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|Captive Bird Rescue, Adoption, Sanctuary & Care Education||MAARSianChronicles|
MAARS Birds Take Flight At Home For Life
by Lisa LaVerdiere, Founder & Executive Director, Home For Life Animal Sanctuary
Having founded Home for Life Animal Sanctuary in 1997, and serving as its Executive Director since that time, I was well acquainted with the anguishing problem of animal overpopulation and the sad reality that there were not enough homes for unwanted dogs and cats. Home for Life's answer in trying to help to address the problem of unwanted animals was to create a lifetime care facility where dogs and cats who were "unadoptable" due to old age, disabilities, or medical or behavioral issues would be loved and cared for as long as they lived. Home for Life is located on 40 acres in Star Prairie, Wisconsin, on the Apple River. We currently care for over 200 animals who have come to the sanctuary from all over the United States.
Although I had six rescued parrots of my own — two of whom were disabled — I never imagined that the crisis of unwanted cats and dogs had a growing counterpart in birds. I had always thought that birds did not face the problem of being unwanted as they were generally exotic, rare, and expensive. It was only when a friend who was a volunteer with MAARS invited me to visit The Landing that I realized the problem of being unwanted, abandoned, and abused were issues faced by increasing numbers of birds as well.
After years as a volunteer working with shelters and rescue groups, I had become inured to the reality of overwhelming numbers of unwanted cats and dogs, a reality that I now deal with on a daily basis at Home For Life. Yet, two years ago when I walked into The Landing for my first visit I could not believe my eyes! I was taken aback at the number of birds who resided there and was as shocked, angry, and terribly saddened as I was the first time I visited an animal shelter and saw cages upon cages of cats and dogs needing homes. Looking at the number of birds that had been discarded, I realized that the problem of too many and too few homes was being repeated yet again, only this time it was parrots.
On a positive note, I was also so impressed with The Landing: how neat, orderly, and clean it was and how cheerful an environment it was for the birds who were there. The volunteer corps at MAARS also awed me. I have taken care of birds and know how much work they are and what a mess they can make. Just taking care of any animal is hard work, to which our full-time paid staff at Home for Life can attest. The dedication and commitment of the MAARS volunteers who take such good care of the birds at the Landing, motivated only by their love of birds and their wish to see them live a good life and find loving homes is inspiring.
In December 2003, I adopted a female Moluccan Cockatoo from MAARS named Roamer. Roamer is sweet, beautiful, and charming and is a real joy in my life, and the life of my male Moluccan Cockatoo, Candy, age 18. He worships Roamer, the younger woman, from afar, as his devotion is not completely reciprocated! Inspired by Roamer and the great work of MAARS, Home For Life included an article about the plight of unwanted birds in our Winter 2003/2004 newsletter.
In due course, I had the opportunity to meet Eileen and Alayne of MAARS and began discussion about whether it would be possible for Home For Life to help some of the birds at The Landing who were in need of sanctuary. I would say of the staff at Home for Life that our hearts were willing but we were concerned and apprehensive about taking a huge step by committing to the care of another species whose daily requirements were so different from the cats and dogs that resided at the sanctuary. In addition, birds are very long-lived; agreeing to accept these feathered residents meant a long-term obligation that we had to be sure we were prepared to handle.
Eileen and Alayne carefully considered the MAARS birds in need of sanctuary, while determining which individuals would have the best chance of thriving at Home For Life, given our staff's relative lack of experience with caring for parrots. The first two birds who arrived at Home for Life were Mandy and Mango, a mated pair of wild-caught Slender-billed Conures. They were followed a few months later by the Quaker pair, Ethel and Allison, and Blue-crowned Conure, Lurch (my secret favorite), who was captured in the wild and is at least 25 years old, and his best friend Patrick, a Nanday Conure.
To be honest, the staff and I were happy with just the two Slender-bills and felt overwhelmed at the thought of the two other pairs also coming to Home For Life. Ethel, the Quaker, has had seizures in the past and came from the famous Oronoco rescue of 61 parrots in June 2000. After surviving hideous conditions as a breeder bird, her mate, Fred, died in 2002, and she became despondent. Then she made a new friend at the Landing in Allison, who is feisty, opinionated, and likes to bite! Lurch had been turned in to the Animal Humane Society (AHS) in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and AHS asked MAARS to take Lurch in. He was suffering from a terrible, chronic upper respiratory infection that had caused his left eye and nare to suffer permanent deformity. Lurch met Patrick, a younger bird, while they were in quarantine at The Landing, and they soon became constant companions. Lurch is very sweet and gentle, and Patrick is devoted and protective.
Eileen told me that she felt the three pairs would constitute a compatible little flock and would be happiest that way; revealing my ignorance about birds, I had no idea what she was talking about. Reluctantly, we decided to accept them, especially since our new outdoor bird flight had just been completed, and seemed way too big for just the two Slender-bills. Eileen was 100% right about the flock phenomena! For example, when the Slender-bills were at Home For Life by themselves and had exercise time out of their cage or in the outdoor flight, Mandy, the female, would never come out of her cage. But since the arrival of the other two pairs, she is out, socializing, vocalizing, and flying about.
The three pairs enjoy each other's company tremendously and chirp and chatter to each other all day long. Their talk and calls create a cheerful atmosphere as our supporters and visitors enter the building for tours. Looking at them now, how happy they are and how much we love them, it's hard to imagine that I ever thought twice about taking them in!
The birds seem so happy and content and we are thrilled that we could help them at Home For Life. Indoors, the birds have spacious and beautiful cages donated to us by MAARS. In colder weather, the flock is out in a room they have to themselves. They eat Harrison's and Roudybush pellets, plus Dr. Harvey's Perfect Parrot (their very favorite; is it the secret ingredient, bee pollen?) and a cooked dish with fresh fruit or veggies once a day. One of our employees, Deb, is a big bird lover, and sees to it that they are misted with warm water several times a week. Mandy and Mango love to eat romaine lettuce leaves, while Lurch is especially enthusiastic about the cooked food I come up with for them each day. All the birds know my voice ("the food lady" is here!) but the Quakers are particularly raucous when they hear me, knowing I am about to dispense Dr. Harvey's for their culinary pleasure.
In mild weather, the flock enjoys the fresh air and sunshine in a large, outdoor flight. At the time we took Mandy and Mango in, our newest building, a facility for our feline leukemia cats, was under construction; as part of that effort, we were building an outdoor cat run for the cats to access through their cat doors. Since the birds would be residing in this newest building (in a separate area of course) we decided to enclose part of the run with special fencing so that the birds would be able to exercise outdoors safely. The bird flight was completed late last summer but in time enough for all the birds to make good use of it during the warm days of late summer. The cats are able to watch the birds, which they do endlessly, with rapt attention while the birds tease them, show-off, and swoop as close as they dare, knowing they are just out of reach from the would-be predators.
Without sounding too much like a drama queen, I have to say that it brought tears to my eyes the first time we brought Mango and Mandy outdoors to the flight last summer, a week or so after their arrival. Mango came out of his cage, stood on top of it and in the sunshine and gently blowing breeze, extended his wings and raised his head to the sky. I can only guess what it must be like for these two wild-caught birds to finally be able to enjoy some degree of freedom after so many years in a cage, so far from their natural habitat. All my doubts about involving Home For Life in helping parrots such as these, dissolved in that instant.
As for the future, Home For Life would like to assist more birds, and it is apparent that there will be a need for more sanctuaries to help those parrots who may not thrive in an adoptive home. Our immediate goal is to get Eileen out to Home for Life to help our staff learn more about what is involved in the care of birds and to have her see how well our little flock is doing. Long range, we hope to include a small aviary as part of the construction of our next building so we can become a forever home to more birds. We are also committed to doing our part to raise awareness amongst Home For Life's supporters — most of whom are cat and dog guardians — about parrots, the destruction of their natural habitats, the unwarranted production breeding and sale of vast numbers of baby birds at pet stores, and the fact that many of the same issues that resulted in the crisis of unwanted cats and dogs, are now threatening our beloved parrots as well.
Lisa LaVerdiere is the Founder and Executive Director of Home for Life Animal Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary located in Star Prairie, Wisconsin.