The No-Kill Yin Yang

No images this time.  I don’t think most of the places I’m including in this post would want their brand associated with what I have to say.  I’m also not referring to parrots in this post.  (Note the bold, underscored and italicized part and the fact that I types this portion right after it to bring attention to the part I just printed!!)  So if you are, or belong to a parrot/avian rescue group, don’t take this post personally!  My feelings about avian welfare are almost an exact opposite of domestic pet rescue.

“No-Kill” that concept just sounds right.  It puts us all at ease and gives us all a warm, fuzzy feel all over.  But, remember, every good has its bad, or every yin has its yang.

People like it when they hear a shelter is “no-kill”.  It means that all of those cute, cuddly pets are destined to find homes or at least be cared for until they die of natural causes.  How many people take a larger view though?

As a “for instance” a former, large employer of mine boasts its status as “the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country”.  The concept seems sound and makes them appear very squeaky clean.  People like the idea and they think anyone working towards that goal is a saint.  So, exactly where’s the down side?  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking there is none!

Some shelters operate as municipal facilities; they are contracted by local governments to take in stray/unwanted animals.  In many cases, they are some of the only shelters in the area…. the only place for homeless animals to go.  They’re legally obligated to take in every animal, therefor, they are called “Open admission” shelters.  Consider these the “downside” to the no-kill shelters.

Being open admission means they need room, more room and even more room on top of that!  At a certain point these places could have animals pouring out of every crevice they occupy (and some that make the front page of newspapers, do so as “hoarders”).  The only viable, albeit heartbreaking solution is euthanasia.

Don’t consider them bad places because of this.  They simply have no other options available.

Back to the no-kill shelters now…

How do places get lucky enough to become no-kill?  It’s not luck at all.  It’s careful, deliberate planning.  No-kill shelters will scour local pounds and shelters for the “perfect” pets.  They intentionally take the kittens, the puppies, the cute, adorable animals, or ones with heartbreaking stories they can publicize to draw in the crowd and supporters.  What they ultimately end up doing is passing the buck off to the open admission shelters; the shelters that can’t pick and choose which animals they want to take in.

Is this good or is it bad?  I can’t say.  Yes, saving lives is always a good thing.  Doing so at the expense of making others do the dirty work though, seems irresponsible.  Are the shelters to blame?  That’s also hard to say.  If the public was aware of the larger picture and understood the consequences of overpopulating pets, open admission shelters might not receive such a bad reputation while no-kill shelters hold a saintly status in the public’s eye.  In a way, it’s the general public’s fault for turning a blind eye to what’s become a necessary evil – euthanasia.  Instead of addressing the issue and admitting guilt for being the ones at fault for homeless pets, we find it easier to vilify euthanasia and worship the shelters that pass the responsibility off to others.

Some of the tactics of the no-kill shelter movement:

  • Ignoring requests/surrenders for the general public and local communities.
  • Nitpicking animals they prefer to take, over ones they don’t want.
  • Getting involved with high-profile rescues, ignoring smaller, local issues that may not receive as much publicity.
  • Passing animals off to other facilities to handle or adopting to unqualified candidates to make room.
  • May often be labeled as hoarders if they take in more animals than they can handle.

Again, I can’t say the no-kill shelter movement is a bad thing.  On the other hand, I can’t say it’s a responsible thing either.  These shelters plan ahead to make money, market and advertise their brand.  They want only animals in situations that will fit in with this strategy they design.  On the other hand, this gives them a lot of resources to tap into and allows them to reach a larger group of people than just a local humane society can.  But, then we go back to looking at the number of animals the municipal faculties have to euthanize because the nearest no-kill facility washed their hands of the animals there and only want to use the rescue cases as PR stunts.

Is this whole thing the public’s fault, though, for not understanding or tolerating the situations we’re ultimately responsible for?  It seems to become the law of averages; every no-kill shelter will have an equal open-admission one to balance the situation out.  The situation doesn’t go away simply because we turn a blind eye to the helpless, desperate animals that are sent to death each day.  This, perhaps, can best be summed up in one of my favorite quotes:  “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  Note, there’s nothing about the way only no-kill shelters treat their animals… it refers to every animal.

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Posted in Animals

Pecking order?

Been a while, huh?  This blog entry may be a short one… then again, it may not be.  I can never really tell when I start to write one!

This topic kind of irks me when I hear people mention it.  Maybe it’s just the ignorance that gets to me, maybe it’s the mindset of “well, parrots are pets too… just like cats and dogs!”  I’m talking about the “dominant” mindset.

People have this misconception, thanks to their interaction with dogs, that parrots have a certain “dominant” mindset.  You hear things all the time like, “Oh, he wants to stand higher to be the more dominant one.” or “He’s trying to be the alpha male”.

*Buzzer sound* Wrong answer.  Thanks for playing!  Better luck next time.

Or, I prefer this clip….

 

 

Parrots have different personalities, that’s a given.  Some are aggressive, some are assertive, some are push-overs, and so on.  All of these birds play a role in the flock though and each of them benefits the flock.  The cautious ones are the first to get spooked by a noise and alert the others to danger.  The braver ones are the ones more likely to find new food sources and the rest follow.

Birds don’t try to “dominate” each other.  They get protective, yes.  They get jealous, yes.  But unlike a pack of dogs, birds aren’t going to go around humping each other or standing over others to try to get the better of them.  If anything, a flock of birds is a living representation of Karl Marx’s philosophy, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Now, the reason birds stand at different heights, want to climb things, be on the ground or be on top of their cage has nothing to do with domination.  The reason is simple; because they want to be.

Either a piece of food, toy, interesting object, or just a better view are all reasons a bird will prefer to go to a higher perch.  Confidence is the other reason.  A confident bird will be adventurous and wander about, exploring new things with little care to being ambushed from behind or above.  A bird who lacks this confidence prefers to remain high, where they can get (pun intended) a birds-eye view of the surroundings and some advance warning if something looks out of place.

With a large aviary to use, the Greys at Project Perry get to chose where they want to be and how they want to get there!

With a large aviary to use, the Greys at Project Perry get to chose where they want to be and how they want to get there!

What does this mean for us humans?  If a bird is perched up high, it’s up to them to bring themselves down lower.  Don’t reach, don’t force them to step up or come down.  If it’s an issue, take preventative measures form allowing them to get too high.

My own approach?  I sit on the floor near the cage (if it’s a full-length cage).  The bird can relax knowing they can see me safely from higher up.  They can take their time, watch and when it suits them come down to take a closer look.  As the relationship progresses, I’ll open the door and let the bird explore me at will.

It’s also a catch-22.  If you have to reach, stretch and throw yourself off balance when you want to get the bird to step up, the already cautious bird is going to panic at your lack of… um…. confidence and either run or lunge at you in fear.  The more confident you can be while handling a self-conscious bird, the less weary that bird will be of being around you.

This is also a common reason, in my experience, many… many… many people get bit when they’re new to being around birds.  Their own lack of confidence feeds the fear of the bird they’re trying to handle and the end result usually isn’t pretty!

It’s pretty simple if you think of it in terms of the bird.  Would you rather be friends with a person who displays confidence and the ability to handle a stressful situation, or would you rather be around a person who’s always paranoid and clumsy in a new environment?  Which would make you feel more comfortable?

Hopefully, with this little tidbit of information, some of you who may approach a new bird won’t fall into the old cat and dog mindset of being the “alpha” in the flock and might take the time to look at it form the bird’s perspective!

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Posted in Animals, Parrots

Hypocrisy

I was browsing through Youtube and came across this clip of Earthlings that really touches a nerve.

I’ve been a vegan for purely ethical reasons since the end of 2007.  Part of that was due to this movie, most of it was due to my own conscience (and my wife).  This clip really stands out in my mind since the scene starting at around 4:06 minutes (you can skip forward since the link didn’t show it properly) shows a chicken, just a random chicken from a slaughterhouse.  After being manhandled and basically “broken” she misses the tube and casually sits on the ground.  Within seconds, you know she’s dead, but, in that brief moment, she’s still a chicken.

Something about that one scene strikes me.  Despite the absolute hell she’s surrounded by, this chicken could have been any number of chickens I’ve worked with.  She could have just been a chicken sitting down after a long stroll in the pen… until the moment she’s picked up and slammed into the tube where she’s killed.

I can understand people who don’t know any better, still going to the store and buying meat.  I can even understand people who have been brought up in cultures where their attitude towards animals is total indifference, still eating meat.  What I can’t stand are people who should and do know better, have all the information at their finger tips, call themselves “animal lovers”, sill eating meat or any animal product.

How twisted is that logic?  How do you justify that supposed love?  Do you love all animals except the ones you’re about to eat?  Do you love only the cute and cuddly ones?

Well fuck me!  Looks like chickens can be cute too.  So now what's the excuse?

Well fuck me! Looks like chickens can be cute too. So now what’s the excuse?

That term, “animal lover” has been so perverted thanks to these twisted minds, that I refuse to use it when describing my relationship with animals.  I respect animals, not love them.  Unlike their “love”, that respect doesn’t go away because the animal has feathers, scales, or fur.  I don’t lose respect for an animal acting like an animal.  I don’t lose respect for an animal that shows fear of me.  I don’t lose respect for an animal because they bite me.  With that respect will come love, but without it, what kind of relationship do you really have?

Animal Welfare advocates and workers, especially, really need to take a step back and see how much respect they actually do have for these animals.  If they still eat meat, wear wool, sleep on down pillows, eat dairy, etc. how can they really say they respect the animals?

What do you think happens to the boys when they only need the girls for laying eggs?

What do you think happens to the boys when they only need the girls for laying eggs?

I don’t doubt that doing this kind of work makes them feel better, but how one-sided is that relationship?  They gain all the benefits from it, while the animals gain whatever goodwill trickles down to them as a side-effect.

In a more practical sense, what gives them the right to talk to others about animal advocacy programs, if they don’t “practice what they preach”?  People working in this field who go around lecturing and teaching others about animal welfare, but still knowingly use animals in their day to day life, are worse than the people they’re preaching to.  Their audience can at least use ignorance as an excuse for still eating and using animals in their lives.  What’s the excuse for the people doing the preaching though?

How is the Animal Rights community at large supposed to gain any ground in their argument for protecting animals, if these people and entire organizations, are this blatantly hypocritical about their own message?

In some of the places I’ve worked, even some of the largest organizations in this country, you’d be lucky to find just a quarter of the staff who were even vegetarian, let alone vegan.  On the surface their message is all about compassion, but dig just a shallow hole and you’ll spot those same people enjoying a cheese pizza or a t-bone steak for dinner.

What’s their excuse?  That cow wasn’t as cute as their dog?

If you want me to bring this back to parrots… you’d be horrified at how many people think chicken is a great food/treat for their bird!  And the way they describe their birds “sucking the marrow out of the bones” would almost cause your jaw to drop.

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Posted in Animals, Parrots, Uncategorized

My(cage)space.com

Shhh  the daddy person doesn’t know I’m doing this.   He’s busy cleaning my cage and I snuck out.  “Coco”, he said, “I wonder if u could give my readers some advice on cage sizes.”

I don’t like hearing him hit these clicky thing so I decided to type this myself with these clicky things.  Weeeeeeeeeee!  I’m making them click… see!

Anyway, I’m called an African Grey.  I don’t know why, I mean was born in Florida, but they still call me an African Grey.  Shouldn’t I be called a Florida Grey.

Oooh, this clicky thing popped out.  I wonder what it tastes like!

An wa, to go with cage sizes.  Ou need to pick one that will fit the bird with wings and tail feathers and all of that stuff nicel.  Look at Squeaker.  His tail is twice as long as his scrawn little bod!  A bird half my size gets a cage m size, talk about fair?

IMG_2842

Bar spaces also need to be appropriate for the bir… oooh another click thing popped out!  I wonder if it tastes better than the other one?  So bar spaces nee to be etermine b the size of the bir’s hea an the space between bars.  Ou on’t want our bir to be able to poke his hea out of the cage, after all!

I also like tos.  We all love tos!  We love to chew on them, tear them apart, shre them an make paper ribbons out of them.  Our cage nees room for lots of tos!

An climb stick thingies too!  We love climbing aroun on them, although Re over there is a laz bir an just screams an screams an screams until the momm person comes for him.  Having lots of those climb stick thingies makes it fun for us to walk aroun an hie things in!

Oooooh another one poppe out!  Tastes ike… crunch!  Meh, I on’t ike this one that much!

Where was I… cage size, bar spaces, tos, cimb stick thingies….  Ahh, privac!  Can’t forget that one!  I on’t ike peope waking aroun m cage a the time.  I ike to have a nice corner I can hie in when I want to.  I on’t ike being near oorwas or corners cause I know there’s something behin them tring to eat me an I get rea nervous!  Woun’t ou be jump if things were awas tring to eat ou whenever ou were tring to seep!?

Uh oh.  I hear the a person coming back!  Better run awa an hie these ckick things!

..

.

COCO!!!!  Not again!?!?

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Posted in Animals, Parrots

The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent

Last time I went on about trainers and got some feedback, including some “WTF?!” comments.  The fact that I posted the entry and immediately received two comments that were the polar opposite of one another, shows how divided people can be over this.  Granted, I was a bit negative in that last post, going on about the downside to training, especially in terms of shows and performances.

Training does have its place, as long as it doesn’t “cheapen” the parrot-human experience and lets the bird grow and develop.

Let me focus on the positive side of training now.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jan Hooimeijer, a famous Dutch Veterinarian and behaviorist.  I had also seen other trainers and people who call themselves trainers prior to that and there always seemed to be stipulations to their techniques “this will work after some time” or “this will work depending on the personality”.  Dr. Hooimeijer is the only person I’ve seen preach a certain technique and follow it through on some difficult cases with complete success and almost no prep-work.

Dr Jan, but not Everett!

Dr Jan, but not Everett!

Everett was a Severe Macaw with a certain flair for causing pain to men.  I remember the first time stepping him up without a warning and he decided my hand made a good place to perch while he gnawed on my thumb bone!  After the fact, I got the “Oh, by the way, he doesn’t like men” speech.

Through, what he calls his “5 step method” Dr. Hooimeijer was able to have Everett step up and then sit comfortably on him for nearly a half hour before stepping him back up and putting him in his cage.  I don’t care what you say about the man otherwise, THAT was a result!

The method is similar in many ways to the Parelli Horse Training method used.  It uses the bird’s natural instincts and behaviors to achieve a wanted behavior.  You’re not teaching them stupid parlor tricks, sing-along-songs or a huge vocabulary.  You’re teaching them to take their ability to be a bird and adapt and grow into their new environment.  The end results are beneficial for the bird and the humans.

Another important feature that was taught by him, and something I picked up while doing Wildlife Rehab was essentially to “not make a scene”.  If something goes wrong, if the bird falls, if the bird gets spooked, you don’t react to it.  You stop and you don’t add to the stimulus.  When it passes and you see that everything is safe, you continue on like nothing happened in the first place.

To get that wanted behavior, of course, you do acknowledge it.  You acknowledge the behavior for the moment but don’t continue past that.  Once that moment has passed, it’s gone for good and should never be thought of again, in terms of the training at least!

It’s the same method, as he describes, that a preschool teacher uses.  When a child falls and you make a huge scene over it, you increase the stress and the child reacts more severely.

Likewise, when a child acts like a child and performs a normal child routine, you don’t make a big deal over it.  I can’t stress how HUGE this part is!  How many times have you, or people you’ve known with birds made a huge ordeal over the bird doing something that was perfectly normal and healthy for the bird?

If that bird were a child and the child was playing on a swing, would you really go over to it after each swing, throw confetti, jump up and down for joy and pat them on the back?  You think the kid might develop a complex after a while?

If we consider birds to simply be “pets” it seems almost counterintuitive to ignore them. begging We’re so used to dogs that run in circles around us, wanting attention, that we forget these little feathered things around us don’t have those same set of needs.  They’re very happy being independent and doing the things birds should do, if left to their own devices.  Our constant attention and our constant reactions to them drives them into a permanent state of anxiety.

The one “secret” I’ve always had when handling birds, is right along these lines; I ignore them.  People introduce me and on the surface I say, “Oh cute bird” and go about doing something else.  Now, let me open the door to my head for a moment.

In that same scenario people introduce me to the bird and I think, “Poor guy, he’s probably terrified of seeing me barge into his place like this.  I’ll give him time to adjust.  I’ll pretend he isn’t here and let him just watch me without posing any threat.  Maybe I’ll go back in a little bit so he can get a better idea of who I am, but I’ll still give him some space.  When he’s ready, I’m sure he’ll come over to me because he wants to.”

It may seem counterintuitive to not pay attention to a “pet” but in the case of birds, think of it as “playing hard to get”.  You’re basically acting as though you’re indifferent to the bird being there and not adding any more stress to the situation.  They will act the way their instincts tell them to act.  It’s not the bird’s job to change their behavior to suit your needs, it’s your job to change your behavior to suit the bird’s need.  If you do it right, the bird will grow comfortable around you.

This is also a reason I hate giving people “bird advice” – 99% of the time, the bird does nothing wrong, it’s the humans who are doing everything wrong.  Trying to retrain humans to interact with their bird is almost more difficult than trying to train a bird to interact with their humans!

(And yes, that last title was a Pinky and The Brain rip-off)
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Posted in Animals, Parrots

Parrot and The Brain Brain Brain Brain…

Here’s another gripe of mine when dealing with the so called, “parrot people”.  Trainers.

There are a certain percentage that follow some type of training theory.  At worst they can range from teaching an animal to act ridiculous for our own amusement.  At best, they argue that it “enriches” the relationship with our birds.

Let me say now, my relationships with my birds are healthy.  I let them do what they want, how they want, when I’m able.  They’re all happily content in their lives and enjoy being around my wife and I.

Training, to me, cheapens the entire experience.  It’s designed to cater to the lowest form of behavior and manipulate the animal to do what we want them to do.  It’s the age-old scientific conundrum about always asking “could we do this” instead of asking “should we do this”.

cookie

Yes, great, bravo, you can manipulate a creature that has little understandings of our internal brain functions. Here’s a cookie.

Now, there are two types of training we can talk about and I should clarify.  One actually engages the bird’s intelligence to develop a free will and get them adjusted to situations.  It’s pretty much identical to the same as a human development; children see something that gets a reaction so they continue to do it until they learn how to get what they wanted.  The child is happy for accomplishing the task and the parents are happy to have a child that thinks for themselves.

The other type of training takes the bird’s rudimentary level of intelligence and manipulates them to complete a task.  Imagine how empty this accomplishment would be if you translated it to humans; teach a baby to throw a wad of paper in a garbage can and give them a piece of candy every time they accomplish it.

People making a livelihood off of the latter version of that training aren’t providing the world of parrots or Animal Rights any help in their efforts.  They pretty much give people a free pass to say “look how cool I am because my bird can do this neat trick”.

If you look at Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s work with African Greys and really see how much of the birds’ understanding goes into learning new things, then all these cheap, gimmicky tricks and clicker training techniques will almost look insulting!

My advice to future/current/potential bird “guardians” is to be wary of trainers who’s emphasis is placing their/your own needs above the birds.  If a bird is screaming, or biting, the bird is more distressed than you are.  Find the root cause of that and solve both of your problems instead of glossing over it with a cheap parlor trick for your own sanity.

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Posted in Animals, Parrots

Sufferin Succotash

This post hits rather close to home for me.  There is an issue that comes up often in any type of animal rescue work that has people in the field up in arms – movies/media.  You might also say stories, or any kind of entertainment for that matter.

I was neck-deep in the issue when “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” was released.  Everywhere I turned people were criticizing the movie, terrified about the potential abuse and homelessness cases that would be called in after the “fad” passed.

rio-blue-bird-flying-hqwallpapers--high-quality-wallpapers

Within the past couple years, “Rio” also came out in theaters and people in the Avian Welfare community were also terrified about what that could mean for captive and wild birds.

The paranoia is justified.  Statistically, it’s been shown that pop culture references to animals increases the popularity of those animals as pets (Benji, Old Yeller, etc.)  Does that mean that animals shouldn’t be mentioned in pop culture at all?

I felt my wife psychically smack me over the head once when we sat in a staff meeting and I mentioned out loud that my inspiration to getting started in this field dated back to Looney Tunes cartoons.  In all honesty though, had it not been for Bugs, Daffy, Tweety and Wile E. (along with the Disney counterparts) my interest in animals would have simply passed by without leaving so much as a mental ripple in my mind.

250px-Zoomandbored

Like it or not, I have pop culture to blame for getting me interested in animals.  From there, thanks to my parents’ moral lessons and my own thought process, I was able to connect the dots and eventually find my way to the Animal Welfare world.

Now, the “close to home” part?  A couple years ago I finished writing my own Middle Grade work of fiction that follows the adventures of a small flock of parrots.  Since completion, it’s been bogged down by edits, rewrites and held in limbo during submissions.  During one of these recent edits before sending it off again, it occurred to me that if this book ever gets published, it’s likely people could look at it and label it the same as they have other stories like it.

You know what?  The hell with them!  If you remove all the pop culture animal stories out there, who’s going to get the future generations involved in this type of work?  You can’t light a fire without first having a spark.  Stories like this, that appeal to these younger generations are that spark.

(And yes, I’m now beating my head against my desk after realizing that I can validly say “younger generation” and not include myself!)

It’s up to the people setting that “spark” though, to do so responsibly.  Same as a real fire, you don’t just light it and walk away until 100,000 acres of forest are torched.  The people writing the stories and making the movies need to be responsible and teach a lesson, either within or apart from the story, that will educate the audience and leave them with a greater understanding of the issues.

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Posted in Animals
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