Birds are a part of my life. Although I haven’t always been involved in helping companion birds in need, I have had my own companion birds for decades. My real avocation in life, and my schooling, was in fine art. Drawing and painting was something I did from the time I was 6 or 7 and I have never stopped creating things. For a time I couldn’t decide between a career in veterinary medicine or art but it was art I pursued, thinking at some point I might go back to school and earn another degree, this time in animal care. And then the opportunity to run Avalon Parrots, which at that time mostly sold food, toys, and other supplies, came along and thoughts of going back to college quickly faded.
But the desire for a career with animals never left me and after a very short time of running the store I realized that there was a big, and up to that point, relatively unknown to me, problem. Dogs and cats weren’t the only companion animals that were in need of shelter and new homes. Parrots, by the thousands, were ending up in shelters. From years of volunteering at different humane societies I was certainly familiar with the fact that parrots, as well as other animals besides dogs and cats, ended up in shelters. But from my perspective it was never at the same volume as dogs and cats. On any given day the adoption floor as well as the euthanasia room was packed with unwanted animals. But birds? No. I didn’t see that. Because of the initial investment, both in supplies as well as the cost of the parrot itself, birds were often resold by their owners, hoping to recoup some of their investment.. And there was certainly no shortage of people wanting to own a parrot. When I first began taking in unwanted birds, I received calls from people wanting me to buy their bird ‘at a really good price.’ When I explained that not only would I not pay them for their bird, but I charged a fee to cover the cost of testing. This was met with incredulity. “You think I am going to give you a bird I paid $1500 for I would hear?” over and over.
That was about ten years before I decided to start a second business, a nonprofit, just for helping unwanted birds. I was taking in birds, often without that surrender fee, and paying for all their care and testing myself. I am not rich, and although Avalon Parrots could support itself as a small business, I hardly had the capital to fund a rescue as well. Slowly over time I came to the realization that I had to make a decision: either stop taking in birds or take it to the next level and start a nonprofit. It was not an easy decision. My heart, of course, went immediately to wanting to continue to do rescue. But my head knew what sort of work and expense would be involved. I knew the hours would be long and fundraising difficult. I knew I would no longer be able to easily travel around the country, selling my art, the way I had been before owning Avalon Parrots, and still hoped to get back to doing. On the recommendation of a customer who worked for a nonprofit, I sought out a lawyer who specialized in nonprofits and received great advice, and ultimately great help, when I went forward with my decision. That same customer also became one of my first board members and was instrumental in getting the nonprofit off on the right foot, including designing the logo.
It is a decision I have never regretted, not even for a moment. Not even when it is Christmas and I am there by myself, taking care of around 60 birds. Not even when we have had so much snow it would take hours to shovel out and drive the short distance to the shelter. Not even when I have been sick, and just wanted to lie in bed all day instead of having to work when I am not physically up to it. Of course I wished I could stay home, but even then I never regretted taking on this challenge. It has definitely brought heartache and conflict into my life, but it has also brought me immeasurable happiness and joy. The one thing that has been missing in my life, though, has been the time to create art for myself, or really much art at all.
When I was painting I was always interested in working in other medias but as a full time painter I never had time. In the last few years, though, I have managed to find some time to work in my studio and rather than pick up my brushes again I started creating both stained glass and polymer clay mosaics. I have found I love working in these medias, and find the mosaic process itself both meditative and relaxing. But me being me I am always interested in learning new things and making cold-processed soap and home canning were two things I had always wanted to try. Because of the precise nature of these crafts I found I loved them as well, and it wasn’t long before I discovered the fun of selling what I make in farmer’s markets. This year, 2016, I do want to rediscover the joy of creating art for art’s sake; creating something that is just for the joy of creating with any particular ‘end product’ in mind. I am hoping to find just a little time for that, in between the markets, fundraisers for the rescue, and taking care of the birds.