It was a three-month long battle via email and phone conversations to get Jack the senior Blue and Gold Macaw out of a dire situation. I had found an ad posted online for an obviously ill-looking bird: disheveled feathers, an overgrown beak and curled nails, and what looked to be cataracts on his eyes. The person was trying to sell him for $800.
In my first correspondence, I stated my concerns about the health of the bird and tried to be as informative — but as friendly — as possible. I could tell this had potential to be a life-threatening situation, and Jack — although he didn’t know I was fighting for him at the time — needed me to hold myself together. At first, the person refused to budge in price or relinquish Jack to a rescue where he would receive the expert care he needed. But I did get the backstory on where Jack came from. The story was that the person selling him received Jack after he was confiscated in a drug raid. Rumor had it that the guy either worked in the police force or was friends with someone in the force and Jack was simply given to him — I still don’t know if that story is entirely true. Jack had lived in a filthy drug house that made meth, and the residents smoked cigarettes and marijuana, blowing smoke in Jack’s face on a regular basis — this I can believe was true. A month went by, and not a day passed without me thinking about Jack. At 6am on a random weekday, I checked my email and my heart sank further. I was advised that Jack wasn’t eating well, and the person wasn’t sure what to do. Jack also had runny, stinky poops and was having a hard time breathing. Knowing how well birds hide their illnesses, I knew Jack was going downhill fast, and even though I felt panicked, I gave the best advice that I could, and at the end of my message I pleaded: “Please, please he must see a veterinarian that is familiar with parrots immediately; avian certified if you can find one. If you cannot afford it I will drop everything to drive there and back to get him to my veterinarian. Considering his history, age and condition, he is going to need long term intensive care.”
I heard nothing for another two months despite my (as friendly as possible) attempts to contact the owner. Then, I received the message that changed both mine and Jack’s life: “He is not eating at all now. The vet gave antibiotics but his breathing is still not good. I’ve decided not to sell him, please come get him.” I dropped everything and left that day. The drive from Traverse City, MI to Detroit seemed shorter than usual, perhaps due to my white-knuckled anxious speeding. I felt a strong sense of urgency, and I just needed to get Jack in my care as soon as possible. My husband and I arrived at the location to find Jack sitting on a large rusted cage, with no toys and limited branches. Runny-looking dried feces was on the cage bars, though the owner claimed to have just cleaned within the last hour. Jack was barely hanging on to the bars of the dome top with his weak grip, and he rested up close to a 100-watt heat lamp of which had chew marks along the hot metal dome fixture. His upper beak was so long that it almost touched his chest. As we wrapped him in a towel to get him into the car, he let out a grumpy “Blech!” but didn’t put up a fight. It was obvious that he wasn’t feeling well at all. Even though I was relieved to finally have Jack safe and in my care, I cried on the way home. The stink that he left in the car was almost unbearable: old cigarette smoke, and a rancid smell of sour infection with the stench of his poo. It was a long ride home.
When we got home, I immediately gave him a bath. The water that rinsed off of him was dark brown, and then lighter, then finally clear. It took several baths over the next couple of days to get the stale smoke smell out. Several hours were spent scrubbing and disinfecting his cage, and eventually the cage was completely sand blasted and re-coated professionally. I filled his cage with perches situated in a way to help him get around, considering his arthritic feet, and toys featuring blocks of wood (his favorite) were placed strategically throughout the cage where he could easily reach them. I brought him to the vet the next day, and the doctor found a bacterial infection in his lungs that was so bad we could smell it on his breath, and he had a hole in his paper-thin lungs that still causes a random air sac near his crop to be filled with air to this day. He also had a large amount of bacteria in his feces. He is completely blind in one eye due to cataracts that were more than likely caused by living in the smoke-filled drug house environment, not to mention from his diet of sunflower seeds and Fritos. After a beak and nail trim, many baths, two weeks of antibiotics and a good diet with supplements, I noticed Jack becoming stronger. He began to greet me with a soft but animated “hi!” when he sensed me near his cage, because that is how I greeted him from day one — always with cheer in my voice no matter how bad I thought he looked.
Jack is a wild caught bird; we believe he may even have been illegally imported, possibly with drugs or in a drug trade, because illegal exotic animal importation and drugs often go hand-in-hand. Even though he has a broken wing that was fractured in multiple locations — more than likely from when he was captured — he was my main inspiration for building our large outdoor flight aviary. It is all dedicated to him, he just happens to share the space with the other sanctuary residents. After what he had been through, I wanted so badly for him to safely enjoy climbing tree branches outdoors. His favorite thing is being outside and munching on branches, especially with me by his side; those are the moments when he is the happiest. He gets so excited that he has to prepare himself for talking by first touching his beak to his perch, then pushing off into a sweet heartfelt, “hi!” He will repeat that action over and over again when he really gets going. That is the only thing he says, aside from grumpy old man noises when it is time to go inside. He doesn’t even call out like a normal macaw would — he remains quiet — and he has never bitten, not even when he was on medication. He just seems to be grateful for what he has now.
Just a month after the aviary was completed, I saw already saw huge improvement in Jack’s mobility, he continues to grow stronger and the spark of life in his eyes shines even brighter. During summer rains, since he cannot fly, I take him to sit on the front porch to listen to the rain, and he seems to enjoy the quiet companionship just as I do, both of us reflecting on our lives. He receives regular foot soaks to help with his arthritis and he eats like a king off of daily fresh fruits, veggies, nuts and grain bakes— I don’t think he would touch a Frito if one was offered. I am constantly keeping an eye on his health and weight since, because of his age and what he went through, his immune system will always be a bit weak. His story is a sad one, but it also gives me joy. I am so honored and lucky to have found him. When I saved him, I also saved a part of myself. He taught me about strength, and his story keeps me motivated to continue doing what I do — rescue.