P.O. Box 821 · Stillwater, MN 55082
Phone: (651) 275-0568 · Fax: (651) 275-0457
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A Rescue Gone Right (Part 1): The MAARS "Oronoco Rescue"
MAARS (Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services) is a non-profit organization located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They are one of the best adoption programs in the country. The Oasis Sanctuary works closely with MAARS, taking in some of their unplaceable birds and referring people in the Midwest needing to place birds to them.
Recently, MAARS was involved in the successful rescue of 61 birds in the town of Oronoco, not far from Rochester, Minnesota. Conducting a successful rescue takes much intelligent work and planning. This is MAARS' story…
On April 30th of this year, Lori Ostberg, a MAARS Board Member, went to pick up an Alexandrine parakeet she was buying from a breeder, (name deleted), she had met at the Hasting Bird Mart. She was accompanied by her two sisters and a niece. After visiting the establishment (and purchasing the unweaned Alexandrine), Lori called MAARS president Eileen McCarthy in tears. The four women were horrified by the filth and conditions the birds — and other animals — were forced to live in.
Almost a month went by, during which time Eileen and fellow MAARS Board Member, Kathy Pietig, tried to make appointment with (name deleted), under the pretense of wishing to purchase more birds. On May 26th the two women and another female friend were able to get in to assess the situation for themselves.
The situation was filthy and dangerous for the birds. Eileen said she could not stay in the house for more than 5 or 10 minutes due to the stench. According to statements made by (name deleted) herself, many birds were kept in several outbuildings on the property. However she would not let Eileen or Kathy into the other buildings.
On the way home, the women from MAARS began phone calls to people they knew who were affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and a local rescue group called the Paws and Claws Humane Society in Rochester. Ultimately, it would take several additional weeks to coordinate the rescue.
On June 15th Eileen and an avian veterinarian, Melissa Shelton, again visited (name deleted) establishment. The pretext was again purchasing birds.
From (name deleted), the duo went straight to the Olmstead County Sheriff's Office where they left written affidavits relating to the conditions they observed. Dr. Shelton also gave a verbal statement to Sgt. Erickson.
By June 16th the machinery was rolling. Eileen spoke to Sgt. Erickson and Detective Rikhus that morning, as well as Tim Shields of the Federated Humane Society of Minnesota. Mr. Shields and the Sheriff's Department begin working on obtaining a search warrant to see all the buildings on the (name deleted) property. The County Attorney decided another veterinarian needed to be brought into the investigation.
Over the next few days, MAARS lined up an empty 3-car garage to house/quarantine the birds. They lined up cars, trucks, and enough carriers to transport the birds. MAARS obtained over two hundred pounds of food for the incoming birds. Another vet, Dr. Becky Sargent, agreed to become involved in the (name deleted) investigation. Medical supplies for both avian and human emergencies were rounded up.
On June 20th one of the greatest fears in rescue occurred: (name deleted) found out that she was under investigation. She threatened to move the birds. No one at MAARS can figure out where or how the leak occurred.
At 7:30 a.m. on June 21st all the MAARS vehicles were on the road to their destination 90 minutes away in Oronoco.
Later that morning, nine MAARS Board Members and Volunteers met with the veterinarians, law enforcement officials, and personnel from Federated Humane Society of Minnesota, as well as several reporters from local media, at a truck stop near (name deleted) establishment. When they arrived at the residence, (name deleted) did not answer the door. The place was silent and no birds were to be seen. A locksmith was called by the Sheriff's Department. (name deleted) eventually made her presence known and allowed the officers access to her property.
After entering the outbuildings, the officers reappeared and requested masks. They could not handle the stench.
By noon, MAARS and affiliates were busy catching all the birds and other animals, including cats. Each animal was photographed, documented as to species and condition, and tagged (numbered) since they were evidence in an ongoing case of animal neglect/abuse. Conditions in the outbuildings as well as the (name deleted) house were hideous — stinking, rotting and moldy food, maggots, animal feces, evidence of mice and rats, the carcass of a dead peacock.
Later in the afternoon, (name deleted) admitted that there were more birds hidden at a neighbor's home a mile away. There the authorities and members of MAARS found macaws, amazons, lories, and more. In total, 61 birds ranging from cockatiels to macaws were found at both locations and gathered up. Additionally, 10 adult cats were taken to a local humane society. A few two-week-old kittens went to Dr. Shelton's clinic to be hand-fed and weaned. Midwest Farm Animal Rescue was contacted and arrived to take peacocks and geese.
Early evening founds the MAARS rescuers working with more Volunteers at "the garage" where fresh foods including fruits and vegetables were prepared for the debilitated birds. The birds, according to Eileen McCarthy, looked happy and grateful to be in their newly cleaned cages, supplied with what may have been the first fresh food they had seen in a long time.
(Name deleted) turned the birds over to MAARS to be adopted out as part of an agreement with the authorities. As it turns out, this was the second time authorities had been called to the (name deleted) residence on neglect complaints. The first time was in 1994. Apparently she hadn't learned her lesson, and unfortunately, the animals suffered as a result.
The women at Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services are to be commended for their determination to make this rescue a success, and for making the lives of 61 small feathered lives infinitely better. Take your bows, ladies.
People from all over Minnesota have contacted MAARS wanting to adopt these birds after the story of the Oronoco Rescue made the local news. The rescued birds are now on the road to recovery and stability. All have had blood work done but the test results are not all yet back. In a few months, I will do a follow-up story and let you all know where the birds end up.
Footnote: MAARS has incurred extensive costs involved with this rescue. If you are interested in helping them defray some of their expenses, please contact them at: MAARS, P.O. Box 821, Stillwater MN 55082. Or e-mail them at: email@example.com.
(PBR Editor's Note: I did not receive information in time to let me know if the name of the woman the birds were rescued from appeared in local news sources. If it had, I would have no problem legally reporting the name in the Pet Bird Report. Hopefully by the follow-up article, I will have clearance to use her name in the article.)