Despite disabilities Skye, a Congo African grey parrot, has grown to be a happy bird. Courtesy Nancy Ross, CA
For most of us, our healthy companion birds bring us so much pleasure that we do not think of what life would be like if they became chronically ill or were physically disabled. If this happens, it is up to us to do our best to make our pet birds’ lives happier and of a higher quality. Being a pet bird’s caretakers means being responsible for every aspect of their care and happiness. It can, however, become stressful especially if life already is very busy or difficult.
It helps to remember that whatever lows we experience because of the condition of our loved ones, their part of the experience is even more difficult. Our roles as facilitators and caretakers actually can be healing for the birds and ourselves.
A simple change of perspective can profoundly alter stress levels. Chronic illness is just a part of life, though one that no one ever wants. From a greater perspective, however, it can be a great teaching tool — teaching us patience and unconditional love, a “triage of the soul” whereby we consciously choose what is important to us rather than drifting through life like unwilling victims. Although chronic illness can be a source of great stress if we allow it to, it can also teach us great strength and endurance. It is a test of our ability to meet life’s challenges while choosing to do so with or without bitterness.
Illness, whether in ourselves or in our birds, may not be our personal choice, but how we experience it is.
In our “down” moments, we ask ourselves, “Why me?” I remember having one of those moments more than 25 years ago when Baby, my beloved macaw, was gravely ill. I read a self-help book to help me through the process, and its reply to the previous question was “Why not you?” Like many great answers, that was not the one that I wanted to hear.
The book explained that all experiences are just a part of life. Whether they are deemed by us as “good or bad” simply reflects who we are and who we choose to be. An experience that tears one person’s life apart might be a minor difficulty to a person who approaches life with a more positive outlook. It often takes mental retraining to see life from a more positive direction. As a “glass half empty” person, I can relate to that perspective. I have, however, learned to roll with the punches that life hands out and will be the first person to say that this ability makes life a lot easier in general.
Balance Your Time
Chronic illness can wear on the caretaker’s and the pet bird’s energy and emotions. Consequently, it is important to take an occasional break from caretaking. This might include talking with a compassionate friend or enlisting the aid of an animal health technician or a veterinarian who clearly understands how to care for a chronically ill or crippled pet bird. Depending on the nature of the condition, the bird might outlive you, so it is important for your pet bird to be accustomed to others taking care of it.
The caretaker of a chronically ill bird often becomes locked into being the only provider for it. Little by little, the caretaker’s life becomes eroded to the point that he or she cannot leave home for any other purpose than to work and perform necessary errands. The person feels guilty if he or she spends the slightest amount of time away from the pet bird. In time, the bird begins to expect the person to constantly be there, and it might become more demanding. Its condition also might worsen if the caretaker is away longer than expected. This is not kind to either the bird or to the caretaker.
Working around the special needs of a crippled or chronically ill pet bird can be enjoyable if approached in a creative manner. Discovering toys, foods and activities that make life easier for the bird and sharing that information with others can help birds with similar conditions.
Knowing that the bird would not have a life without you provides a reward in itself. There is nothing sweeter than seeing a beloved ill or crippled pet bird family member that is absolutely certain that she is deeply loved.
Reemie, a Belize Amazon parrot, owned by bird photographer Bonnie Jay, had a deformed foot and legs as a result of her capture in the wild many years before and could only hobble from place to place. Although many people would consider her condition insurmountable or undesirable, Bonnie did not. She adored and doted on her little Reemie. The parrot had her own velvet pillows for propping against while she sat on the sofa and received a bountiful buffet of her favorite foods on little curved antique bone plates so that she did not have to go too far for food.
When Reemie felt hormonal, she would laboriously hobble down the carpeted hallway to the bathroom, where she would attempt to nest. This also was a favorite play spot, and Bonnie would lie on the floor and play the harmonica while Reemie chimed in with happy Amazon parrot sounds. Although Reemie required highly specialized care, Bonnie happily supplied it and was rewarded with a loving and happy companion bird.
Read about Skye, a Congo African grey (in picture) here.