which both birds love! It has a tray below the play area, and I am overly impressed with its quality. Every bird is different and every house hold is different. It’s important to keep your parrot from destroying something valuable, but it’s also more important to keep your parrot safe.  

Bottom line, that’s how I keep my parrots from destroying my house and everything in it.  Like I said, every household is different, and I’m not preaching, I’m just teaching.  By all means do I want to tell anyone how to live?  No, but maybe just a tip or two on keeping your life sane and own parrots too.  I like to learn from other people’s mistakes, if I have the opportunity.  

Someday (as all of us bird owners say) I will have that aviary/atrium in my home with the water feature, trees, plants and ample space for my birds to roam. However until that time comes, I make due and…

I make sure that my parrots have their place and that place has my parrots.  

Copyright – 2014 – Parrot Earth – A Place for Every Parrot and Every Parrot it’s Place

 

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)