The Ball of Curls at the End of the Rainbow

By Delia Berlin

When our last parrot died this past June, after our more than three decades of birdkeeping, a dark silence fell on our home. It was deeper than our grief. All the whistles, phrases, laughter, and songs of our parrots ended abruptly. And it was lonely. Most people can relate to the loss of a dog or a cat, but few are familiar with the bond that can be developed with a parrot. While our family and friends understood our loss, several acquaintances could not even bring themselves to express sympathy, as if the quality of such a pet did not justify it.

Compounding our sadness was the realization that our advanced ages and parrots’ long lifespans now made us unsuitable companions for them. But, as time passed and our acute mourning eased, we became more open to possibilities. Parrots’ long lives also result in many parrots requiring rehoming. We knew several organizations dedicated to that mission and they certainly could help us identify an older parrot in need of a loving home.

First, I should explain that the word “parrot” is way too broad to describe this potential pet. In a nutshell, there are approximately 350 species of parrots that range from tiny (like a budgie) to huge (like a macaw). They also differ significantly in temperament, habits, and loudness. Considering the possibility of needing condo or apartment living in the future, we would have to rule out any parrot too big or too loud for those conditions. That would narrow the pool significantly.

In addition, since we would be keeping a single parrot, we needed one oriented to humans that would not miss the company of peers. Strange as this quality may seem, it is common among pet birds. Most parrots bred in captivity are raised by humans and remain more interested in people than birds for life. At least we had some criteria to begin a search for a companion bird.

Fast forward a few months of internet searches, phone calls, and adoption applications, and we were still birdless. For the first time in our 42 years together, we had been without a pet for many months. Perhaps out of frustration and impatience, we started considering other pets. In the distant past, David had been allergic to cats and dogs, but he had not reacted to any of the many dogs in our extended family and friends’ homes for a long time. After some reading, we decided that an extra-small dog, or a small dog of a hypoallergenic breed, would be safe.

At this point, the search broadened and intensified. We would try to adopt an adult dog locally, but we would also continue our parrot search. If we found a good match, we would take in either a parrot or a dog, and possibly both. But even with these broader requirements, we were unprepared for the difficulty of the search.

There is a website, Petfinder, that (presumably) acts as a gateway for any pet search. You can enter your zip code, the type of pet you are looking for, narrow it down by size, age, and even behavior, and find potential matches nearby. But I soon found out that many of the dogs listed were hundreds of miles away. They were usually in a Southern state, awaiting transport to New England. Many of these dogs were expected to be purchased or adopted on faith alone, for a price that included transport to Connecticut. We were not willing to go that way.

I also discovered that while Petfinder allowed narrowing the search to local pets only, many organizations were finding a way around this. A potential pet may be listed at a local rescue, for example in Lebanon or East Hartford, but phone calls or emails may reveal that the pet is actually in the South. A local address seems to be enough to meet the “local pets” requirement at Petfinder.

With these problems exposed, we got suspicious about “rescue” organizations. Would we be supporting an unethical profitable industry disguised as a charitable enterprise? We thought it would be best to keep checking our local animal control offices and shelters instead. But unfortunately, our local pounds tend to be flooded with pit bulls and other large breeds. Occasionally, when a small dog showed up, we were outcompeted.

We also checked the Connecticut Humane Society, with an adoption website that is updated every five minutes. They only do adoptions in-person and their main kennels are in Newington. It was a long trip for us, but when we saw a dog with potential, we headed there. We found out that they do not hold any pet, even overnight. Leaving with the dog we came to check on seemed daunting to us, but we were willing to do it if we could get enough positive information about him. Yet, upon arrival we were told that the senior dog we were interested in came with a “bite waiver” and nobody knew for sure if he was housebroken. We declined, without even seeing the dog. We decided that going to Newington to check prospects in those circumstances was too much for us.

During this long process we came across several amazing organizations that impressed us with their dedication, advocacy, and responsibility. Some had sweet dogs with more special needs than we were able to fulfill from the start. Others did not have any candidates meeting our criteria. And there were also those that would not consider us because we lived outside of the radius for required home visits to make sure the pet is a good match with its new owner. In one case, we suggested virtual visits, or in-person visits by a surrogate of their choosing, but our offer was not accepted. Most of these organizations are operated by volunteers and have limited resources. They have the best interest of each animal in mind, but they must be practical by necessity.

At one point, one of our local animal control offices had a dog that was described as almost exactly what we were looking for. We applied immediately, but received an email the next day stating that there was lots of interest in that dog. They wanted to know the last time we had had a dog. Since we kept parrots for over 30 years, we had not had dogs for a very long time. We explained that and, without even a phone call or a home visit, we were rejected for lack of experience. Hopefully, that dog went to his perfect home and is doing well. But we think that having a dog is a bit like riding a bike—you do not forget what it is like.

Reluctantly, we decided we needed to expand our search to nonprofit rescue organizations. We found one that holds periodic adoption events at Petco in Dayville. They bring dogs from shelters in Tennessee, but their process is reasonable. There is an extensive adoption application that requires personal and vet references, in addition to a small fee. They check the references and conduct a virtual interview and home visit. If one is approved to adopt a dog, the pet can be picked up at the adoption event. If for any reason that dog does not seem like a good match, the application remains approved for available pets at future events. There is also an adoption fee, but the organization emphasizes that it is not a sale price but covers the cost of neutering or spaying, vaccinations, deworming, several tests, microchipping, and transport.

Of course, when it rains it pours. Suddenly, Foster Parrots, a large parrot rescue and sanctuary in Rhode Island, asked to interview us for potential matches. During the same week, Connecticut Parrot Rescue called us to assess our household for an older parrot in need of a home. And Paws Rescue League conducted a virtual home visit ahead of an adoption event the following weekend. We proceeded, one thing at a time, and the adoption event at Petco came first.

On March 3rd, we brought home Curly, a six-year-old mini-poodle mix. He had been found as a stray in Tennessee on Valentine’s Day, and in a little over two weeks he had been through a lot. During the previous ten days or so, he had been at a foster home. His foster mom brought him to Petco with his favorite toy and lots of information that we later found to be accurate and helpful. Soon after we got home with Curly, our local animal control officer called to ask if we were interested in a chihuahua. But our search was over.

For now, our parrot pursuit has been suspended. Curly is just a little over 10 lbs. but he is worth his weight in gold. He is smart, affectionate, playful, curious, cuddly, and funny. He happens to be hypoallergenic and David has not reacted. We are both so in love with him that we must pinch ourselves to believe that he is really with us. Frustrating and long as this search was, it landed us the best pooch in the whole wide world. Our parrots will remain in our hearts forever, but at least the silence in our home has been replaced with the pitter-patter of little paws.

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