Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How it all began

People are always asking how we got started working with animals.  My story is a bit boring, since I’ve always worked with them, but Vinny’s is interesting and funny, so I thought I’d share some of Vinny’s early days with animals here.

Vinny grew up in Brooklyn, NY, not an area known for their pet or wildlife populations.  His dad was going to get him a puppy when he was a child, but his mom told him that he was allergic, so he never got a pet.

Fast forward many years and he marries this weird chick from New Mexico that grew up with pets and tons of other wacky creatures and the adventures begin.  AND he found out that, not only is he not allergic to dogs, he’s not allergic to any animals.  Thank goodness or this story would get super boring right after this line.
When we were first married, our pet population was quite normal, two dogs (a male lhasa apso, named Slimers and a female Chihuahua), two cats (an indoor cat named Stripers and an outdoor cat that actually belonged more to the lhasa apso than the humans and stayed in the yard only) and a parrot.  What could go wrong, right?

Well, Slimers believed he was the “man of the house” and wasn’t all that thrilled having this new male move in to HIS territory. 

So, a month into the marriage, Vinny was coming inside from the backyard, he had to lift one leg really high to step over something and Slimers took that opportunity to jump up and bit him RIGHT between the legs, tearing his jeans and causing some bleeding to occur.  Yes, for a second we questioned whether children would ever be possible in our marriage after this, thankfully, that was all ok, but the lines were drawn.

Six months after that, we had one of those horrible hail storms that Texas is so notorious for, so we had to bring the dog and cat in from outside for their own safety.  The outside cat was sitting in the middle of the yard (not in either one of the two dog houses we provided for them), being pelted by golf ball size hail!  I was seriously afraid he was about to die, so, being the great sport that he is, Vinny ran outside and grabbed the cat, which really hated being held by humans, and rushed him into the house to safety.  Vinny knew enough to keep a tight grip on this cat or he’d get loose and not be caught.  As he went to the utility room (where the cat stayed when he was indoors), he loosened his grip ever so slightly.  As he did, the cat took advantage and ZOOMED up Vinny’s face and down his back, scaled the nearby wall and dove behind the water heater head first, where he got stuck!

There was blood everywhere!  The cat had caught Vinny’s lower lip with his back claw as he climbed over his head and torn it clean open!  And now the cat is stuck.

This all happened as Vinny was leaving for work, so we patched his lip and he headed out the door.  He got halfway down our road and realized that I was not going to be able to unstick the cat by myself since I was pregnant and not as maneuverable as normal, so he came back. 

The cat was lodged so badly between the wall and the water heater and was so far down that he couldn’t reach him and had to punch a hole in the wall from the kitchen to the utility room to get a hand on the cat!  He did this, the cat clawed his face one more time and the event was pretty much over.
To this day, that cat gave Vinny the worst injury he’s ever had from an animal.

Yes, this was Vinny’s initial introduction to living with animals.  And somehow he still works with animals! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Where is Nirvana


One thing we hear often, especially when we have Lady Di (our American kestrel that is missing part of her wing) or one of our other birds that has been captive since they were babies out in public is, “poor thing, I prefer to see them wild” and then when we explain why she isn’t wild, “well, she fell out of her nest as a baby and lost half of her wing and two of her toes” many people will still say, “oh, the poor thing” and then we often hear something along the lines of, “I bet she wishes she was free” and simply walk away without finding out anything about her, why she's with us, or her species.

While I absolutely agree that it is sad that she had an accident, the rest of this sentiment simply escapes me.  Her accident happened seven years ago, when she was a white, fluffy baby; and it must have been incredibly scary for such a tiny creature to be alone and so helpless .  I do not follow the logic on how she, Lady Di, wishes she was free.  For one thing, Lady Di is quite a happy, spunky little bird who has no issues whatsoever expressing her likes and dislikes (just talk to anybody that has held her without her full and complete approval, it doesn’t go well).  She knows exactly how to get exactly what she wants.  Facts that the people making these statements never seem to notice or even bother to ask about.  It would be nice, just once, to have one of these people ask a question, like maybe, “well, how has she adjusted to captivity”, instead of jumping to a conclusion simply because it is in vogue.

These people are missing out on so much, like learning about Lady Di in particular, or learning about her species as a whole, and all because they feel it is their sacred duty to point out that we, as her "captors" are bad and wrong.  

But the bigger reason that I am always taken aback by this assumption, made by people who obviously don’t know her, is WHY do they believe she misses being free?  If she remembers “the wild” (and I’m not really sure how much she would remember, because my own memory of myself as a baby just doesn’t exist, so I’m not sure how much memory birds have of their time as a nestling), what is she missing about what she remembers?  Falling from a tree; breaking very important parts of her body; which had to hurt; laying on the ground, helpless and terrified until a huge predator picked her up and walked off with her.  All of this, from her perspective sounds painful and terrifying, not something that I myself would miss.

Of course, what these people most likely mean is that she misses being able to fly.  And that would make tons of sense to me if Lady Di had ever flown, even once in her entire life, but she hasn’t. Sadly, because these people don't spend the time to learn her story, they don't realize this.

Just as I do not miss living in Paris, because I never have lived in Paris, I highly doubt that Lady Di misses something she’s never done in her life.

For those who might say that flying is instinctual and living in Paris is not, well, yes, that is a valid point.  But there are humans that lose the ability to walk, like soldiers in war, and some people are born unable to walk.  They adjust just as Lady Di has done.  Sure, her life is not what humans believe it was meant to be, but she has adjusted and changed due to her injuries, just as many humans do.  Instead of being wild and helping to control the bird population, she now educates humans about her species.  And thankfully, nobody has shown her the handbook on how to be a kestrel in the wild.

To be brutally honest, if you were to ask Lady Di if she has any complaints about her new life, she would tell you yes, she surely does.  She wants to live in the house with the humans but due to the laws she is not allowed to.  She voices this complaint often and very loudly.

It seems to be in vogue these days to believe that every animal that is living captive is miserable about it and misses the wild.  The sad part about this new view is that nobody seems to be keeping in mind how the animals might feel, or what life in this mythical nirvana place would really be like for that individual animal.  Could they even feed themselves?

Not that I, in any way, condone simply removing animals from the wild for no reason, or for any reason other than the safety and survival of that animal, but those that are captive aren’t all miserable and pining for this mythical “the wild” that people seem to believe exists.

Honestly, if we think of this from Lady Di’s perspective, “the wild” is quite a terrifying place, that, were I her, I’d be quite pleased to be away from. 

Just as I do not “miss” living as humans were originally meant to live (remember, we didn’t start out with electricity and indoor plumbing, or even houses), I don’t understand how humans can look at an animal that is obviously quite well adjusted and cared for and assume that they miss something that it was not able to survive.  Given a choice between living in a house with running water and electricity and living out of a cave or hut, keeping warm by covering myself with leaves and maybe dirt, scavenging for every bite of food just to survive, I will pick the house living any day.  And I would venture to bet large sums of money that the people making these statements would as well.  So why do we humans assume that these animals’ choices would be different? 

Yes, I truly believe that any animal that can survive wild and free and on their own should be given every opportunity to do so.  But those who cannot should not be forced to do so because of some ideological belief that some human that has built up this mythical nirvana called “the wild” in their head (or in a kids movie).

Had Lady Di remained in the wild, she would be long since dead and food for some other creature.  I just cannot believe that, given the choice, that would be hers.  So, rather than feeling sorry for something she doesn’t either remember or miss, how about we all be happy that she was found and saved and now lives a happy and pampered life?

Maybe a better use of people's time would be to focus on making “the wild” a safe place for wildlife to survive instead of continuing to destroy it and still expecting animals to survive in the mess we have created?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pet Parrot Safety

Recently we rescued a pet parrot that had flown away from his home.  Thankfully for this parrot, he went to a human, most will be too scared to do this, so he was reunited with his owner.  While we were looking for the owner, we received calls and emails from dozens of people who were hoping it was their bird.  Many had been missing their pet parrot for as much as two years.
Of all of the species that we deal with, no species escapes and is lost as often as pet parrots.  In fact, this has become such a common and ongoing issue that several areas of the country are now dealing with an overabundance of now feral parrots that are taking over their natural habitats.  This isn’t good for the parrots or the native wildlife of the area.  In other areas of the country, these parrots aren’t nearly so lucky, they simply cannot survive the weather or local wildlife kills them.
I always worry about the fear factor.  How scary must it be for an animal that was born captive and has always depended on humans for food and other necessities to suddenly be out on their own, having to take care of themselves and get themselves out of harm’s way?  I imagine it would be a bit like putting a child out.  Yes, some may survive and learn to forage and find shelter, but is this a happy, safe or desired existence? 
Having wings means that if a parrot gets out, they can go quite a distance before being even spotted and most just won’t survive our wild.  Remember, these birds aren’t native here, they aren’t meant to live in this area, even the food isn’t right. Between the weather and the predators, chances of survival are slim, and as we’ve pointed out, if they do survive, will it be a nice life when they don’t have the proper food and they are constantly having to outfly predators?  Remember, the majority of these birds were born captive, even their parents have never seen “the wild”.
If you have or want a pet parrot, please do not despair, escape is not imminent.  There are things that you can do to ensure your parrot’s safety. 
The first thing we strongly suggest with all pets, not just parrots, is that you have your pet microchipped.  This is a simple, safe and inexpensive and could mean the difference between seeing your bird again and not.  If you move, please remember to update your information with the microchip company.  We have seen animals returned to their owners up to 5 years after they were lost, simply because they were microchipped!
Wing clipping is a simple and humane way to keep your parrot from leaving. While birds whose wings are clipped do still have enough flight capability to get away from a predator for the time it would take you to get to your bird (assuming that you are watching your bird as you should be).  Of course, birds do molt out and regrow all of their feathers, so this is a process that will need to be repeated a couple of times a year.  Wing clipping only takes off the longest part of the flight feathers, wings will still look perfectly normal when the wings are tucked against the body. Clipping these feathers is very similar to cutting your hair, it does not cause the bird pain.  If you are not comfortable clipping the wings of your own bird, there are many vets who will do it for you for a nominal fee.  While we all believe that we can keep our own birds safe in our homes, it only takes a split second for a bird to get through a door and fly to a place where you can’t get them back.  This could save you a lot of stress and heartbreak and it could very well save your bird’s life!
We do fully understand that fully flighted birds are stunning to watch and that birds who are trained to free fly can be much happier having the ability to fly with the supervision of their owners at times.  And we truly believe that this is a wonderful option for birds that are fully trained!  This training though takes time and patients and must be reinforced continually in order to ensure that your bird always returns when you call!  There are many wonderful training classes available in most areas and even more can be found online!

Having a pet, no matter what the species, can be the most rewarding thing in the world, but it can also be the most heartbreaking if we, the guardians of our animals, do not take steps to ensure the safety of our pets. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Frozen with Fear

Have you ever heard the term FROZEN WITH FEAR?  It is real!

One thing we, as humans, seem to forget at times is that we are large and imposing and that to many smaller species, we are predators.  We receive calls quite often from people who believe a small bird or baby opossum is comforted by them holding it because the animal becomes still and is not fighting.  Many even explain to us that the animals know they are vegan or vegetarian by their scent and that is why the animal is comforted by them holding it.

Well, this is one of those instances when people are anthropomorphizing the animals they are looking at.  Assuming that all animals can smell the meat that we consume coming from our skin is really giving their noses a bit more credit than they deserve.  Also, assuming that at a time when the animal is in fear for its life it is thinking of how we smell is simply not right.  Some can for sure, most mammals can, but songbirds have very little sense of smell and what they have they don’t tend to use and any animal that is in fear for their life is not going to think clearly enough to stop and determine what you smell like.
So how do animals know which animals (including humans) are predators and which are not?  Mother Nature has given them a way to tell this without them having to get anywhere close enough to sniff the other animal!  The placement of our eyes!  If you look at all mammals, those that are meant to eat meat (including humans) have their eyes on the front of their head, those that eat no meat - herbivores (and therefore prey species) have eyes on the side of their head. 
The reality is these animals are quite literally frozen in fear.  In their reality, fighting or wiggling will make most predators kill and eat them faster.  Consider being in their position, a very large predator is holding you, would fighting really help?  Probably not.  But, if you appear sick or even dead, some predators will reconsider their choice in meals and possibly not eat you.  That is what these animals are hoping for.
It really doesn’t matter if you eat meat or not, in the natural world, humans are predators and animals are quite aware of this fact.  Our eyes being on the front of our head make this fact impossible to hide from animals.  Your change in diet did not change the placement of your eyes on your head.
Please, keep in mind your place in nature when you are around wildlife.