A few decades ago, “keeping” a parrot meant an ornamental bird in a tiny cage, provided solely for our own entertainment with little thought to the feelings or happiness of the bird. Many owners had small, round ornate cages designed not for the bird, but to be aesthetically pleasing as home décor. We assisted with a rescue where a blue and gold macaw was kept in just such a cage, so small he could not even open his wings.
But that is all changing. People are becoming aware of the suffering and misery we have too long imposed on these sentient and intelligent creatures. But it needs to change even more.
Currently, birds are numbered as the third most popular pet in this nation – right behind dogs and cats. Following in the footsteps of the dog and cat populations, the number of birds that become “unwanted” is growing out of control. However, unlike dogs and cats that have had a long history of domestication and have a government infrastructure in place that provides county shelters in nearly every locale that must take any dog or cat surrendered to them, there is no such system in place to take in or house birds in most places. This places the burden squarely on “private” rescues and sanctuaries. Some may or may not be 501(c)(3) organizations and even then, some may or may not be legitimate. There are NO standards of care. There are no rules. No one oversees the care the birds receive (or fail to receive). No one insures that they are housed safely and protected from the elements.
In response to the flood of unwanted birds, many think the solution is to open more rescues. This means more options for people looking to “get rid of” their bird; however with a lack of standards or any oversight, some rescues might end up being an even worse situation for the bird than they were in with their “owner.” Some rescues feel it is a competition and drama and in-fighting is rampant. This is what happens when you try to put a tiny bandage on a massive hemorrhage. The solution is hope and change. Giving the birds hope for a better life. And we do that by changing how we view them and our care of and interactions with them.
Our first hurdle is human arrogance. We tend to feel smugly superior to all other species and we base our interactions on that mindset. We become bullies in the process and we miss out on the opportunities to learn from those amazing creatures we are sharing our lives with.
Our second hurdle is history. We have a long history of birds being ornaments, toys, entertainment or conversation pieces. We must examine WHY we “want” a bird in our lives, and make sure we are entering into the relationship for the right reasons. Especially because, like a human marriage, some of these relationships are designed to last the length of a human lifespan – or beyond! We need to examine what we have to offer to the bird in terms of time, living arrangements, and care. We need to not only raise the bar for parrot care, but we need to #GiveTheBarWings! We can do that by education, by setting good examples, and by helping those who may have brought a parrot into their home without fully understanding the consequences and responsibilities.
Our third hurdle is greed. We have long exploited other “pets” for our own personal gain. After all, procreation is a natural process for animals. It’s fairly easy to put a male and female of most any type of dog or cat together and let them “do their thing” and for the cost of a little bit of food, they provide a large number of marketable “products” – that will ultimately join others in the overpopulation in shelters and rescues. Birds are no exception to this rule, but are definitely more work as a pervasive and insidious myth that they *must* be “hand-fed” to be “tame” causes breeders to rip them from their parents during a critical learning period of their lives and force-feed them with “formula” in order to perpetuate the myth and attract naïve buyers looking for a “hand-tame” parrot. Still, there are a growing number of bird breeders out there, pumping out more and more baby birds who will join the growing numbers that are overburdening rescues and sanctuaries and populating online classifieds with “rehoming” ads at an alarming rate. Why? Because humans are greedy, and think that because they CAN breed birds, they have every right to do so, irrespective of any moral or ethical considerations.
Bird mills exist, just like puppy and kitten mills. They pump out huge numbers of parrots that are doomed to become victims of the pet trade. Big box stores sell budgies by the score, gleaned from large-scale “exotics” breeders. These birds are considered throw-away because of their low price and are often not given proper care or veterinary attention. Out of the nearly 40 budgies we’ve rescued here – with the exception of one that we have no history on because the owner passed away – every person that has surrendered them has indicated they were never seen by a vet. Yet a budgie is no different than a macaw if you don’t consider the size and the price.
Recently, we contacted Petco, a major big box pet store, about their policy of selling small birds. After appealing to them to follow an adoption-based model, we were introduced to the management of our newly-opened local Petco store. What we found was change, already in progress!
The management and employees of this store are very proactive about advocating for the best care of the birds they offer. They actively discourage buyers by pointing out what proper care means, and emphasizing the seriousness of the commitment in buying a bird.
In addition to donating food to our rescue, they invited us to come out and provide information to the public and gave us a large area right in the front of the store. We have been invited to make this a monthly event, educating bird owners and promoting a successful companion bird lifestyle with a relationship that is healthy not only for the human, but for the bird. We do education on things like life spans, proper care, home hazards, proper diet and exercise, and the amount of time and attention that is actually needed to keep a bird.
This relationship will benefit both Petco and companion birds in that every person we can teach will buy more toys, bigger cages, and healthier foods. We promote building relationships rather than “owning a pet” which results in better emotional health for birds and a stronger, lasting bond with the humans that share their lives.
It’s a small step, but person by person and bird by bird, we CAN and WILL effect change. And small steps begin great journeys to wonderful destinations. It is our hope that the wonderful destination will be TRUE change, in how we view, understand and treat our feathered companions. And that is REAL hope and change that we can believe in.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Petco project is a HUGE step in a great direction. I personally have reached out to PetsMart in a myriad of ways to numbers of people and have been pushed aside, ignored and quite frankly marginalized. Dee's success with Petco is an amazing achievement for companion parrots.
If you have a few moment would you send a note thanking this Petco location for taking this most excellent step with Dee and Marden's Ark Avian Refuge. Your positive feedback directly to the Manager will go so very far in growing this trend inside their brand and empowering other stores. I have reached out myself to both corporate and this local site.
I hope you will, too. Remember your voice is powerful. Our voices together will change the world.
You can email Debbie Bledsoe Services Manager - Adoption and Animal Care) at this address I've started your email so you can finish with your personal thoughts.