Do you remember that for the last two years I worked at the Cincinnati Zoo as a “Guest Keeper?”

Well, that was all well and good and I had a blast, (I also worked my keester off…) but I have that chapter of my book written and it’s time to move on to the next one. I miss the Zoo something awful, but I have other things I have to do, other places I have to go and other adventures I have to experience. I don’t know if you recall, but the reason I began this blog and call it “Parrot Nation” is because I am currently, (and perpetually it seems,) working on completing a manuscript by the same name. This is harder than it looks. While I enjoy writing, I also enjoy eating and keeping a roof over my head which, in my case, involves putting on a uniform more often than not, getting on an airplane and flying around making sure that our flights are safe, people are happy and my company makes a profit for our shareholders.

Me With Miss Vicki, the “Texas Twister”

And I’m happy to do that. Really. I mean it. But that takes up a lot of time. And so does writing for “BIRD TALK” Magazine. We won’t even go into the time it takes to keep up with three rambunctious African Greys, one of which is Parker. And if you’ve read my column, you know how he is.

See? Not all of my readers at BT are Birds. Perhaps Gabby thinks the magazine is a menu…

And of course there’s Mattie, who is little or no bother at all, but she does need some care and attention.

Mattie, the “Wonder Doorstop”

So it’s no wonder that this flippin’ book is taking me longer than the Vietnam War. But it’s coming along. The problem is always time. Oh, and the travel. Oh and the money. And did I mention the travel? Did I mention that when you spend close to a hundred hours a month on an airplane, the last thing you want to do on your time off is get on an airplane?

Perhaps now you can understand why I really don’t like moving around very much when I’m not flying. But fly I must and I have to climb onto a few airplanes to complete this manuscript. Which brings me to my next trip: Best Friends Animal Society.

According to their website, “Best Friends Animal Society is guided by a simple philosophy: kindness to animals builds a better world for all of us. In the late 1980s, when Best Friends was in its early days, roughly 17 million dogs and cats were being killed in shelters every year. Despite the commitment of shelter workers to the animal in their care, the conventional belief was that little could be done to lower that terrible number.”

Best Friends was also featured on the Nat Geo Channel in a series called “Dogtown” which ran for four seasons and had enormous popularity. This in turn boosted the notoriety of “Best Friends,” and they still have the title, (as far as I know) as the largest, non-profit, no-kill sanctuary in the world. And of course there was that little matter of the Michael Vick dogs. They performed miracles there.

Good stuff as far as I”m concerned. Most people are aware that they have dogs and cats. But did you know that they have a large variety of animals? Yup. Besides dogs and cats, they also have rabbits, horses, ducks, sheep, raptors and pigs. Yes, pigs. They also have, umm, wait a second, it slipped my mind…wait a second…

Oh yeah! Parrots! BF has parrots. A lot of parrots. A plethora of parrots that all need homes. Here is one of my favorite photos of all time. It’s Rick Van Tuyl, who works at the BF “Parrot Garden” with a few of his buddies:

Photo courtesy Rick Van Tuyl

Well! Now you might ask what my interest is in BF. BF is big. Real big. And they are an “in place” shelter. Unlike many fabulous adoption and rescues which foster out their charges, BF is a brick and mortar rescue and they have a way of doing things that I think I would be remiss in not including in my book. And to be honest with you, lots of people are interested in the place. Which obviously isn’t going to hurt people’s interest in the manuscript. But most of all, I want to raise the public’s awareness of areas at the Sanctuary that isn’t about cats and dogs. I had an email conversation with Parrot Garden Manager, Steve Scheurich a while back about coming out to work and writing it up here. He thought it was a marvelous idea and began putting things into motion for that to happen. When I was able to nail down the dates and get ready to work on the particulars, things just fell into place.

For the last week, I have been gathering, packing, checking lists, filling out forms, making phone calls, writing emails, arranging for rides to and from airports,  getting computer stuff done and generally running around like a fool. But it’s been fun.

It’s my vacation. And as usual, I’ll be spending it working. But I have found over the past years that:

1. Change of work is rest.

2. If you can do something really cool that adds to and improves the world, you can head home knowing that you contributed  to an effort where you actually made a difference, as opposed to simply consuming. This is profound. And I guarantee that you will talk about it for the rest of your life.

3. Going on vacation at a place like Best Friends will not only change your life, it will have a profound effect on what they are trying to accomplish. You will be helping in a way that only one person can: One moment at a time.

I used to do “lie down vacations.” The sort where you go somewhere and do nothing. I loved it. But once  I came back I didn’t really feel as though I had accomplished anything. I was the same person. I felt empty. But when I first went to the Cincinnati Zoo and spent three weeks working my tail off,  I came home a different person. I had changed for the better. And that made all the difference. Because as small as my little contribution to them was, it wasn’t about the free labor they received. It was about the difference it made in me. Did it make a difference to them? I like to think so. I mean, after all, they invited me back. Perhaps in my small way, I somehow made a scratch on the surface of this huge world. I made a difference. I helped make things better.

Not everyone gets to the some of the extraordinary things I have been privileged to do. But Best Friends? They welcome everyone who has a love of animals. You may not think taking a dog for a walk to be a big deal. But it is for that dog. Because that dog might have come from a puppy mill and this is an introduction to a wonderful experience that is Disney World to that dog. You will do honest work that isn’t that demanding. How tough is it to rake a yard or wash some food dishes? But at the end of the day you will have contributed something that will have made a difference to those animals. And I haven’t been there, but having worked at the Cincinnati Zoo, I can tell you it will make a profound difference to those who work there. And your presence will be felt by the animals.  I leave soon for Kanab. I’ll be writing about it almost daily. Please check back as I get ready for a trip that is going to rock my world. I can’t wait. And while you’re at it, check out Best Friends:

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