That’s Pepper on the right. She’s a perfectly charming African Grey. She’s eighteen years old and she came to live with Parker and me about 3 years ago. She was found by my friend Shari housed in an 18×18 inch galvanized wire cage; probably her original cage from when she was purchased as a young bird at a now defunct pet store in Fort Lauderdale. Apparently she was well-loved by an elderly woman who was married to a gentleman that didn’t much care for Pepper. Well, as things happen, the woman died and the husband wanted nothing to do with her. Nor did the remaining family members. They wanted her out of there. By chance they happened to call the Canine Vet Shari was working for and Shari rolled into action.

Shari got her “carry-cage,” obtained the address and drove over. Well, Shari told me the situation was a little bleak. It was a small house and Pepper’s cage was positioned by a hallway, the kitchen and the way to the bathroom. Shari took notice that her dinner that evening was a piece of chicken, a piece of steak, and some walnuts placed on a paper plate on the bottom of the cage. No vegetables, no fruit, and the only toy she had was a beat-up bell. Shari told me it was just sad, depressing and dark. Bleak. Hopeless. A painful life for such a wonderful bird.

Shari hauled her home and began changing her diet. Fresh vegetables. Sprouts. A cooked bean mix. Healthy nuts. Quality pellets. A sunny bird room. Company from Shari’s other Greys: Wild-caught Fred, Igor, and Ico. It took a while but Shari got her eating quality stuff like a hog. This little bird can eat! I stopped by a few times to work with her and we got along famously. I was simply charmed by this diminutive little girl. At first, she was bitey, bitchy, and obviously uncomfortable with human contact. She barely knew how to step up and yet when I began working with her, I could feel her heart was in it despite her fear. Dozens of treats and repeated trips in and out of the cage, I finally felt she was pretty solid with being comfortable about stepping up from inside the cage and being returned. Huge praise! Lots of treats for simply stepping up. She began to trust me, but it was only a beginning. With Pepper, it was hard sledding! God, she was stubborn. Little by little, with Shari’s consistently good diet and care and my training sessions, she became “almost handleable”.  I say that because she was still fearful, but I could cope with her fears, comfort her and help her move on.

One day Shari called me and said two simple words: “It’s time.” Shari had decided that she was going to re-home Pepper with me. I was torn. I had Parker who is a bopping, happy, active and very social bird. Yet believe it or not I had been lurking on Parrot Adoption Foundations trying to find someone that would allow me to adopt a bird from them that needed help. This was difficult. I live in Florida and there just aren’t that many places around here that adopt out.

I felt I needed to “pay it forward” because Parker was purchased when I didn’t know any better, didn’t have a clue and I had done it all the wrong way. I mean I did everything wrong.  I quickly wised up and figured out I had a lot to learn. That’s when I began to read absolutely everything I could get my hands on about parrot husbandry and training. I took classes, purchased training DVDs and simply saturated my brain with all things “Bird.”

When Pepper came to live with me, I knew a hell of a lot more than I did when I first got Parker. But I had fifteen years of stuff to “undo” and there was massive retraining that had to be accomplished. But it worked. Pepper Is now almost “Cuddly” with me. She still has issues with strangers, men in particular, but with me, she is just wonderful. I’m really proud of how far she has come. Her feathers are growing back and she’s healthier. She seems to enjoy life here and I just adore her. She’s fun, interesting and she and Parker provide plenty of fodder for my Column in “Bird Talk.”

But I’m not done. I’m never done. Next week I’m attending the B.E.S.T. Parrot Conference in New Jersey where I’ll once again be immersing myself in learning even more from the best in the business: Susan Friedman, Barbara Heidenreich, Robin Shewokis, and Joanna Eckles.

I’m not thrilled about getting on an airplane on my day off, but I just can’t pass this Conference up. It’s simply too good and the information too valuable to miss. I hope I run into you there.