The Bees and the Birds

by Shauna Roberts
Spring 2004

What Is Meant By Sanctuary?

The Webster's dictionary definition of sanctuary:

  1. A place of refuge or protection
  2. A reservation where animals or birds are sheltered for breeding purposes and may not be hunted or trapped.

In the world of parrot welfare, a sanctuary is a place of refuge or protection for parrots that have had an extremely hard time in life. But are all sanctuaries a safe haven? Many sanctuaries are indeed a safe final home, but for a sanctuary to truly be a parrot’s final home, it must be able to meet financial needs not only today but in the future as well. The sanctuary needs to be established in such a way that it will continue long after its founders are gone. Without that security in place, what is the future of the birds in its care? No one can know.

I was recently stunned to find out that “sanctuary” has taken on a different meaning in the avian community. The current description of “sanctuary” seems to be a place where unwanted parrots are warehoused. These warehouse-type sites continually accept new parrots, never (or rarely) seeking homes for them. These sites become packed with parrots, often have minimal finances for support and upkeep, and are possibly a hoarding or collecting operation claiming non-profit status.

It is not uncommon to be told that the parrots in such a sanctuary’s care are out-of-control birds with too many aggressive behavioral problems to ever live as pets. The sanctuary personnel may state that they are the only persons that can properly care for or handle these relinquished parrots. In reality, the personnel may not work on rehabilitating or socializing these parrots: their knowledge of parrot behavior and parrot handling skills may be limited.

meeting and greetigThese types of sanctuaries don’t seek homes for the relinquished parrots in their care. Even if a special person comes along that a parrot enjoys, the offer of adoption is still refused. It’s as though these types of sanctuaries believe that it is better for relinquished parrots to live in crowded conditions as one of several of a species rather than live as someone’s pet as a single bird or in a smaller flock situation.

When contacting a sanctuary to discuss the possibility of relinquishing your parrot, look for signs that let you know whether it is a good place or not. A red flag is raised if they tell you that they have more experience with parrots than you do, or make you feel inadequate in any way. Stating that they can do a better job than you instead of offering to work with you to keep your parrot in your home is another red flag.

It’s a good sign when a sanctuary seems choosy about which parrots they will accept. A sanctuary that offers to help you keep your parrot rather than surrender it to them if your reason for relinquishment is due to behavioral issues and not health complications is another good sign. Really good sanctuaries prefer to see parrots find good homes and not be relinquished to a sanctuary-only situation.

Using Webster’s definition, I’d like to think that all parrots live in a sanctuary: a place of refuge or protection. That sanctuary exists in each of our homes and it’s up to us to care for them as long as we are able, and having plans in place for when the time comes that we are no longer able to care for them.

Should Breeders Be Involved In Rescue?

This is a hot topic, and in some circles, a topic that can rarely be discussed in a rational manner. There are some people who think that breeders shouldn’t ever be involved in helping any parrots, whether it’s a rescue (life threatening situation) or a parrot needing a new home, and there are others who feel just as strongly that breeders should be involved.

Although breeders are not the first to come to mind when we think of rescue, the simple fact remains that breeders have been involved in rehoming and rescuing parrots for many years now. For some breeders, that may be 10, 20, 30, even 40 years of quiet assistance.

More than once, some rescue person or groups have stated that breeders cannot be trusted, and that they are the problem. They maintain that if a breeder helps with a parrot rescue they will only breed or sell the rescued bird. Although there are some unscrupulous breeders out there, there are many more that want to do what’s best for parrots. Most breeders are bird lovers who truly care about parrot welfare and would never consider breeding a pet companion parrot.

taking a walk along the countertopWhen it comes to rehoming parrots, breeders tend to do it without fanfare. Some of the breeders I know have found homes for many older parrots, and they do it in a way that no one else knows. To them, it’s just something they do, not something they talk about.

Many breeders screen potential homes, check up on parrot-human relationships and offer endless behavioral advice. I have known breeders who, when given proof of the problem, have done whatever it takes to shut down deplorable breeder operations. They will call state authorities, write letters, etc. Other breeders have given generous donations to rescue situations or parrot seizures and again, remain quiet about it. As a whole, breeders tend not to point fingers or form lynch mobs, but tend to believe, “innocent until proven guilty.”

There is always a mix of good and bad individuals in any group, be it breeders, rescues, pet stores, or caregivers. Before assuming the worst of any group, we should get to know each other as individuals first, and worry about labels later. There is so much knowledge to share, and by working together on common ground (such as parrot welfare), I’m sure we’d all be amazed at how much better things would be..

When Good Advice Goes Bad

People who have seen an abused parrot, or know of one that has gone through losing its home or another sad occurrence, tend to be extremely protective of them.

As a result, many of these people try to educate potential, first-time, or current parrot caregivers about the pros and cons of living with parrots. This is an important and wonderful undertaking for all involved.

Laying all the less pleasant items on the table has its advantages. After hearing about

only truly committed potential caregivers will say, “I would still enjoy a opening my home to a parrot.” Yeah! Another good home has been found.

However, the negative aspects of caring for a parrot are sometimes pushed too far when potential caregivers ask those same important questions and are frightened away by the severity of the answers. Potential good homes are lost this way.

Sometimes, parrot caregivers are made to feel their care is inadequate because some persons or groups are telling them that NO ONE can provide a good home for a parrot. It is unfortunate, but some caregivers will believe what they are told (or read) and end up relinquishing their beloved parrot to less than desirable situations such as warehouse-type sanctuaries. Is taking them out of their home truly helping the parrot?

If a caregiver is having problems, that person could be forced to conclude that since no one can provide a good home for a parrot anyway, perhaps euthanasia is the only answer for their companion parrot.

Caregivers who work shouldn’t be made to feel that their parrot would be happier relinquished to a place where they are only one of perhaps hundreds.

If caregivers are worried that their parrot needs more attention, they should get guidance, not condemnation. They should be encouraged to offer more attention and work on improving the overall environment (cage, room). Caregivers may seek the advice of avian consultants if and can learn about behavior by:

  1. Taking courses such as Susan Friedman's LLP course.
  2. Subscribing to educational parrot magazines.
  3. Learning how to better understand living with parrots.
  4. Keeping them home instead of dumping them into sanctuaries.

Almost every parrot has the potential of being a great companion if given the proper respect. With proper guidance, many caregivers have the potential of providing excellent homes for their companion parrot.

Rescue, Sanctuary and Disease

Parrot disease seems to be on the rise in the US. Here are a few examples:

It was thought that if a test for a disease became available and if all parrots were tested before they entered quarantine, then that disease would virtually disappear in the US. Parrots can be tested for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD), yet there seems to be a recent rise in the number of PBFD cases. How can that be?

Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD) is a very devastating, fatal disease that has been affecting both large and small facilities, including rescues, breeder and private homes.

Pacheco's Disease is a quick-moving, contagious virus that can wipe out some or all of a flock before you even know it’s responsible.

Are parrot welfare facilities and private homes more susceptible to disease than a breeding facility? The answer in some cases is YES. Many breeders have what are called closed aviaries, which means that new parrots are not introduced. If the parrots in the closed aviaries have tested negative for disease, then the chances of losing parrots to disease are much less than if the breeders were to accept new parrots. Introducing even one parrot to a home, rescue, shelter, foster home or sanctuary is a potential disease risk to all the other psittacine residents.

Is quarantine the key to stopping all disease exposure? Quarantine helps, but is not a guarantee. Any parrot that will be entering a site should be thoroughly tested for all potential disease before it enters quarantine at that site. Testing is expensive. It is not uncommon for disease testing plus blood work (also needed to diagnose overall health) to run around $200-$250. If you are to safeguard those already in your charge, taking in relinquished parrots or newly adopted babies (budgie size to macaw) can be very expensive.

To help keep disease at bay, bio security is an important measure. I personally have only seen bio security in place at one welfare facility. Bio security measures mean that the 60-day-minimum quarantine takes place in a separate building (ideal) or in an area far away from the other residents.

The quarantine area should always be away from the main traffic flow and ideally the person taking care of quarantine birds would not care for other residents. However, it is most often not practical to have one person that services quarantine birds exclusively. In that case, the quarantine birds should be taken care of after the rest of the aviary is cared for. Foot baths should be placed in front of thresholds, and used when entering or leaving the quarantine area. If there are other rooms (such as species rooms), foot baths should be placed in front of those doors as well. Clothes should be changed after spending time in the quarantine area. Most often, a smock is used. The quarantine area should also have its own clean-up area to keep all food, water dishes and toys away from the resident birds.

Also, there should be a hospital area isolated from both the aviary and the quarantine area. That way, any bird suspected of illness can immediately be moved there and cared for without the risk of exposing the other birds to potential disease.

Food and other supplies should be stored in a place out of the flow of traffic to and from the quarantine or hospital areas.

Too often these measures are not in place, which increases the chances for exposure to disease. Preventive measures such as disease testing, quarantine, and bio security are not always convenient, but they are necessary. These measures help limit disease exposure and are much easier to deal with than a disease outbreak. Parrots deserve that much.

Can You Change Your Mind Once you Relinquish a Bird?

Not long ago, I received a phone call from a concerned and heartbroken individual that had relinquished a parrot. She had originally felt good about her decision, thinking it was in the parrot’s best interest, but then concerns about what she had done and where her parrot was started to mount. Upon contacting the place where she had relinquished her parrot, she was told she could not have her parrot back.

fun and playThis has been very disheartening for me. I have heard from five people since who have requested that their relinquished parrots be returned, but their requests were refused. The parrots were relinquished due to different circumstances (of which in my opinion should not be judged), but the answers were the same “No.”

In one instance, the person thought of the sanctuary as a friend to turn to in need. While going through a move, the person’s parrots were taken to this sanctuary on what was thought to be a temporary basis. Only a short time later, even lawyers could not get them back.

In another situation, a beloved parrot had begun to scream constantly. He had been passed around three different homes for various reasons (health problems in one, lack of commitment in the second, and aging dependent parents in the third.) The third person took the parrot in when the others could not. She loved him dearly, but the 24/7 screaming couldn’t be tolerated by her failing parents. Without any other options, she surrendered the parrot after being told she could come and get him at any time. When the time came to bring him home, (a new house, a newly-built aviary) she was told, “No.”

The third instance involved someone who had been living with a wild-caught parrot that didn’t seem at all happy living with her. After a year of considering what would be best for the parrot, she finally decided that relinquishing the parrot to be with other wild-caught birds would be best. She visited the parrot often and kept in touch with the facility. A friendship was formed. Suddenly, she was told to “buzz off” and that she could never take back or see the parrot again.

Another case concerned an experienced parrot caregiver trying to bring a sick friend’s parrots home from the sanctuary where they had been relinquished. Rather than open up some space in the sanctuary for new parrots, the answer was, “No.”

The last situation involved a parrot was surrendered to a sanctuary. Later, the parrot’s caregiver had doubts about the facility, and wanted the parrot back. Again, the answer was, “No, the parrot would not go home.”

People change their minds for different reasons.

If you end up having to relinquish a parrot (even temporarily), be sure to protect yourself and your parrot by getting a written agreement from the facility that clearly states the terms of the parrot’s stay and your rights to reclaim possession of your parrot. Do this if there is any chance at all that your circumstances may change. To be safe, have any written agreements reviewed by your lawyer.

Another thing to consider: even though you initially approve of a facility and their policies, you may change your mind about the facility and want to take your parrot elsewhere. Again, get it all in writing.

Relinquishing a parrot is never an easy choice. Just as the reasons for relinquishing will vary, so too will the reasons for changing ones mind. Make sure that you leave that option open for you and your parrot.