One of the reasons I have held the dream of becoming a professional in the Avian Medical Community for nearly 20 years now is that I saw the need for someone to function as a liaison, if you will, between the Avian Veterinarian and his clients, the human caretakers of his Companion Parrot patients. Someone who has the availability, the experience, the training, and the willingness to continue the caretaking conversation once the parrot and its human companion leave the clinic after seeking diagnosis and treatment for illnesses and/or conditions requiring continuing at home treatment.
I can remember all too well first the sense of extreme relief that my Macaw Companion was going to recover and return to her normal healthy self after having been given the benefit of treatment by a Board Certified Avian Veterinarian. And hot on the heels of that relief, the sense of extreme panic because in my emotional state during the exam I either missed parts of the complete instructions for her continuing treatment at home; or the utter helplessness not know exactly how I was going to administer the treatment!
I knew almost immediately after my life with parrots began that there was a huge gap between what my veterinarian was able to furnish in the way of ongoing support, and what was needed by nearly every one of us new caretakers (and sometimes not-so-new caretakers as well) to give our Companions the benefit of a completed course of treatment in the comfort and safety of their own home with those they knew, loved, and trusted.
It took 20 years for the reality of fulfilling that dream to present itself. I am currently in the process of arranging schooling to become a Certified Avian Veterinary Medical Technician. And as a part of my preparation for that education, I have been fortunate to be able to volunteer, working with the patients and clients of my own flock’s Avian Veterinarian.
It is in that capacity that I was privileged to meet and report on the imping procedure received by the Congo African Grey, Max.
Many of you were interested to know how Max fared after such a tremendous result immediately following his procedure last March. I was fortunate to be able to cross paths with Max again last week when he came into the clinic again. I was thrilled to see that, after having lost the imped feathers that were artificially placed by either normal dislodging or natural molting, Max has nearly a full complement of both flight feathers and tail feathers.
However, the improvement in Max’s ability to balance, and the resulting increase in his confidence has not endured. You may recall that Max’s new family was created when his first dad passed and he came to live with his son. At that point in time, the family had had no previous experience with Companion Parrots at all, and so they turned to my Avian Veterinarian. Following the procedure, through no fault of their own and a continuing unfamiliarity with Companion Parrots, Max was still not handled sufficiently to sustain the progress the imping had allowed. Today, Max is very shaky perching on a hand. And it is obvious that he is fearful of the slightest movement.
While Max was with us in the clinic the other day, before he was picked up by his family after his visit to the office, we were anxious to be able to spend some time with one of our favorite patients. Several of us gathered to give Max some love and attention when he was visiting, and we brought him out of his cage for a bit. He did well, so long as we kept him on our hands low and close to the floor so that he would not fall. After a bit, we wondered if he might not enjoy the freedom of a bit of a walk about under his own direction. And so we allowed him to wander where he wished.
All went well until Max decided to explore the area under the chairs and behind some of the furniture. We became concerned and tried to gently corral him back out into the open area. Since Max’s confidence had dwindled, he would retreat further into the recesses rather than respond to our beckons to come toward us. In this situation, it has been the go-to practice to towel a bird to prevent them from damaging themselves in our efforts to retrieve them; which is the method we attempted first. Sadly, it only served to exacerbate the situation and poor Max became even more frightened. Finally, in a completely natural tactic, Max climbed the legs of two tables in the room that were side by side; one leg on one table, the other leg on the other.
With the concentrated studying I have been doing independently, even before my formal classes, I have learned some things that one would think we would learn quickly when we first bring a Parrot into our family. I don’t know about you, but I have been so busy trying to “figure out” parrot behavior in my 20 years of living with them, that I’ve not ever stopped and just let them tell me what they need. I have had somewhat of an epiphany in that area in recent months. And I swear I began thinking like a bird in order to be able to help poor Max out of his dilemma.
I simply put my hand below Max’s feet on the legs of the tables he was clinging to; and I spoke to him in the same gentle, reassuring tone that I had used while holding him when he felt safe perched on my hand. I asked him to step onto my hand and as he tried he naturally reached for something to anchor his beak to that he could lift a foot off the table leg to put it on my waiting hand. I had to provide my other had as that anchor point, making it absolutely solid and reliable for him to trust even using his beak on it. (That meant that when he pinched, for lack of confidence and balance, I could not so much as flinch. And I did not.) It took only a few minutes of being slow, consistent, and encouraging to convince Max to let go of each of the table legs and step onto my hand. Once he was firmly perched on me completely, I continued to talk to him with the same steady tone of voice while I moved one of the tables away from the other (you see, I had had to insert my hand into the small space between the two and I could not bring Max out through that space unless I made it bigger. He sat very still, trusting that I was not going to move his perch, and allowed me to remove the table leg from our path. Then I was able to slowly lower him to the level of the perch in his cage and he easily stepped onto it without so much as one of his Grey growls.
The point of this story is twofold. First, it is a demonstration of how extremely important it is that we maintain our relationship with our Companions on a consistent basis in order to sustain any progress that we make in resolving behavior issues. And secondly, it demonstrates that no matter what the state of the relationship, or what the issue is, “thinking like a bird” goes a very long way toward finding a solution to any behavior challenge and building a deeper relationship no matter where we start.
And I almost hate to say it … But this story also emphasizes (I hope) yet another value in establishing and maintaining a relationship with our Avian Veterinarian and their staff. Just like the saying goes for human children, “It takes a village …”, so it takes a community of avian caregivers, no matter the level, to Give Every Bird, Everywhere, A Happy Home.