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Adoption Or Sanctuary: What's Best For My Pet Bird?

If you have to give your pet bird up, find out if an adoption organization or sanctuary is the best for your parrot.

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC

Half-moon conure, orange-fronted conure

If your have to find a new home for your pet bird, should you go to a sanctuary or an adoption organization? It depends on your parrot.

Everyone in the bird world needs to confront the question of where a pet bird or parrot should go when it can no longer stay in its present home. Those without a trusted friend or relative who already has an excellent relationship with the parrot need to look carefully at their options. When deciding the future of a pet bird that doesn’t wish to become a breeder, there are generally two alternatives: sanctuary and/or rescue organizations.

I talked extensively with Sybil Erden of the Oasis Sanctuary, Bonnie Kenk and Karen Webster of the Parrot Education and Adoption Center (PEAC), and Ann Brooks, founder and head of the Phoenix Landing Foundation. The Oasis is a sanctuary and does not rehome birds, PEAC is a rehoming organization, and Phoenix Landing rehomes right now but has plans to build a sanctuary in the near future. The Gabriel Foundation is another excellent organization that provides both adoption and sanctuary. In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the adoption committee of the San Diego chapter of PEAC, and on the Board of Directors of Phoenix Landing. I have also physically visited all the organizations mentioned here, though I have not visited Gabriel’s newest home.

According to my interviewees, we need first to clarify some semantics. Since most pet birds needing new homes are not in life-or-death situations, they do not need to be rescued. Therefore, to call most adoption organizations "rescue” facilities is inaccurate. The best rehoming organizations work hard at educating and training people to successfully live with parrots. They interview and screen possible new owners to make certain they offer a bird the best chance of success. Excellent rehoming organizations provide foster homes with specially trained personnel to help resolve behavior issues that might threaten a bird’s future in a new home.

True sanctuaries do not typically adopt out birds. Instead, their function is to take in birds that cannot succeed in the human habitat or that would prefer not to be forced into close interaction with people. For example, old retired breeder birds are often perfect candidates for sanctuaries.

An Unruly Macaw’s Future
Awhile back I talked extensively with a nice lady who had a hand-raised adolescent macaw that was totally out of control, and she needed to give him up. She was considering sending the bird to a sanctuary that did no rehoming because she was afraid that the macaw might go from failed home to failed home if put into an adoption situation, though she admitted he really liked people. I disagreed with the idea of sanctuary. I dislike the idea of sentencing a people-oriented young parrot to a lifetime with little human contact. Most sanctuaries have very few people and a whole lot of birds, which means an individual animal will get little or no human attention. 

So this macaw youngster that had never known anything but human companionship would be spend the next 50 to 60 years with little human interaction. As far as I was concerned, this person’s failure to handle the pet bird successfully did not mean no one else could succeed nor that he was automatically doomed to fail in future homes. When I talked frankly with the owner, she confessed that she couldn’t bear the thought of the bird bouncing from home to home and thought he would be "safer” in a sanctuary. In other words, this was about what made the owner most comfortable, not what was necessarily best for the parrot. To my delight, she finally decided to give the macaw to an extremely experienced person who had no trouble handling the bird, so she could foster and rehome him.

According to Sybil Erden of Oasis, this was the right thing to do for this macaw youngster. "It matters not what the owner wants; it matters what is best for the bird.” 

Webster, founder and director of the Alaska chapter of PEAC said, "Most birds we get calls about have no business being in a sanctuary. They have just been confused by uneducated owners.” Kenk, PEAC’s founder and head of its San Diego chapter agrees. Most of PEAC’s calls are about pet birds, not old breeders. Ann Brooks estimates that maybe one out of every 30 birds surrendered to Phoenix Landing belong in sanctuary setting, adding that it is sometimes difficult for owners to have sufficient perspective regarding their pet bird’s future, especially if there are serious behavior problems. In situations like this, I suggest that people consult with those experienced with adoption and behavior to get a clearer idea of what is best for the bird. A pet bird that isn’t successful in one environment often succeeds brilliantly in another. 

Research The Adoption Organization Or Sanctuary
When choosing an organization, it is crucial that you do your research. Before surrendering your pet bird, visit the facility or talk with someone you trust who has. If you are considering a sanctuary, ask if it is financially sustainable. A parrot can live a long time, so an organization has to be set up to provide care long into the future, outliving most founders.

Several years ago, the founder of a parrot adoption and sanctuary organization died, leaving hundreds of birds behind. As a result, her survivors put many of the birds up for auction. Many of those who had donated their parrots tried unsuccessfully to recover their animals. When I discussed this situation with Erden, she felt this organization was not set up properly. If had been, the family could not have auctioned off pet birds. Please do your best to do what is best for your parrot.

Want to know more about adoption?

Are You Ready To Adopt A Bird?
Bird Adoption: Tips To Find The Best Match


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Posted: January 25, 2012 8:33 a.m. PST

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