Sometimes people who fail with the birds they have brought into their homes shove them into basements or their garage. Sometimes they just let them go outside. Others may try to sell them, or as those of us in rescue refer to it, rehome them. Which is the better scenario? Is there really that big of a difference between an individual selling their bird or a rescue that rehomes one of theirs? Yes. No. Maybe. It depends on what sort of home, and what sort of contract was involved. A rescue that doesn’t permanently house the animals for life strives to put the animals back into a home. One that does is considered a sanctuary. I run a rescue. I strive to put parrots back into good homes. But what if it doesn’t work out in the chosen home? I’ve been involved in animal rescue for a long time. Longer than I received the best gift from God ever, my son. Longer, even, than I have been married, which is another blessing in my life. We will shortly be celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary. But that is not to say that I find the two people I cherish most in the world easy to live with. In fact, I am annoyed by them on if not a daily basis, at least a weekly one. My husband can’t ever shut a door or cabinet without slamming it and my son just can’t ever shut a door. Not a car door, not the front door, not a cabinet door. Ever. My husband can consume a meal in five minutes, but at least years of glaring at him when we are at a restaurant has got him to stop drumming his fingers while I try to enjoy mine. My son likes to change the syllables of words so I have no idea what he is asking for. For example ‘fresh avocado’ is free-sha-va-ca-do. It is a vine, or a meme. Forgive me, but I have no idea what the difference is. I grew up in the 70’s when a vine grew outside and I guess the closest thing that could be a meme in my childhood was a joke that was repeated. In person. Not by forwarding something from the internet, which actually didn’t even exist. Zach also enjoys leaping out at me unexpectedly and scaring me to death, generally when I am carrying something.
I am sure I am no easier to live with, but it is more fun to point out the faults of others than contemplate your own. But live together we do, in relative harmony. Most of the time. We also share our home with animals: two cats, and several birds. The cats are no problem if you like animals in your home at all. They simply wander around hacking up fur balls, shedding more fur, whining for food, scratching our furniture, and leaving their body waste in a box (if I am lucky) for me to diligently scoop up and dispose of, or elsewhere if they are so inclined. They sit next to me when they want attention, and purr when I brush them just right so I am under the illusion that they love me and need me. When I am busy they leave me alone. We get along just fine. The birds are more challenging.
And that would be because birds are wild animals. Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years, birds perhaps a few generations, if even that. Despite the generations of domesticity, cats can easily become feral and live outside. Birds that are hand raised imprint on humans, but aren’t necessarily tame in our sense of the word as pets. Many of the birds I have taken in over the years were wild caught. These birds quite surprisingly, often do better in captive situations as they are more independent and not fully imprinted on humans. They may be just as destructive and loud, but not necessarily as emotionally dependent on people.
I have wondered more than once if birds weren’t so beautiful, would we ever have attempted to bring them into the pet trade? Or is it the fact that they can speak our language, literally speak our language, that makes them so fascinating? For some reason that I have never fully been able to fathom myself, I have been captivated by birds most of my life. But I have never been able to handle seeing them in cages. In fact, when I was fairly young, around 14, I wrote a letter to the local sheriff of my home town because I had wandered into a Woolworth’s (a national five and dime chain store that has long been out of business) and in the pet department saw rows and rows of tiny cages stuffed with budgies (parakeets). Many of the cages had dead birds along with the living ones. I was horrified. I went home and told my dad. He said, “Write a letter.” So I did. And the sheriff actually called me. Probably nothing changed, but it was a good lesson. I learned that it was possible to do something and be heard. And in one way or another I have tried to make a difference. Over the years I have volunteered for various organizations, and of course now I run my own nonprofit.
Although our intent, as a nonprofit rescue, is to place birds back into loving homes it isn’t because that is where I think they belong. It is because that is what so many of them know. I know breeders and people in rescue have long been on opposite sides and I feel no need to fight that particular battle. But I am still struck by the contrast of views. I once read an article by a very well known national breeder who knew he was being interviewed by an animal advocate magazine. Yet he still made the following statement. He was referencing the ban on importing birds. “Before it went into effect,” he said, “We all went down to South America with our shopping lists.”
Meet Carmen, one of the birds currently in my shelter, and a product of someone’s shopping list. Carmen is a Blue- fronted Amazon that was brought to me in a cardboard box. Every time she made a noise, the 12 year old with her mother kicked the box with her foot and yelled ‘Quiet!’; that is, until I put a stop to it since the mother didn’t seem motivated to do so. The ‘cage’ that was brought with her consisted of some 2 x 4’s and chicken wire. It had one flat piece of wood for a perch. She had not been out in years. She was ragged, thin, and scared. Today she is beautifully feathered, lively, and out of her cage most of the day. It has occurred to me more than once that if parrots were not so physically beautiful perhaps we would not be so interested in keeping them, because keeping them can be so very challenging.
Recently in my rescue we had a situation of a bird we adopted out ending up on a Facebook group that sells and trades birds. Scooter, a Lory, is now back with us safe and sound. This was not a bad home, and Scooter was well loved and cared for while in the home. The young man who adopted him came in every week for a couple of months per our policy, but ultimately failed in becoming the caretaker for this bird. I certainly do not defend his choice to sell Scooter in a Facebook group rather than contact us for help, but I do understand his frustration. The problems were primarily caused by natural behaviors on the part of the parrot, which became unbearable for the people in the house. It isn’t easy living with birds., especially birds that are captive bred and lack not only generations of domestic breeding to cope, but their first experiences in life teach them to be wholly dependent on people for their emotional needs. Many times this just isn’t a working situation. Scooter was originally surrendered to the shelter because of aggression, and the owner hadn’t let him out of the cage in a couple of years because of this. So I suppose that is one way to keep a bird in a home; never let them out of the cage. Ultimately aggression was the problem in the new home, despite our effort as a rescue to educate the new owner prior to Scooter leaving our shelter. These birds have become captive beauty, and even those of us with tolerance have trouble living with them.
So Scooter’s journey begins again. Because what he knows is a life with humans that is where he is going to be most comfortable, and I will try to find a new home for him. While I believe sanctuary works for many parrots, and ultimately may turn my rescue into a sanctuary, so often these birds want to spend their lives with people. They just don’t know how to go about doing that.