Rescues; Deplumed (Part Two) by Caitlin Rice

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Rice

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) by Caitlin Rice

Rescues; Deplumed (Part One) by Caitlin Rice

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 Caitlin Rice and make it a series. Rescues; Deplumed by Caitlin Rice

 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.

Photo courtesy of : Caitlin Rice

Photo courtesy of : Caitlin Rice

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

 

 

 

 

“Chats” with Jason Crean

chatsWhen I think about doing a “Chats” interviews with people, I think about the top priority for me…. Inspiration. Does this person inspire me?  Does this person try and shed a positive light in the world of aviculture?  Does this person do it, not for the ackolades or the attenion, but for the love of birds?  Is this person someone I would want to sit down and have a conversation with?  Does this person think outside the box and would I add him to my “Movers and Shakers List”?  For me, Jason Crean possesses all of these qualities!  

jason.1I became aware of Jason and his advocacy for parrots a few years ago.  He is a big deal in most bird circles and has the education/background experience to back up just about anything that comes out of his mouth. Did I mention he has is an award winning science teacher and has a master’s degree in biology with specialization in zoology among the countless other degrees, educational certificates and credentials that he holds.  I could mention them all, but we need room for the interview.  For more information on Jason, click here…(http://www.mrcrean.com/bio.html

Jason is also one of the brains behind Tea4Beaks ( a line of totally herbal, non caffeinated, organic teas for parrots) that is revolutionizing parrot nutrition.   He is very approachable and with the help of Irena Schultz, he agreed to take time out of his incredibly demanding schedule and do a little interview for Parrot Earth!  

How old were you when you fell in love with exotic birds?

I was 12 when I received my first Cockatiel and was immediately taken by their interactive and inquisitive nature.  Soon after, I purchased a second and then had babies.  I will always value this experience as it helps lead me into a career in biology.

What/Who inspired you to get involved in exotic bird advocacy?

Dr. Karen Becker, avian veterinarian and friend, has taught me so much over the years about new discoveries in nutrition and wellness which has brought me to where I am now, both in private aviculture and zoo consultancy.

What would you tell someone if they said they thought they wanted to bring a parrot into their home?

I tend to first ask what about parrots intrigues them as the answers are diverse and provide a great deal of insight. 

How many parrots do you own personally?

I own a few parrots including my Black Palm Cockatoo Rio, my Golden Conure Luna, my Parrotlet Mendel, my Green Cheek Conures Frick and Frack, and a Lorikeet named Snape.   I also own softbills including small species of Toucan, a hornbill and other smaller birds who fly about in my greenhouse.  Many of these birds take part in my live animal education program where we teach those interested about their care, behavior and wild counterparts.

jason.2What kind of birds have you owned throughout the years?

I have had many different species of birds over the years, from small parrots and finches, to the hookbills and softbills I currently own and raise. 

Where do new bird owners need to focus and what do you think they should educate themselves on?

Two areas on which I focus when I do lectures for bird clubs and organizations are nutrition and enrichment because I have seen much incorrect information provided to bird owners which lead to a host of problems.  Providing raw, whole food nutrition to birds is critical and yet many authorities including veterinarians and other professionals are not making these recommendations to those who want the best for their birds.  Good, healthy nutrition and providing an enriching environment can keep birds thriving, not just surviving, like so many of our animals are.  And this is symptomatic of how we take care of ourselves as people as well; we survive from day-to-day on poor diets and are largely inactive and this lifestyle tends to influence how we take care of our pets.

In your opinion, what are the top three things a parrot needs for quality enrichment?

A biologically appropriate diet:  There is no “complete” diet available for birds.  Parrots have access to countless food items in the wild and we need to offer them as much “dietary diversity” as we can in order to cover their nutritional bases.  Parrots have substantial needs when it comes to fat, but it must be good, healthy fats and many pet owners do not know the difference.  Nuts are an excellent source of the all-important Omega-3 fatty acids but many think nuts are poor in nutrition.  Peanuts, which are not a nut but a legume, should be avoided for this reason, but walnuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, and pine nuts are an enriching, bioavailable (easily taken up and used by the body) source of these critical fats in the diet.  Coconut oil is another fantastic additive from which any bird can benefit.  Proteins are also very misunderstood as many protein sources used in processed foods are not bioavailable.  If the protein is indigestible, it is wasted and can even lead to health issues.  A good whole food source of proteins is best which includes soaked and cooked beans, quinoa, and even live food like mealworms.  I also am a great advocate of using teas in bird husbandry as it is a great way to add nutrition to the diet.  There are countless benefits to the many brewed teas available and purchasing loose leaf, organic teas (that have been decaffeinated if necessary), is a great and easy way to enrich the life of any bird.

Enrichment items:  Things that keep the mind active and working throughout the day are necessary for good mental health.  When mental health suffers, it can manifest itself physically in a host of different ways.  I tend to avoid using the word “toys” because that perception is so limiting; there are so many ways to enrich the lives of our animals that may not result in a multicolored wood or plastic device that was made to destroy.  Don’t get me wrong, these are important and should be recycled consistently to always keep the birds thinking.  But there a great many things that can help birds keep active in our homes.  Enrichment specialist and colleague Robin Shewokis has done a great deal of work in this arena and has taught me how a simple paper grocery bag can be used in a myriad of ways to entertain our birds for hours on end. 

Environmental quality:  Air and water needs to be clean.  Birds are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and must live in an environment that is as free of pollutants as possible.  This includes not smoking, using fragrances or cleaning sprays anywhere near birds.  Birds also need light, especially unfiltered sunlight as much as possible so providing them this through any means safely is incredibly enriching.

The 2013 Midwest Bird Expo speaker panel

The 2013 Midwest Bird Expo speaker panel

 

How many avian conferences do you attend annually?  Which ones?

I attend the American Federation of Aviculture convention (afabirds.org) every year as a speaker and attendee.  This is one of the best, all-inclusive events any bird owner can attend.  I also attend the Houston Parrot Festival, which is another highly educational event.  Both of these bring in speakers from around the world to share their knowledge and expertise in the keeping of birds and the share information about these birds in the wild. 

What do you think the current avian community needs to do to inspire the “next generation” to get involved?

We need to stop being afraid to share our love of birds with the public.  We need to take our birds out and show people, especially young people, how wonderful it is to share our lives with these creatures.  I think many bird owners prefer to not make public the fact that they have parrots because of the loud extremists who have made it their business to make bird keeping illegal.  But we must counter this by illustrating what responsible bird ownership looks like and exposing young people to wonders of bird keeping. 

What are the top three qualities you think a good parrot owner needs to have?

To own a parrot, you must be patient, flexible, and, above all, nurturing.  Parrots are social animals, forming relationships with others and maintaining these connections for varying periods of time.  You must be patient in knowing that the parrot chooses with whom to form a relationship and how close that relationship may be.  You need to be flexible and adapt to this relationship knowing that it may change over time.  And nurturing these relationships through consistently positive, enriching interactions is vital to a life with a feathered companion. 

jason.5Tell us about a day in your life?

This is difficult for me to answer because some days are more hectic than others due to the many teaching positions I hold and consultancies I manage.  Typically, I begin the day by preparing the foods for the different species that I have:  Diced fruits for the softbills along with some live foods, diced fruits and vegetables along with sprouts, soaked grains and other food items for the hookbills.  I then head to the school where I teach to take care of the animals in our program there:  heaps of leafy greens and yellow-orange vegetables to our many turtles and tortoises, live insects and worms to our lizards and invertebrates, fresh Timothy hay to our chinchillas, and other diets to our diverse collection.  I began a Zoology Club at the school where our young people come in and help maintain our animal exhibits which has become a great outlet for kids who want to learn more about animals and their care.  After I teach for the day, I typically do some cardio exercise as that is my main source of enrichment!  After this, I may go to teach at one of the universities for which I work or whatever other work I need to do.  At the end of the day, bird dishes are pulled and all are washed thoroughly and fresh water is given.  One more round of live food in the form of mealworms and/or waxworms is thrown out into the greenhouse for one last foraging opportunity before the day ends.

media.warsThe avian community appears to be at odds via social media, what are your thoughts on that?

People can be very brave behind their keyboard.  And this has lead people to become more extreme than they would be if they were meeting people face-to-face.  I find this all very silly as the simple fact remains:  if we are to have a future with birds, we must work together.  There are simply too many self-proclaimed experts who talk in absolutes, using words like ‘all,’ ‘always,’ ‘never,’ et cetera.  Not all breeders are bad just like not all parents are bad.  Not all rescues are hoarders.  To group people into a single category without any real, in-depth knowledge about their practices is just plain wrong and dehumanizing.  I will continue to fight this on behalf of the birds for as long as I live. 

tea4Tell us about Tea4beaks.

TEAKS, or Tea4Beaks started several years ago after I received my first aracari (small species of toucan) Cricket.  It is no secret that toucans, mynahs, starlings, and lories are prone to hemochromatosis, a disease where iron is stored in the liver until it becomes toxic and fatal.  After researching, I found that decaffeinated black tea had been successfully used in zoos with toucans so we began to research this even more.  One thing that I had not considered was the fact that birds drink tea in the wild, from tree notches, for example, that catch rain water in which plant components continuously leech compounds.  After hearing Dr. Becker talk about tea, we began working with her to start blending teas for all birds, not just our toucans.  This has transformed into the many blends we now offer including Calming Skin & Feather which we brew for birds who pluck or self-mutilate not only to drink, but also to spray directly on the skin or affected areas.  We also have blends that research says have health benefits like balancing hormone levels, increasing fertility, reducing inflammation, supporting respiratory and digestive health, detoxifying the body and supporting a healthy immune system. 

Why do you recommend Tea4beaks?

jason.4

Jason and Dr. Karen Becker

We tend to focus a great deal of what our birds are eating but not really what they are drinking and I think we are missing an opportunity.  We could be delivering missed nutritional components inherent in the teas via their water source or mixed with food that they are already consuming and that’s where tea comes in.  There are so many well-research health benefits that we must, if we are responsible pet owners, consider every possible nutritional option to keep our birds thriving. 

If you could give someone tips and pointers about using your product, what would they be?

To reap the most benefit, tea should be brewed.  The tea components can be consumed in their whole forms and mixed with food, but steeping releases many beneficial compounds that may not be available otherwise.  Brewing tea in hot, not boiling, water is critical to maintaining the nutritional benefits.  And always be sure your bird is drinking its tea before taking away its plain, clean water source.  Some birds may see the tea as strange initially and, therefore, should always have a water source to avoid dehydration.

 What other products do you endorse or support?

I am a big fan of coconut oil as the health benefits are unending.  I take four tablespoons myself every day in some way and I have seen the results in my health.  For birds, I recommend a small amount every day mixed with food which helps with digestion, nutrient absorption, energy expenditure, skin and feather quality, joint health and so much more.  Coconut oil also has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal benefits so it does not spoil and can be used to cook as it does not denature at higher temperatures.  In contrast, I also highly recommend a healthy Omega-3 oil like flax-seed oil or hemp oil.  What many don’t realize is that these oils are very sensitive to light, heat and even agitation so they must be purchased from the refrigerated oils section at your local health food or grocery store. 

jason.3Do you think the world of aviculture is where it needs to be, or where would you like to see it progress in the next ten years?

I think aviculture needs to form a more united front against those who would take our birds from us.  And they are out there and in larger numbers than we would like.  I think the way to do this is to continue educating people about the proper care of birds and how they can successfully create a wonderful life with a bird.   I would like to see much of the nutrition information above as more common knowledge over the next decade as I think offering our birds these more biologically appropriate diets will eliminate many of the maladies that decrease the longevities of companion animals.  I would like to see this happen not only in aviculture, but also moving to more biologically appropriate raw diets for dogs, cats and other pets as well, all of which should be living much longer, healthier lives.

Who are your hero’s in the avian community?

There are so many that I cannot possibly name them all here.  Besides the aforementioned people above, Nancy Speed, President of the American Federation of Aviculture, has done so much work with her incredible breeding practices and has illustrated how much she cares for her birds.  Rick Jordan is a wealth of information and is always willing to share with others.  Irena Schulz of Bird Lovers Only has always been someone who was never afraid to push the envelope when showing the public how wonderful it is to share your life with birds.  Genny Wall who is always watching out for misinformed and poorly written legislation that threatens the rights of the bird owner.  And Alycia and Eric Antheunisse of Cedar Hill Birds who are always educating and exposing young people to joys of aviculture.

jason.6If someone said that they wanted to get involved in the avian community and advocate for parrots, where would you steer them?

The American Federation of Aviculture is a great place to start.  It is all-inclusive for anyone who wants to learn more about their birds.  I serve on the Board of Directors now and I personally invite anyone and everyone that shares their life with a bird to become part of our dynamic organization that continues its educational mission.  Our membership currently consists of pet owners, breeders, rehoming organizations, sanctuaries, conservation organizations, and others who support our educational mission.  We all need to come together and continue to enhance our knowledge of our feathered companions.  Forming relationships between us and our birds is important but without bird owners forming relationships between one another, we will be attempting to keep our birds on a broken foundation.  It benefits all when we can learn from one another.  

I am incredibly grateful that Jason agreed to do “Chats” and I have to say that his journey into aviculture is such an inspiration.  I hope that you read this and realize that there is so much good in this world and the “Movers and Shakers” are indeed out there… continuing to make a difference in this bird world of ours.

 

Copyright – 2014  - Parrot Earth – “Chats” with Jason Crean