The details of this story are 100% true and in no way exaggerated for effect or with regard to the “feelings” of any party – including those of our own organization. In other words, this is the story, warts and all.
The opinions expressed about the captive pet bird industry are mine. As the reader, you are welcome to draw your own conclusions about the way this industry works and its effects. Differences of opinion make the world go round and I welcome civilized debate. I will not tolerate attacks though … So if you’re fixed for a fight, keep moving. There’s nothing to see here.
PART 2 – Planning
Thirteen frightened, mostly feral birds landed in our lap at once. Our quarantine space went from empty to near capacity in one fell swoop. At first blush, the potential for rehabilitation and rehoming on any of these birds was in serious doubt – even for the friendly Umbrella Cockatoo who had been paired with a very feral, wild caught partner who didn’t tolerate any kind of access to the cage, let alone direct interaction.
The two hybrid macaws, a Miligold (Military/Blue and Gold) and Harlequin (Blue and Gold/Greenwing) were scared out of their minds, but tightly bonded to each other. Anytime I or any of our volunteers came too close, or opened the cage door, they screamed as though someone was trying to kill them (which they probably thought we were). They both had closed bands on their legs, but the band was about the only thing about these birds that suggested they had ever had direct human interaction – at least POSITIVE direct human interaction anyway.
The pair of Blue and Gold macaws was definitely frightened, but less averse to humans than the other two. The owner had mentioned they had been hand raised and “might have been siblings.” The fact that he bought them to breed, even suspecting they might be related, added even more evidence to the cadre against the ethical and psychological make-up of the previous owner. One macaw was less afraid than the other and while I was eventually able to get both of them to step up on my arm on various occasions, they definitely acted as though their compliance was purely coerced. They knew how, but that didn’t mean they wanted to do it! But in a situation such as this, any positive signs are welcome signs and we did not take for granted the suspicion that this pair might actually be adoptable.
Another pair of Umbrellas (the parents of the three deformed offspring) were the most feral. Both had open bands on their ankles, compelling evidence that they were wild caught. This pair’s behavior was much more indicative of what we expect to see with breeder birds. They had never known any compassion from humans, in fact had never known anything ABOUT humans except that the two-legged, wingless creatures brought them food and water and, tragically, took their babies away from them. Their fear was so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. I quickly found that even eye contact led to a complete meltdown. Cage cleaning was so stressful for them, I often feared they wouldn’t survive the near-physical interaction of me breaching the inside of the cage, even to change papers. They were never aggressive in any way, just fearful … constantly, palpably horrified. Eventually, a NEAR volunteer got one to take an almond from her fingers once. To this day, I still consider that to be a nearly Earth-moving leap of faith for the birds, who wanted NOTHING to do with humans whatsoever.
The Bare-eyed cockatoo did not look well. A veterinary screening showed her to be underweight and malnourished, with very little musculature, due to a long term lack of exercise and lack of proper food. She, like the feral pair of Umbrellas, was ridiculously afraid of any human interaction. The weakness in her feet (suspected to be arthritis) caused her to often fall off her perch whenever she felt threatened – which was almost always. A couple times, during cage cleaning, she fell off her perch and right out of the front of the cage. Unlike the U2 pair however, when faced with fight or flight, she fought. If you’ve never been bitten by a cockatoo, I don’t recommend it. Of the five or six bites that might have warranted a trip to the Emergency Room, every single one of them were from cockatoos. For this frightened Bare-eyed baby, toweling was required for every physical interaction. She was thin and in horrible shape, but she could move quickly and bite hard! She had been caged by herself in the breeder house and we were told that this was because she did not get along well with the other birds (I never found out whether the guy had once had pairs of the smaller cockatoos or whether he thought he could hybridize them). Not wanting to rock the boat after losing three already, we kept the co-habitation as it had been when we found them.
The one remaining offspring of the Umbrella pair was in a cage by herself as well. She was extremely timid, but far less so than most of the rest. In an attempt to keep her from hurting herself (remember the deformed feet), we kept her in the smallest cage, but hoped her slightly less fearful demeanor would be enough to get her rehabilitated and out with our volunteers for exercise and direct interaction. Aside from the other overly friendly cockatoo, this one seemed to hold the most hope for adoption placement, but our initial impression was that progress would come only with a significant amount of effort.
Finally, the three small cockatoos (Goffins, Lesser Sulfur and Ducorps) were caged together in a large enclosure we had typically used for macaws. Like the rest, these three were ridiculously afraid and wanted absolutely nothing to do with anyone who entered the room. Approaching their enclosure resulted in a meltdown every time. The only thing I thought was worth noting from the start was that the Ducorps, unlike the other two, seemed to want to challenge anyone who stuck their hands in the cage. He’d stand his ground – if only for a second – then back down and cower in the corner with his cage mates. Given the fact he was in nearly perfect feather and the other two were pretty shabby, I immediately assumed he was a late addition to the group and that perhaps he had had some greater level of human interaction in his life than most of the rest.
Now, what to do with these guys?
In the avian rescue business, we deal a lot with generalities, so let’s be up front and get something straight about this next bit before going on. NEAR is not like a “typical” rescue, which consists of a network of foster homes and animals distributed more or less equally among them. NEAR is an actual animal shelter. The birds surrendered to our organization are housed in a central location and we seldom use foster homes for any reason other than to occasionally provide special one-on-one attention for particularly difficult birds. For the most part (or “generally”), we are a temporary stopping place for birds – a bridge if you will between one home and the next. Our hope is that our adoption/re-homing process will result in a permanent placement and that is what we strive for. While we never use the term, “forever home,” we are especially sensitive to avoiding the possibility of having birds bounce around from home to home after their initial intake at the shelter.
A sanctuary on the other hand is an organization which, for the most part, provides a permanent shelter for their animals. While many sanctuaries carry out some adoption services, most of the birds entering a sanctuary facility will spend the rest of their lives there – with specialized care and, usually, the ability to hang out and live in flocks with other birds.
While there are a number of birds we consider permanent residents at the NEAR shelter, most usually due to chronic health or behavior issues, we are not a sanctuary. We rely on the adoption process to keep a flow of birds coming in and going out of the rescue. Generally speaking, the more birds we can adopt, the more birds we can accept for surrender. Our greatest fear is a sudden influx of difficult birds that will need long-term rehabilitation before they can be safely adopted. In a case like this one with the Connecticut breeder birds, all the rehabilitation in the world would likely not have a significant impact on most of the birds’ adoptability (or lack thereof). So, with sixteen really “hard case” birds coming into the rescue and taking up seven cages out of our limited inventory for a very long-term period, you can imagine we were quite concerned about what we would do going forward.
Again, generally speaking, we always try to avoid bringing breeder birds into the rescue because, as in this situation, we know precious real estate (cages) are going to be tied up for a long time – maybe permanently. Of course, we’ll love and care for the birds no matter what their background and disposition, but let’s face it … every cage we fill with a bird that might never leave is a cage we cannot use for socialized birds with the potential for a bright new future with a qualified, loving and responsible family. The conundrum is real; every time we find ourselves in a long term or permanent situation, we must take pause and weigh the very serious implications of what we’re doing and how it will impact our ability to accomplish our basic mission.
No doubt there are cases where former breeder birds are brought around and socialized, we’ve seen it happen. But far too often the “happy ending” scenario for a breeder bird in a shelter like ours is a pipe dream, rife with risks that are completely outside our (and our birds’) control. The amount of time and one-on-one attention required to even hope for a good outcome, when compared against the availability of qualified staff to handle the work, may or may not yield results, but WILL take away from the time that could be spent with other, more manageable birds. None of this is to say that breeder birds aren’t worthy, but resources being what they are, somewhere along the line we have to make some hard choices in order to balance what we wish we could do with what reality dishes us.
The obvious option for the Connecticut birds was a sanctuary. As stated above, sanctuaries are fundamentally different from rescues. Whereas a rescue cycles birds in and out, reusing cages and enclosures time and time again, a sanctuary builds an enclosure, fills an enclosure and then starts looking for a place to build another enclosure. Eventually, every sanctuary runs out of room. Sanctuaries have tremendous limitations – space, help and, of course, the all-important MONEY!
An open-door sanctuary never stays open-door for long – and just about all of them are at or beyond capacity. While there are bird sanctuaries all over the country, most of them cater to more than just parrots and pet birds. And there are phonies and bad actors out there too – many more than there should be, so care and caution are common buzzwords for potential clients of the sanctuary world. You don’t have to be a crook to screw things up either. No matter how well intentioned you are, your organization is doomed to fail if you don’t have the know-how to run a business. Too many big-hearted people have opened rescues and sanctuaries without a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of – apparently believing fate or some Deus ex Machina will save the day. The reality is that there usually is no God in the rescue machine and when an organization goes down in flames, the already battered lives of many animals are disrupted anew.
We knew we didn’t have the resources to try and “tame” these birds – especially the wild-caught umbrellas. I had never seen a captive animal so afraid of humans that even eye contact spawned a meltdown. These birds would literally freak out to the point of bashing themselves against the cage bars, screaming and trying to do literally anything to get away – but there was nowhere to get to. Cleaning cages was a nightmare. It was sad beyond words to see these birds so terrified they couldn’t even move. They just stood there, entire bodies quivering, mouths agape, waiting to die. Nothing I could ever do would convince them that I wasn’t going to even try to touch them, let alone hurt them. Such is the hellish life of a breeder bird.
I should take a moment to talk about our very good friends Marc Johnson and Karen Windsor. Marc and Karen are the founders of Foster Parrots & The New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary in Southwest Rhode Island. Jill and I came to know Marc and Karen through another dear friend, Liz Bertang who was the founder of the (now sadly defunct) Wilton Parrot Rescue in Connecticut. Liz became our mentor when we first entered the rescue fray via another Upstate New York organization. She so graciously opened her home and let us pick her brain for hours and hours about every aspect of properly running a rescue. We will never be able to repay her for the amazing advice and support she provided when we were just getting our feet wet. We owe a huge part of our continued success to Liz, because she opened critical doors we would have never thought to knock on.
When we founded NEAR, in addition to the ongoing support from Liz Bertang, we also came under the wing (no pun intended) of Marc and Karen. I often refer to them as our Beatles – because we look up to them as pioneers in the industry. Our devotion to them, the cause and their friendship is nearly cult-like in its fervor. When I have a problem I can’t figure out, I’m either on the phone or dropping an email to Karen and I know she and Marc will always have an answer. So of course, Karen was the first person I called for advice on the Connecticut Breeder birds.
My call wasn’t a plea for her to open the doors of Foster Parrots to these birds – I knew instinctively that just wasn’t going to happen. Like most other parrot sanctuaries, Foster Parrots is up to their eyeballs in cockatoos … actually, they’re up to their eyeballs in EVERYTHING, to the point that they are forced to turn away nearly a thousand sanctuary requests every year. This is just a staggering statistic! But I knew if anybody was going to have a line on a legitimate sanctuary with capacity to spare, it would be her.
I don’t specifically remember if I called Karen or sent an email, but I asked for some advice on reputable sanctuaries for cockatoos. Her response was a bit chilling – there are plenty of reputable sanctuaries out there, but few have room for ANY birds and even fewer will take cockatoos. Great. I’ve got a roomful of unadoptable cockatoos – this is just what I wanted to hear!
Thankfully though, Karen Windsor had more to say – she went on to inform me of the one possible stand-out sanctuary in Washington State. Karen informed me this sanctuary, aptly named The Cockatoo Sanctuary, accepted new birds by species and as space allowed. She was pretty sure they had announced a temporary moratorium on Umbrella Cockatoos, but it was worth looking into. The best part was that Karen and Marc had been there and could vouch for the sanctuary and its owner, Lori Rutledge.
This sanctuary seemed like a long shot, but I had been through the sanctuary search about a year previous to this whole thing when we were asked to try and save a 35 year-old Moluccan Cockatoo Breeder from euthanasia at the Erie County SPCA. They were not set up for birds at all and this one, who had to be caged in a semi-common area, was not very nice. They had to worry about the fact nobody wanted him and that he might hurt a visitor to the center, thus opening the organization up to a lawsuit. In trying to help this bird, “King Tut,” I found out first hand that most organizations either wouldn’t accept cockatoos or just couldn’t accept ANY birds because they, like Foster Parrots, were already filled to overflowing. That previous situation was a nail-biter. We ultimately found a spot for King Tut at a wonderful sanctuary in Georgia (a video diary of the volunteers who made the trip from New York is on our Facebook page!) and euthanasia was thankfully averted.
Unfortunately, the sanctuary in Georgia had reached capacity when the Connecticut Breeders rolled in and all the other sanctuaries I had reached out to when working to place Tut were full as well. Making the call to a place across the country seemed as good a next step as any. The worst thing they could do is say, “No.”
But the stars must’ve aligned, because the answer was, “Yes.” Yes for all seven birds!
The typical way to get seven birds across the country would be by flying them there. Aside from the fact that I’m not really excited about the prospect of putting pets of any kind in the cargo hold of an airplane unless you absolutely have to, the cost of doing this for seven birds, even assuming the airline gave us a discount for being a non-profit shelter rescue, was pretty significant. For one thing, since we do not fly birds in or out of our shelter on a typical basis (ie: we have never done it before), we don’t have any FAA approved carriers. These carriers, aside from not being tremendously cockatoo proof, are not cheap for even one, let alone seven. Then, depending on how much the airline would ultimately charge us, the cost of transport would likely be significant. I didn’t relish the run-around I’d get in trying to contact the airlines, begging for a break in price, so when my wife suggested we drive them out to Washington State, I decided to at least start looking down that path. Aside from being a potentially less expensive option, it would avoid us having to throw caution to the wind, giving a bunch of overworked, under paid and disgruntled baggage handlers carte blanche to lay hands on our precious cargo.
As it turned out, the vehicle we used for our own rescue, a Yukon XL, was getting a little long in the tooth. Paid for, we were determined to drive it until it stopped moving for good, and then walk away to the next vehicle. We did NOT however, relish the idea of walking away to the next vehicle somewhere halfway between New York and Seattle! Add to the mechanical concerns the fact that the beast only got 15 miles to the gallon, all the utility of cavernous space kind of diminished its value. So, we started looking for a rental car.
Just about every rental company advertises unlimited miles with their rentals. But just about every rental company, in their fine print, finds a way to circumvent or outright change the meaning of “unlimited,” leaving renters with a potentially massive bill if they happen to take a vehicle on a cross-country joy ride similar to the one we faced. Just reading the complaints of former renters was enough to make us do some serious research in order to find one that truly embraced the meaning of the word “unlimited.” Finally, after a lot of fits and starts, we settled on Alamo, which happened to have an office at our local airport. The cost of the rental for eight days would be about $600.00. We put gas at about another $400.00. So just for the car we were already at a grand, but we had conservatively judged the cost to fly them out to Washington to be about twice that, so we were still on the savings side of spending.
The plan was to drive, more or less, straight out there. GPS put it at a 39 hour trip. We would have to stop a couple times at least to rest, but those pauses in the travel could be at rest stops and we could conceivably make it in less than 48 hours. As it was, we had planned to leave first thing Monday morning. With that departure time in mind, driving straight through would get us to our destination at around 11:30 Tuesday night. Since we were pretty sure the sanctuary wouldn’t be excited to receive feral birds at the crack of Midnight, we were able to add some wiggle room for rest in the hopes we wouldn’t be total zombies by the time we rolled out of the Cascade Mountains and into the Seattle area.
With the itinerary and mode of travel more or less sewn up, the next big hurdle was figuring out how to pay for the trip. We’ve been tremendously lucky in the five years since NEAR was founded, because the shelter has been financially self-sustaining since the thirteenth month. We have been no stranger to paying out of pocket for many things in our rescue “careers,” but the public generosity we have received in the form of donations has been mind-blowing. Nothing was going to keep us from getting these seven birds to a place where they could safely live out the rest of their lives without fear of human oppression. They had been through enough darkness to last a thousand lifetimes. If finding the light meant paying for the whole thing out of our own pocket, we were willing to do that. But then I was struck with an idea.
There is this National organization called American Federation of Aviculture (AFA). Among other things, this organization touts itself as a concerned party in the conservation and protection of parrots and other exotic birds, which is all well and good, but to many of us who go beyond talking the talk – the “boots on the ground” that are actually doing something to make a difference in the EPIDEMIC of unwanted, abused and neglected birds … many of us see the AFA as something else altogether.
When it comes to protecting the interest of breeders and insuring that ANYONE with the desire to make a buck through breeding, regardless of the MASSIVE overflow of unwanted birds and the ongoing impact on rescues and sanctuaries, the AFA is the most powerful lobbying force in the country. No matter what this organization does (or claims to do) on behalf of conservation, their supposed altruism is more than eradicated by their refusal to support regulation or limitations in the bird breeding arena. I have personally witnessed AFA talking heads misrepresent the numbers and negative impact of unfettered breeding and I absolutely believe they are willing to say or do ANYTHING to protect the cash cow.
As we saw when we came to the breeder home in Connecticut, the man spoke highly of AFA and credited their assistance and advice with his “success” in bringing together the birds. Though the man ultimately admitted his foray into breeding for profit was a mistake, he had nothing but great things to say about AFA and their enabling attitude – the attitude that imprisoned sixteen birds, some more than two decades, in a hell you’d have to see to be able to imagine.
THIS IS DISGRACEFUL!
I wholly believe that the general and specific attitudes and policies espoused by the AFA led to the disgusting conditions we found in that Connecticut home. In concentrating on this individual case, I don’t even want to think about how many thousands of other homes, just like this one and worse, are out there yet to be discovered. Think about the Weston, Connecticut case from 2016. Unlike our situation, the guilty party in this event, Daniel Kopulos was one of the most respected people in Aviculture (previously the Executive Director of the Animal Preservation Alliance). We have friends who knew and even worked with this man – everyone was shocked to know he could be involved in such a sick, disgusting travesty … but he was – and of course the AFA never made a peep about it.
Believing that the AFA, directly or indirectly, helped pave the way for these orphaned birds to become unwitting pawns in a failed money-making scheme, I came to the conclusion that, since they had a hand in causing the problem, they should have a hand in fixing it. I wrote a letter to the AFA President (Jamie Whittaker), as well as the Northeast Director (Concetta Ferragamo) and others. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the letter I wrote:
Good morning AFA officials:
My name is Robert Lewis and I am co-founder of Northeast Avian Rescue which is based in Upstate New York. While my frustration and unease at the state of captive parrot breeding in the United States will likely overflow at times in this email, I hope you understand that I am coming to you out of an overriding concern for the well-being of parrots and pet birds. While my words may come across as disrespectful, it is not my intent to start a fight or harbor discontent between our organizations. I often don’t understand what you do and why you do it, but until and unless the laws change, you have every right to continue doing it.
Approximately eight weeks ago, we were called to a home in Southern Connecticut where nine birds were to be surrendered due to their owner’s failing health. Upon arriving, it was revealed that the nine birds were actually sixteen. To top it off, we also discovered that these birds were almost all current or former breeders and completely unsocialized. This revelation put us into a bind right off the bat, because we are a rescue, not a sanctuary. When we receive unadoptable birds, the cages they occupy cannot be used to help the birds we can rehabilitate and adopt. As you can guess, this is an unsustainable problem!
The birds were at death’s door – while the owner had Zupreem pellets for his “pet” African Gray parrot, the rest of the birds were fed Blue Seal avian pellets designed for ducks, geese and other outdoor fowl. Many of the open bags showed signs of insect infestation.
Subsequent to our pick up, three of the birds died, with necropsy showing extreme malnutrition. It was strongly suggested that the stress of being removed from the home, combined with malnutrition to the point of organ failure, led to heart arrhythmia and death for at least one of the three.
So, among these birds, we have seven cockatoos that are mostly wild-caught, feral and completely unadoptable (three Umbrellas, a Bare-eyed, Sulfur Crest, Goffins and Ducorps). As it turns out, it is almost impossible to find sanctuaries for cockatoos in the US, as almost all are at or past capacity for these notoriously difficult birds which were oh-so-cute (and profitable) as babies. The cockatoo problem in this country is absolutely disgusting, but breeders just keep cranking them out – the dollar outweighs common sense and conscience every time. But I digress …
Thanks to some great advice from a Sanctuary Director friend, I was able to find an organization in Washington State which, while mostly closed to surrenders from the public, is willing to take all seven birds. Now though, our rescue will be forced to bear the cost of transporting the cockatoos to the sanctuary. These costs, depending on the mode of transportation, will not be trivial. This is where I believe the AFA, as the voice and bully pulpit for breeders (failed and successful alike), should step up and help. The gentleman who surrendered the birds, now deceased and therefore unable to provide financial assistance, mentioned your organization several times while we removed the birds from his home. He credited the AFA with giving him “knowledge and support” when he started out some twenty-plus years ago. When pressed however, he admitted the utter failure of his scheme – only three offspring came of the experiment … three umbrella cockatoos with severe foot and other deformities (yes, we got these birds too!).
While I have little more than his word to go on and certainly wouldn’t make a case against AFA from his casual references to your organization, the fact that you overtly support the captive avian breeding industry and vehemently oppose any attempts to curtail or regulate it, I do believe there’s a pretty compelling case that your organization shares culpability in this and other failed “basement breeding” operations. You’re all about making sure any Joe Millionaire can get a business up and running, but where are you when it all falls apart and the remnants end up in the hands of small-budgeted, overloaded rescues like ours?
What do we do when we reap what you sow?
The law is on your side – your conscience is the only thing people like myself can attempt to manipulate in order to make a plea for help in an untenable situation. My suggestion: The AFA should write a check to our organization, helping at least to defray the costs of getting these poor birds into sanctuary where they can live out their lives as “normally” as living 9,000 miles away from their native habitat (where they should have been left alone), will allow. Maybe you have money set aside for situations like this … maybe you don’t. Perhaps it would be appropriate to pass a hat the next time you’re all sequestered together. How you do it is up to you. But the bottom line though, whether you agree or not, is that you share responsibility for this problem and you should share responsibility for solving it.
We will be mounting a publicity campaign to raise funds for the cross-country transport. That campaign will include several press releases which will go out to all the media outlets in New York and New England. References to the AFA will factor prominently in these press releases. It is completely up to you as to whether the references highlight your organization turning a deaf ear to our plight, or helping us to do the right thing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other how the press releases read – my sole intent is to ensure these birds receive the BEST POSSIBLE CARE FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.
Checks can be mailed to the address below. We also accept PayPal via our website and Social Media. You can also contact me by phone or email at your discretion.
The ball is in your court.
Now, this isn’t the most warm and fuzzy note I’ve ever written. I tried to keep only to the facts and leave emotion out of it, but the more I wrote, the more pissed off I became … because I just had a funny feeling my plea was going to be rebuffed, if answered at all. Sure enough, the next day I received the response below from Ms. Ferragamo:
I think there's some serious confusion going on. AFA is an educational organization representing all facets of Aviculture (the keeping and caring of birds) Which includes pet owners, sanctuaries, rescues, shelters, breeders, exhibitions, show, free flight, manufacturers, Zoos, veterinarians...
Not sure why you would think that a national educational organization is somehow tied solely to breeding. Not sure where that could have even come from. It doesn't make a bit of sense. AFA offers fantastic courses called the Fundamentals of Aviculture too and numerous other educational programs.
Maybe you are mixing AFA up with some other organization.
AFA main pillars are education, conservation, legislative awareness and disaster relief.
AFA also offers CEUs for professional certifications and recertifications veterinarians, vet technician and behavior consultants.
Northeastern regional director
Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone
Under other circumstances, I might have found this off-handed cell phone response hilarious. “Who, us? You must have us confused with somebody else, because look at all the wonderful things we do!” But unfortunately, I found it anything but funny and my reply memorialized my lack of humor:
Ah, Concetta … I had wondered why the delay in response. Clearly now I understand you needed to take the time to polish your halo.
I probably should be more insulted than I am at your passive-aggressive assertion that I don’t know who I am talking to or what I am talking about. You know, as I grow older, I do worry about dementia, but my friends and family assure me I still have enough presence of mind to know double talk when I see it.
Your cutting and pasting of the AFA’s lawyerly parsing of words certainly does paint the AFA as a matronly, nurturing organization that would never put the interests of the captive bird breeding industry ahead of the horrors the industry reaps, year over year, upon the animals you claim to love and care for so much. But those of us left to clean up the mess your organization helps create know better.
I can cut and paste too. From the AFA website:
“The American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) is a nonprofit national organization established in 1974, whose purpose is to represent all aspects of aviculture and to educate the public about keeping and breeding birds in captivity.”
Okay, taking this statement at face value, I ask you – Where was the AFA’s “pillar of education” when the gentleman in question below was wantonly mixing chickens and cockatoos into his dark, never cleaned “breeding room,” (what the rest of us would call a “basement”), trying to force wild caught and recently acquired socialized birds to breed, feeding them outdoor duck and fowl food which had virtually none of the formulation necessary for the health and well-being of his parrot species? Where were the AFA scholars and teachers when the three offspring that actually did come from this psittacine labor camp were not given proper perches (or any at all) and developed life-long deformities of the feet? I would think that with your glowing, spotless record of educating in “all aspects of aviculture,” the AFA would have brought all sorts of help to bear. But you didn’t.
You might say, “Bob, how could we know this was happening?” And that might be a fair question, except that the man couldn’t say enough about how helpful the AFA was in guiding him along the way when he first got started as a breeder. Seems to be a disconnect there. At least I think so, but you’ll probably have an answer locked and loaded for this one, an answer that will, in its attempt to make me look stupid or perhaps senile, completely exonerate the AFA of culpability in any way for the frightening number of abused, neglected, abandoned and otherwise unwanted parrots and pet birds in shelters, rescues and sanctuaries today.
In your “you must have our saintly organization mixed up with somebody else,” response, you completely ignored the problem which created the need for the email in the first place! I wonder, which AFA main pillar promotes the complete disregard of the dark underbelly of parrot breeding and ownership? You were so busy spit-polishing your mission statement that you couldn’t have been bothered with the plight of these birds. Disgraceful.
So let me ask you … How much time, money or attention has AFA donated to rescues, sanctuaries and shelters for the life-long care of the tens of thousands of birds that end up in need of it on an annual basis? Based on the rescues and sanctuaries I work with on a daily basis, I’m guessing that number is at or approaching zero. Probably though, rather than answer this question, you will deflect by setting me straight on the numbers … or deny how every single reputable rescue, shelter and sanctuary for parrots and pet birds in the US is overflowing with birds, mostly bred by the breeders you support and “educate.” The truth ruins your narrative.
And while I’m on the subject, which AFA main pillar were you bracing yourself against when you took to your contact list a few years ago and sent text blasts out to God only knows how many people suggesting what a disgrace the documentary “Parrot Confidential” was and how it was simply a ploy for certain people involved to “make more money?” I don’t know how in the world I ended up on your contact list, but when I replied with a counter argument, I was promptly and permanently removed from the list (and yes, I still have those text messages and freely shared them with the individuals you derided in your attempt to discredit them and the film). Which pillar, Concetta? Is that education? Is that how you and yours help with conservation?
If your idea of conservation is flooding the market with birds few want or can handle after they reach puberty, then you’re doing a stellar job! I remember how you personally stood before me and a small group of people you addressed several years ago … how you said with a straight face that there are no “birdy-mill” breeder establishments in the US, even though there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Which AFA main pillar promotes this kind of distortion of the truth?
It was suggested that I turn my email into an open letter to the breeding industry and I’m going to do just that. But I’m going to go one step further … I’m also going to share the letter and your response with my rescue and sanctuary colleagues throughout the country. Perhaps you’ll be interested in their input. If it turns out that I really am losing my mind and I happen to be the only person out there who sees you in the light I have cast, I will man up and share that too – with apologies. But based on what I know, even before sharing this thread with anyone, I’m pretty sure the can of worms has been inexorably opened.
In hindsight, you’ll likely come to the eventual conclusion that it would have been easier, more honest and straightforward to just skip the holier than thou elevator speech and simply say, “The AFA is not interested in helping you at this time.” It wouldn’t have changed my stance, but it would have shut me up.
I’ll be in touch.
Why am I publishing this chain of communication in its entirety? Because I want whoever reads this to see both ends of this “conversation” so that they can judge for themselves. I am all about transparency and I’m willing to accept the possibility I’m wrong on all of this – but anyone who wants to go down that road had better have some powerful evidence!
So, as you might guess, Ms. Ferragamo did reply to my second, significantly more frustrated email. As you might also guess, her response did little to diffuse the situation:
I am only able to read the first few sentences of this email. My phone is a pain in the butt with opening emails.
You mentioned something about a delayed response. Yikes. Sorry about that. I responded as soon as I read it. I apologize if there were days in between. I am on the road a lot and don't get to my emails as quickly as I used to.
I assume you are inquiring about funds to help with shipping the birds. AFA is a 501 c 3 and that type of org has to stay within its mission and bylaws. As far as I know. no money is allocated for this. However, AFA does have quite a few sanctuaries, rescues and shelters as members. I would be happy to ask them on your behalf if they could help you out in any way. No breeding so don't worry about that. I understand.
Another way AFA can help and still stay within it's mission and bylaws is to help you when you run promotions or fundraisers. Fundraisers are a blast!!! I would definitely be happy to help you with stuff like that. I love doing those. AFA has a huge presence at Parrot Festival in Houston, Texas for the National Parrot Rescue and Preservation Foundation. That's an amazing 3 day event. All sorts of speakers, vendors and fundraising.
Many AFA officers do presentations for other rescues too such as the Gabriel Foundation, Lancaster Bird Rescue, Phoenix Landing and many others.
As I mentioned before, AFA represents all facets of aviculture. Personally, I have been involved with rehab and rehoming for well over ten years. I don't charge adoption fees either. I took part in rehoming when I had my stores too. It's very close to my heart. I know it can be very emotional and heartbreaking at times so I applaud those that do their part.
I can also help with behavioral consulting if you'd like. I am an International Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant. AFA is limited in what is allowed but I can certainly help in one way or another.
If you are going to hold any type of event I would be happy to help. We could probably get Patricia Sund to hold a CHOP competition (huge draw and a blast) too.
I hope I answered whatever it was that you may have said in your newest email.
I'm not a fan of focusing on what can't be done especially if there are other things that I can (yes) and still stay within our mission and by laws.
I will not contact the affiliated sanctuaries, rescues, or shelters until you give me the go ahead. Just in case you're already starting some sort of money raising campaign I don't want to step on any toes.
Since I'm having a difficult time opening emails from my phone it might be easier to text me going forward, 603 540 6151
Take care and thank you for doing all that you do for the birds.
How blissfully convenient that she couldn’t open anything but the first couple lines of my email! How blissfully convenient that in this day and age where there is a computer attached to just about EVERYTHING we use and deal with on a daily basis, she apparently can only use her phone to handle AFA business. How blissfully convenient that throughout this entire charade, NOBODY else from AFA even bothered to speak – either to bail her out, stand up for the organization or <gasp> help.
Of course, a great example of her obfuscation (or outright lying, depending on how you look at it) is her mentioning that as a 501(c)(3), AFA is poverty stricken and “no money is allocated for this.” Huh? No money is allocated for what? If she could only read the first two lines of my email, then how could she know what “this,” this is? Caught … red-handed!
In absolutely ignoring the entire situation for the second time, she towed the “company line” by deflecting about all the great fun AFA could bring us with a fundraiser and maybe some behavioral training. At least a couple gift certificates for Mc Donald’s French fries would have had some actual value …
I did a bit of research about AFA’s financial standing before sending my next and final missive to the AFA officials:
To answer your question, my original inquiry was seeking funds to help with transportation of the birds. As was clearly indicated in my first email, we already have a sanctuary which has agreed to take all seven of the cockatoos. The sanctuary is in the Seattle, Washington area, which means that we must either arrange for air transit or a road trip to get them there.
We, like you, are a 501(c)(3) and have the same limitations of mission and bylaws. But as an organization dedicated to birds, we don’t even have to consult these documents to know how to proceed. Whether or not you have money allocated for such a purpose – based on AFA’s 2016 990 return, the $120,000+ cash on hand should make a decision like this pretty trivial – if AFA actually cared to help solve the problem.
We are not trying to drain your organization’s cash – NEAR would have been thrilled with a $500 pledge of assistance. This would have gone a long way toward defraying the cost of this transport – and toward putting some teeth into AFA’s claims of being all about the birds. Never minding the fact that AFA clearly SHOULD have a program in place to help failed breeders find permanent homes for their birds, it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to come up with one, or to simply consider it a charitable contribution … or do AFA’s bylaws prohibit that too?
The rest of this email is, with all due respect, deflection and platitudes which have nothing to do with the matter at hand. Frankly, I’m appalled that any rescue or sanctuary would have anything to do with ANY organization that actively supports captive bird breeding for the pet trade. The hypocrisy of such a relationship would be tantamount to a vegan activist group advertising pork as the “Other White Meat.” And to that point, any reasonable person who has performed rescue and re-homing services (without regard to your “no-fee” comment) would RUN from an organization that supports captive breeding for the pet trade. They certainly wouldn’t hold a named position with such a group. But again, I digress.
Finally, if your main mission is “education” (as stated on your most recent tax return) you are failing MISERABLY. If you took the bird knowledge demonstrated in every commercial pet store we have visited and combined it with the knowledge demonstrated by about 90% of the people who have surrendered birds to our rescue, you’d still have plenty of room in that thimble to stuff a check into.
Unless the AFA is willing to write a check to offset some of our transport costs for these poor, lifelong neglected animals, then I believe we have discussed this point to its illogical conclusion. I know I’ve had enough passive aggressive denial and self-congratulatory deflection. The rift between our organizations will not be mended – you will continue supporting the captive breeding of pet birds and DISASTER the flooded market subjects these animals to … We’ll continue cleaning up the mess you so conveniently ignore and/or deny. If necessary, every penny of the cost to relocate these birds will come out of our own personal checking account … because it’s the right thing to do for these birds who have lived for 21 years in confinement and have never even seen the light of day, let alone felt the cool breeze of fresh air on a summer afternoon.
I wasn’t expecting honesty from AFA, that ship has sailed. But I was hoping for compassion. Shame on me. Fail.
This email went unanswered. The result of my attempt to hold AFA accountable for a mess they at least share culpability in creating, netted a great big ZERO dollars, ZERO support and NOTHING but deflection from an organization that’s supposedly all about helping the birds.
As an aside, I contacted each one of the organizations Ms. Ferragamo mentioned as “partnering” with the AFA. I told them my situation and promised I would neither argue or judge any of them, but that I really wanted to understand how a rescue/sanctuary organization could hold court with a group who, almost single handedly, GUARANTEES we will never get the upper hand on the epidemic we’re trying to curb.
The only organization to respond, the Gabriel Foundation, stated that they would be happy to discuss at some future point in time, but must’ve thought better of it, because I have never heard from them again. I’m not going to cast aspersions on the Gabriel Foundation or any of the others. I believe them to be fellow soldiers in our war against abuse, neglect and apathy toward parrots and pet birds … but I’d sure like to know how they can be champions of rescue and yet associate with an organization which, as part of its main mission, ensures the war we soldier on in will never end.
Of course, I’m not telling you what to think. Just because I find this organization to be a thinly disguised front for lobbying in favor of unfettered bird breeding practices doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draw your own conclusions. All I know is that the conversation associated with my plea to them for help went EXACTLY as memorialized above. Not one word was added, deleted or changed … I find them to be a disgraceful organization with a clear agenda to support the majority of their members – BREEDERS. They would much rather put bucks in the pockets of their subscribers than actually put their money where their mouth is in supporting all the “pillars” of their so-called charity.
With the AFA discussion in the books, yielding NOTHING, the next step - short of paying for the entire mission out of our own pocket - was to see if we could drum up some support from the friends and followers of NEAR. A GoFundMe page was set up with a target of $800.00. This goal was set to mostly offset the cost of the vehicle rental and fuel. If we could obtain that amount of assistance, or some percentage thereof, we’d happily cover the rest ourselves. We run fundraisers a few times a year and have done so, like every other charity, since our inception. But I still dislike asking people for money. Everyone has their own crosses to bear in this world – bills come due, things need doing … having an organization begging for money, even a few times a year, has to get old after a while. We appreciate the public generosity more than anyone will ever know, but we always worry that our next ask will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
In this case though, we needn’t have worried. We hit the $800.00 target, if I remember correctly, within the first 48 hours. People came out of the woodwork with money and well wishes – more than happy to help make a better life for these seven birds. I look back on the fundraising now and think about how simple and straightforward it was. If we had needed twice as much, I have no doubt we’d have hit that target too, and in the same amount of time. Our friends and followers are just THAT generous with their hard-earned cash. They’ve made no “corporate pledge” to do anything, but they willingly lay their cash on the line every time. The supposed bird protection group with their haughty “four pillars” and their $120k cash on hand burning a hole in their pocket … they couldn’t be bothered. In a word, our friends ROCK!
So, the plan was afoot. Drive the birds cross-country, as quickly, gently and stress-free as possible, and get them into their new, permanent home. Planning the trip and fighting with the AFA was the easy part. Now it was time to hit the road.