Wow, I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day as an intern at Best Friends. These five weeks have been absolutely incredible. I will be sad to go, especially saying goodbye to three animals in particular.
I was definitely looking forward to spending some time in the Parrot Garden, but I did not expect it to become my main area of focus. How I have absolutely fallen in love…After volunteering in the area, I thought it would be cool to learn basic care for a parrot in hope to perhaps be a foster home in the future. However, manager Jackie pushed me to take on a project bird. I was worried, thinking with my complete birdnorance, I had no way of being beneficial to a parrot in need. She then told me about Maggy.
Maggy was abandoned in an empty house for weeks when her family moved out and left her. I know, we all ask, how can people do this? But luckily enough, she was brought to the sanctuary. Understandably, Maggy has some hard core trust issues. She is wary of everybody and is easily frightened. The staff at Parrot Garden have a lot of birds to look after and unfortunately do not always have the time it takes to build a solid relationship with a bird as frightened as Maggy. That is where they wanted me to come in.
They asked me to sit next to Maggy’s cage and simply read a book out loud. They thought it might sound strange to me, but I thought it made perfect sense. Get her used to a human who shows her interest but in the most non-evasive way possible. Jackie explained that reading aloud promotes a rhythm in the human’s voice that the birds find soothing. I immediately got started.
So an average day for me when scheduled in the garden was to assist in cleaning cages and the floor and then begin reading. It would not take long for me start becoming a little hoarse as it is a bit dusty in these parts. Reading out loud was nice, but I thought if I was being more creative and doing what I normally do to have fun, I would promote even happier energy and be better company for the birds. So I asked if I could bring in my ukulele. The staff approved and I brought my lovely Christmas present- thanks Stephen!- the next day I volunteered.
I had started making a song for Maggy and sat sideways next to her cage as I normally did. Sitting sideways and a little lower then where a bird is perched is the least threatening position. They can be intimidated from being approached head on and their predators attack from above. But in sitting next to Maggy sideways, it had me facing a Yellow-crowned Amazon named BooBoo. I didn’t know much about BooBoo except I wasn’t allowed to clean his cage because he had drawn the most blood from volunteers. I was told he showed very little body language which made people afraid of him. They couldn’t tell what mood he was in or when he was about to bite. He hadn’t really connected with anyone and acted as if he wanted staff to leave him alone. I was safe with him confined to his cage, I just hoped my voice didn’t disturb him. So I was sitting on the ground and I started finger picking and then some strumming. Who could have expected what would happen next!
Maggy cocked her head and stared at me. Her eyes became more of an almond shape, showing she was relaxed. She puffed up and rested on one leg, both signs of comfort and relaxation. And what did Booboo do? He climbed down to the bottom of his cage and began pacing back and forth. I had started reading about birds but wasn’t sure at the moment if he was happy and excited or being territorial. Birds consider their cages their nest so often feel a need to protect them. I started singing and Booboo gave a few chirps and a whistle! This was absolutely incredible. You see, the amazon’s used to be free-flighted in a large aviary. But one Amazon named Rico started a war that led to a good bit of injuries. The Amazons had to be caged. Since BooBoo was returned to a cage, he hasn’t muttered a sound. So these few little chirps meant a lot! Not only that but he started raising up his shoulders and pushing his neck forward. Knowing that many birds dance, I took this as his awesome signature move. I later was told that he was actually regurgitating his food, a very sweet notion. And get this- the next morning when I walked in I was greeted by Booboo’s voice loud and clear, “HI!”
I have brought my ukulele just about every time since. Booboo now steps up for me when I open his cage and will hang out on my arm even when I walk him outside. When I am playing he likes to wander around on the floor near me and occasionally climbs up on the ukulele. I like that Maggy watches me positively interact with Booboo. I hope seeing his confidence in me has brought her a little more trust. I would not say she truly trusts me yet, nor are we very bonded. But I think she does know that I have no intention of hurting her and she shows signs of enjoying my company. My favorite joy in interacting with Maggy is the last two times I have sung for her, she has closed her eyes and started drifting to sleep. =)
So tomorrow morning is my final scheduled time in the Parrot Garden. I do not cry much, but a few tears have fallen. I have faith that Maggy will continue to build her trust in humans. She is in a safe place now and hopefully she will come to realize that. She is such an interesting bird. She would really blossom in the perfect home. I know she wants to come out of her shell, I have seen her start to say something a few times. It would be nice to be able to stick around and keep spending time with her, but Best Friends has a good number of volunteers who can continue reading to this lovely young bird.
As for Booboo! Sometimes the animal picks you, you know? Many people have asked me if I will be adopting him. Well one of the reasons there are so many homeless birds is because people do not realize what a commitment they are. Most of these parrots will live to be 80-100 years old. Though I don’t believe one can rate intelligence, scientists say parrots are about the level of a 3-4 year old. So having a parrot is like having a toddler that never grows up, goes to college, or moves out. Because of how dangerous a home can be, they need to be in their cage when left alone and you really can’t leave them alone for more than a couple of hours. Though raised in captivity, parrots are still not considered domesticated. They have their primary need to be part of a flock. When they are left alone for too long they are traumatized and often turn to self mutilation. So really the ideal home is someone who is retired, works at home, or can take their bird to work. That is why adopting Booboo is not a very responsible decision for me. My future career is in the air and in Winston I do a lot of pet sitting and house sitting and am often away from home for several days. I have still been thinking about it even so. However, Best Friends wisely warned us inters: “It is a good idea to decide ahead of time if you want to adopt an animal while you are here”. I had no intention of adopting. At this stage in my life I am most beneficial as a foster parent. So I had to feel my feelings and think my thoughts and put them together. What had I really set out to accomplish? Bringing a bird out of his/her shell to become more adoptable. What had I done? Just that. Booboo gained trust in me and therefore more trust in humans as a species. I am confident that he will continue to open up with the staff at Parrot Garden and even the volunteers too. Especially if they bring a little music with them. =)
And Mr. Chaplin. Ya’ll know I love this dog. He is such an awesome guy. He has been on sleepovers with me and we have enjoyed many outings together. One issue I faced in working with Chaplin was consistency. I would tell him “four on the floor” and he would stop jumping on the door of his cage. I would walk in and if he jumped I would turn away from him and deprive him of attention. He is a quick learner and would soon calm himself and sit down. Then I would reward him with attention. I told you guys before that he is a bit mouthy, When people enter his run, he normally would jump and start biting at their arms. They would say, “no, stop” and push him back. To him this said, “hey, we are playing!” So once I learned how to communicate with him, our relationship grew. The problem is we would work on this but then volunteers who didn’t know would come in and give him attention again for jumping. I wouldn’t see him for a day and he would be back to square one. This is one reason Chaplin would really benefit from a home. He needs that consistency to show him the proper way to behave. Because he wants to. He is desperate to please. When in my house, he would follow me around from room to room and enjoys the company of others. He loves loves toys, female dogs, and massages. I know, who doesn’t. One odd thing I noticed about Chappy was his fear of ceiling fans. In one apartment I was staying in, I was trying to turn a light on and accidentally started the fan. He freaked. He crouched down and looked for a place to hide. He was even afraid of me. So we slowly worked on getting him used to the fan. The next time I had him over, I waited until he was in a relaxed state. I had some treats ready and pushed the fan a little bit with my hand. He looked up and became fearful, but I immediately re-directed him and then rewarded with the treats. We kept this first session very short, just about 20 seconds, and that was all for the day. Within four sessions over four different days, he maintained a completely calm state of mind even with the fan blowing full force. Woohoo!
There are a lot of stereotypes about pit bulls. One thing I liked about being with Chaplin is I trusted him completely. I would feel comfortable enough to lay treats on my face, stick my head in his mouth, and pull his tail. But also being a girl living alone here, it felt good to have him appear as such a tough guard dog. So to those ladies who don’t mind scaring off the bad guys, think about adopting a Pit! Chaplin would be great in a home with someone who has a lot of time to spend with him. He is three, but acts even younger, and has a good deal of energy. He is a complete sweetheart. If you are interested in meeting him, Maggy, or Booboo, please contact Best Friends! http://www.bestfriends.org/aboutus/staffdepartments/index.cfm
I have adored my time here. Best Friends is an incredible sanctuary in a very beautiful place. Every animal has their specific needs met and are treated with such kindness. I learned about many education and outreach programs Best Friends has started that are helping animals everywhere. It is a great non-profit to get involved with and learn from. Hope you get the chance to visit!