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About a month ago I was asked to spend a day putting training plans together for the staff that takes care of 200 parrots at A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue in Blairstown, New Jersey. I know the owners, Jeanne and John Gilligan, as they have been here to the Center for a few workshops, along with members of their staff. While I was out there, I met a 23-year-old, blue fronted amazon named Sam. I asked about his story. He was surrendered two years ago and that’s when Jeanne asked the people that surrendered him if they knew their bird was blind. They did not and with veterinary care, Jeanne began treating him for ulcers on both eyes which was the cause of his blindness. After two years in A Helping Wing’s care, regular eye drops in both eyes, and probably pain or discomfort, Jeanne, and her veterinarian decided to have his eyes removed. His first was removed on May 14th, 2018.
After a few hours of training that day, I came back to Sam. He intrigued me as I stood watching him ringing a bell in his ear. I actually smiled. He looked content, interested, and aware of his surroundings. So I walked to his cage-side a second time. I asked Jeanne what he could do. I interacted with him a bit by blowing very lightly in his direction. He clearly responded by opening his mouth and pointing it in my direction. His behavior didn’t look defensive, but interested. He responded the same each time but each time he seemed more interested. Now I was more interested.
Jeanne obviously had the history with him and it showed when she walked to his cage and began talking to him. He leaned toward her, clearly enjoying and wanting the interaction.
Jeanne showed me that he knew where his food dish was and when she tapped on it, he dropped the bell, scurried over to the end of the perch, down the cage and stood next to his dish waiting for information. When I saw that I said, “Oh, this bird is capable of a lot of things! If he can do this, I think we can teach him to do so many other things.” Jeanne knew I was smitten before I left and she gave me that smile like she was saying “I’ll see you when you adopt him.”
I called her two days later asking if she would consider me adopting Sam. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and all the things we could learn together. I filled out the adoption paperwork and submitted it before I even left New Jersey. She said she wanted to have Sam’s other eye removed before I drove out to adopt him.
Over the next several weeks, I spent the time talking to all the volunteers at The Animal Behavior Center telling them about Sam. I asked their opinions of if we were capable of taking on, not another bird, but a fully flighted, blind bird. I asked all the volunteers to go through their daily repertoire questioning where bringing in a blind bird would be a concern. We found a few. A pig moving a cage to get to the dropped food. I’m afraid the movement would knock Sam off balance on his perch. We found a way to make sure this doesn’t happen and this is where we place his cage. We’re going to take it off the rollers and place it on a table.
We found another…Rico, our fully flighted, jealous, Umbrella Cockatoo. That lies with me. I told the volunteers this will depend on how Sam is introduced to the flock. We also plan on having Sam’s cage right next to Rico’s eventually. I’m up for the challenge. I’ve introduced several birds to each other. Some just can’t be out at the same time but some can. We don’t pick who they prefer. They do. I feel pretty confident that I can introduce Rico to Sam without confrontation. Detailed live streams will be happening within The Parrot Project.
I spent weeks going through my daily repertoires and found nothing that couldn’t be changed to set this bird and his future here for success. I called Jeanne at A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue and told her we are ready for Sam when Sam is ready. She told me Sam’s surgery was scheduled for 8 AM Monday, August 13th.
That vet appointment was yesterday. Sam’s other eye was removed, the surgery was successful and he is now back at the rescue recovering. Jeanne will be monitoring his recovery over the next few weeks and keeping in touch with me. If things continue to go smoothly, our plans are for me to drive to New Jersey to pick up Sam, the beginning of September 2018.
Jeanne called me this morning, August 14th, the day after his last surgery. She sent me this photo and told me he is doing so well. I was all smiles and I told her I am so excited to begin this new
venture with Sam. Our goal here at The Animal Behavior Center is to empower animals, no matter their abilities. I can’t tell you how excited I am to start living, loving, and learning with Sam. When we know better, we do better. Sam is going to teach me how to do better.
Click here to learn more about A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue & Sanctuary, and the wonderful work they do. I cannot thank them enough for giving me this opportunity to do better with Sam. In turn, I hope to help others through our work together.
Watch The Animal Behavior Center’s Facebook page for updates and follow along on our journey the beginning of September to go pick up this special, gentle soul.
Many times I am asked, “What is the hardest animal you have ever trained?” My answer may surprise you, then maybe not. It’s not a certain species. My answer is ‘the ones with a long, unenriched, unsocialized history’. Those can also be the most dangerous to the uneducated public. Along with these histories come the labels as ‘unpredictable’, ‘neurotic’, ‘odd’, ‘aggressive’, ‘dangerous’, and more. I would also not call the training ‘hard’. It’s labeled that because it takes time, attention, and planning. All of which people call ‘hard’ because they are inconvenient to the lives of the people taking care of them. When shown the small signals to look for in behavior change, this isn’t hard at all. Many times people want too big of behaviors too fast. ‘Too big’ means, the animal doesn’t understand what you are asking or your intentions, because they haven’t yet been communicated through training and learning. These examples are often the cases of numerous returns to the shelters, euthanasia, chained to the garage, or covered in a cage in a basement.
The above conversation correlates to a recent example I heard someone describe. It is relative to a teacher saying “Sarah just graduated from the fifth grade and therefore I expect all fifth grade students named Sarah to be exactly alike. This worked for my last Sarah. Why isn’t this working for this one?” Genetics, history, nutrition, environment, medicine, and experience through consequences all play a major factor in the behavior of the animal.
As a future veterinary behaviorist, I aspire to reach Lara's level of finesse, expertise, and thoughtfulness in every aspect of animal training and husbandry. She is truly in it for the animals."