Finding forever homes for exotic birds

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At the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue (RIPR) on West Shore Road in Warwick, even if you may have a little difficulty hearing the volunteers over the clamorous call of a macaw, there is no doubt that their organization is all about the birds.

From the avian rainbow of birds that originate from all over the world that they shelter, feed, treat medically and adopt out within their walls, to the chickens outside that help dispose of excess food, the RIPR strives to provide quality care and love to their feathered friends.

However, more than just caring for them, RIPR’s full mission is to provide adequate education and oversight through their adoption process to ensure they only release their birds to serious owners who want to take proper care of them as well. You can only adopt a bird from them after at least three “bonding visits” and consenting to a home inspection to ensure you can provide adequate care.

“We just want to make sure that the bird is going to its forever home,” said marketing and communications director Erica Collins, explaining that they only get one or two birds returned from adopters annually. “We’re doing something right.”

The shelter takes in birds of all kinds - old and new world birds; some whose long-time owners have passed away; others who are returned by people who didn’t realize what a high-maintenance or long-term commitment having a bird for a pet is. The sanctuary places between 70 and 80 birds every year.

Collins, who owns several birds of her own, said that there is a “crisis” quietly happening right now in regards to captive parrots. Due to their long lifespan - some can live over 100 years old in the wild - sometimes difficult temperaments and ultra-high emotional needs, Collins said flat out that parrots “do not make good pets.”

“I tell people [who are looking to adopt] that they will have little toddlers with a weapon on their face for the next 80 years,” she said, adding that the shelter exists not only out of a genuine love for the birds, but because it is necessary due to people continuing to breed them ill-advisedly.

While they don’t get the media attention of a cute dog or a purring kitten, birds can display incredibly “human” characteristics and display a high level of intelligence. They dance and sing (recognizing particular songs), they “choose” people that they like and dislike, they throw tantrums when they’re mad, mourn when someone passes away and they even perform acts of self-harm or mutilation when they are unhappy or in a state of continuous anxiety.

Collins moved about the shelter in a methodical way, explaining how the facility is cleaned from top to bottom every day. The shelter is nearly 100 percent run on volunteer efforts, the bills paid by adoption fees, donations and fundraising efforts. Their winter fundraiser, “Keep the Birdies Warm” is ongoing to help pay for utilities costs, as they must keep the shelter warm enough to house the birds who are accustomed to tropical climates.

You can donate on their website, RIparrots.org.

The RIPR scored a major victory recently by securing a $7,500 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which will go towards the medical care costs and continued rehabilitation efforts of the 117 exotic birds the shelter took in during a large-scale seizure of tropical animals that took place in Weston, Conn. in the fall of 2016.

The heartbreaking situation unfolded last year when neighbors of the Connecticut property finally reported a horrific smell coming from the area. What was discovered was a nightmare which responding animal shelter volunteers will be hard-pressed to forget. Hundreds of exotic reptiles and birds were being hoarded in horrid conditions, most with no food or improper food, many unable to move or trapped in cages alongside deceased animals.

The Connecticut Animal Control, alongside volunteers from local animal sanctuaries - including the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue from Warwick - teamed up to rescue as many neglected animals as they could and place them in proper homes.

“We were the only ones with space that were willing to take them,” Collins said, recalling the day that the birds - some of which should not be possible to obtain in the United States - were brought to the shelter in the middle of the night.

It required a lot of help and teamwork to get the animals situated, but many were unfortunately too far gone or injured to be saved. Many more, though, now reside inside the shelter, hopefully waiting for a new owner to adopt them. Collins said there are birds from every corner of the world in the shelter currently.

“This funding will go a long way to ensure we have the resources to help these birds overcome both their physical and emotional wounds,” said Valerie Ashley, Director or RIPR in a release announcing the grant. “We will be able to continue the necessary veterinary care to treat the numerous health issues caused by the neglect these birds suffered, and provide adequate stimulation and socialization to meet their emotional needs, with adoption being the end goal.”

Collins said that the shelter can always use more volunteer help, and anyone with a love of birds should come in to check out the facility, as it is quite a sight to see - and quite an auditory experience to hear - so many different types of birds in the same place.

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