It’s happened again. Another seizure, another rescue in trouble. It’s easy for all of us to point fingers and make judgements. It’s wonderful to sit back with our two or three birds or whatever sized flock we can comfortably handle, proclaiming our disgust and feeling fear for the latest flock that was hauled away in beige boxes.

We somehow feel better that our houses are cleaner, our cages are relatively immaculate. We make snap judgements as to the intentions of the people who I truly think meant well. But then, somewhere along the line, something went wrong. Well, what happened? What went wrong? How did things get out of control? I don’t know. And you probably don’t know either.

The latest seizure was at Wings Over the Rainbow, (WOTR) a bird rescue located in Moraine, Ohio. Moraine is right outside of Dayton.  Ohio again. Once again I don’t have the entire story. Once again, I’ll probably never really know how things went down and how it all fell apart. Here is the story according to the Humane Society:

More than 100 Birds Rescued from Alleged Cruelty and Neglect in Ohio

There is a followup story claiming that WOTR is going to fight to get the birds back.

Bird Rescue Vows to Battle Back

Okay, that’s what is being reported. But what happened? How did it come down to this? In cases like this, we never really know. It’s like this dirty little secret that gets hauled out into the light of day for a brief moment so that reporters and newscasters can get their shots. The birds are shuttled off and that’s usually the last of the story unless there’s a fight in the courts or cruelty charges are made. What I want to know is, where did all of this begin?

Not quite a year ago, I wrote a post about the Troy, Ohio Birds, a hideous case of neglect that hit the papers and the internet like a feathered tsunami. The case got convoluted and to this day, I have absolutely no idea whatever happened in the end. I get different stories and different opinions, but I never did find out out what happened at the end of the pageant. I don’t know what happened to the Miami Valley Bird Club, their rescue efforts or the disposition of the case.

I did a little digging around and with a little help from some highly respected people in the field, I got some answers as to what this hoarding and neglect deal is all about.

It’s sometimes called Institutional Hoarding. Someone decides they want to run a rescue. They do the proper things, (or not) getting registered with a 501(c)3 non-profit status, (or not) slap up a website, (or not) and they’re in business. Good intentions. Well meaning. They want to save the animals.

Jezebelle Francesca, my friend Sandy’s adopted dog

Now if you think about it, the people who get into this have probably seen their share of neglect and abuse already or they wouldn’t be getting into the field. This of course gives them a bad opinion of human beings in general. After seeing some of the situations dogs, cats and birds are put in, one can’t help but have a low opinion of some people.

However, in order to run an adoption and rescue, you have to put this aside and trust that there are people out there who can provide a good home. I mean, isn’t that the entire point of the adoption and rescue? To place animals in suitable homes? This is where it gets crappy. Some rescues have standards that are simply too high and they have too many conditions potential families have to meet in order to qualify.

It’s as if the rescue is trying to find reasons not to place their charges. They simply make it too difficult to adopt. And of course this defeats the entire purpose. A family wants a cat or dog or bird and they have to endure the Spanish Inquisition in order to adopt. Many people will end up “failing” the third degree they are put through.

So what does the family do? They buy from a breeder or a pet store. Don’t read me wrong. I’m big on screening and applications and qualifying. But good God, this is an animal that needs a home. Set aside the attachment and let the animal have a home for Christ’s sake! I know it’s hard, but that’s the job.

Jacque Johnson, the Manager of the Parrot Garden at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah has this to say about Institutional Hoarding:

Jacque Johnson of Best Friends Photo courtesy of Jacque Johnson

“People in animal rescue have hoarding tendencies. We have caregiving personalities and if we get in too deep, it is easy to let the heart overwhelm our heads and resources. Slowly, over time, we make consessions to husbandry, diet, and medical care that would never have been even considered previously. We “normalize” sub-standard care. Good rescues battle this tendency in themselves constantly. We are aware that we have limits and set them well in advance. We become adept at saying “no” even when our hearts want to say “yes.” And most of all, we battle the self-serving concept that no one else is able to care for our birds. Hoarders put up hoops for adopters to jump through that make it impossible for them to meet the expectations. We don’t want to send our kids into substandard situations, but we must never forget that a family is always better than a rescue. We are an orphanage…and we need to want to get our kids adopted.”

Charlie on the left with King O. Photo courtesy of Best Friends Parrot Garden

So the issue is that the very people who want to help, see the neglect, see the abuse and get gun-shy about placing these animals because they’re afraid it will happen again. I know of one Cockatoo that Best Friends had in residence while I was out there. The sweetest, cutest little girl. But she was a self-mutilator and had to wear a bib to keep from drilling into her own chest. Well, despite everyone’s personal feelings about Charlee and their attachment to her, she got a home. Charlee was adopted out because as Jacque says, “A family is always better than a rescue.” Everyone loved her but they set their personal feelings aside and Charlee went home. Now that’s how you run a rescue.

Apparently, in a hoarding situation, over time, standards are relaxed. A little bit, day-by-day, things get a little worse, a little messier. More animals are brought in, with no animals going out. It sneaks up on the person or institution. It doesn’t happen overnight. Things go from bad to worse, and the caregiver or team running the rodeo become completely overwhelmed and rundown. According to the  National Center for Prosecution of Animal Abuse (NCPAA) the type of hoarder is broken down into three categories: The Exploiter, The Rescue Hoarder and the Overwhelmed Caregiver. But what exactly is a hoarder? How do you define it? According to the NCPAA, it’s this:

“Someone who accumulates a large number of animals: Fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care And fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death) or the environment, (severe overcrowding, extremely unsanitary conditions) or the negative effect of the collection on their own heath and well-being and on that of other household members.”

 –Dr. Gary Patronek in Public Health Reports (114), 1999     


Photo courtesy of Marc Johnson and Foster Parrots Ltd.

And of course you have less financial support for bird rescues than other types of adoption and rescue organizations which only compounds the problem. Marc Johnson, Founder and self-professed “Janitor” of Foster Parrots in Rockland Mass. weighed in on the lack of funding and support for parrot adoption and rescues:

The really sad thing is that the “parrot world” is not very supportive of the efforts of rescue and it is a hard job. Everyone should be grateful that there are people willing to step up and try to help the terrible situation parrots are in today. The HSUS should be supporting the people on the front lines of animal rescue, an underfunded war against captivity. I would be encouraging people to get in and help, not get in and tear down.”

So what’s the answer? I don’t have one.  All I know is that when stuff like the Troy, Ohio case and the WOTR situation get in the news, it raises awareness. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s the wrong kind. Negative stuff makes us all look like morons.

But as it was said in one film about news reporting, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  I realize that this story is far from over and just because it was in the news doesn’t make it true. There just might be a million mitigating circumstances that might have made this seizure completely unnecessary. I simply don’t know. All I can do is hope for the best for the birds, for WOTR and for the future.