By CHASTITY LASKEY
CASCABEL, Arizona –Wikipedia dismisses this tiny village in the desert behind the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson as “a ghost town in Cochise County. ” It is an outpost in the middle of nowhere, framed by rugged cliffs, 70 miles from Tucson.
It’s the last place you would expect to encounter 796 splendidly colored, shrieking tropical parrots, along with three geese and two roosters. And of course there are caretakers, a dedicated group of bird lovers, who operate the Oasis Sanctuary here to provide permanent homes for birds that have been abandoned, left behind after an owner’s death, or bounced from home to home.
There’s a need for such a place because parrots have long lifespans, and for various reasons often find themselves abandoned or homeless. Sometimes owners get old and die. Other times, the owner of an attention-demanding parrot can simply give up on the pet.
“You get into this with good intentions and then back out with the, ‘I wanted a dog with feathers’ — and that’s not what a parrot is,” said Todd Driggers, the Oasis board president and primary staff veterinarian.
Nearly 20 years since it first opened, the Oasis Sanctuary is currently at capacity with 796 birds in its care. Oasis is a charitable institution founded in 1977 that describes its mission as:
- To provide a permanent sanctuary to any parrot-type birds who have no contagious disease, but are unplaceable in homes
- To build and develop naturalistic habitats for said birds
- To continue working with bonafide welfare organization to ensure every parrot in captivity has a loving and safe home
- To educate the public about Psittacines (parrot-type birds) and their place in the wild, as well as proper care in captivity
Janet Trumbule, the executive director of administration at Oasis, said that behavior challenges are the primary reasons birds come into the sanctuary. Even though domestically bred, most parrots are still basically wild. While people may be enthralled to encounter an intriguing, amusing bird at a store, they can underestimate the wild tendencies, including biting, shrieking, and occasional chewing of furniture. They are, after all, parrots.
“They have not been domesticated for thousands of years like dogs or cats, grandparents of these birds were wild, so they’re only a few generations out of the wild,” Trumbule said. “They’re for the most part tame, but they still have wild tendencies.”
Naturally parrots scream loudly, chew constantly and leave droppings everywhere. Owners seeing these natural wild-bird behaviors may take measures to limit a bird’s actions or try and find an alternative home for the bird, Trumbule said.
Driggers said the Oasis meets a need by providing a permanent sanctuary offering both compassionate care and and behavior care for birds, some of which are suffering from psychological issues, including abandonment. Parrots typically bond intensely with owners.
Having worked as the primary staff veterinarian for the Oasis for 13 years, Driggers said he loves the dedication the people at Oasis have for their work. Without them, he said, birds would face a never-ending cycle, going from one home or caretaker to the next for decades ahead.
While respective owners can have the best intentions, they sometimes are unable to foresee long-term the real needs of a parrot, Driggers said.
Oswaldo Rosales, who lives in San Diego, relinquished his birds to the Oasis Sanctuary years ago, when he was no longer able to provide them with an appropriate home. Rosales still lives in San Diego, but maintains a continuing relationship with the Oasis, coming regularly to volunteer.
Rosales said he and his long-term girlfriend bought two Electus parrots together, Harley and Luna, but when the relationship of ten years ended, his life changed significantly. Luna then began anxiously plucking when her brother Harley got sick after eating a piece of plastic.
“I didn’t want to give them up, but I thought to myself that I have to put them in a safe place,” said Rosales. Given San Diego housing costs, he said he had no living space conducive for a wild bird. So he discovered Oasis and got his parrots on the sanctuary’s wait-list.
Rosales however was able to bring them both to Oasis after almost two years of being on the wait list.
Most aviaries including the Oasis have a wait list due to the fact that they are at capacity and while they are desperately trying to expand, they can’t keep up with the number of birds who need a homes.
“It was very heartbreaking, but I knew it was for the best.” Rosales said. “It wasn’t, however, me just dumping them off. I go back at least twice a year.” Rosales said he goes back whenever he has a break and does general maintenance or construction, and even donates — and brings other people to volunteer as well.
Linda Haynes, 68, a retired animal rescue worker, has worked as a longterm live-in volunteer at the Oasis for two years.
“I’ve always loved birds,” Haynes said after she finished cleaning and washing a bird cage. “I’m at an age now where I’m too old to have birds of my own, because anything would surely outlive me.”
Haynes said the Oasis is the perfect place for her to be around birds daily, without having the responsibility of to take care of one specifically. For volunteer and employee alike, the first four hours of every day are spent collecting and cleaning food bowls.
Animal Caregiver Lillian Morphew said all of the birds are fed fresh food daily, which can be a very long process, given the sheer number of birds.
Morphew, who has been working at the Oasis for almost three years, said she did research with birds when she was pursuing a degree in zoo and wildlife biology.
She said after she and her husband came out for an employment interview, they accepted the position right away because they could tell that everyone at the Oasis was genuinely focused on caring for the parrots.
“My favorite part about living here is really getting to know the birds. I build relationships with them.” Morphew said. “They’re very social animals and you get really connected to them; you become a part of the flock. Having the birds know who you are, as well as knowing what makes a bird smile or tick, is important because these birds have already been through enough,” she said.
“It’s a cruel thing to give away a bird, especially if it’s bonded with you,” added Haynes. “It’s like a death in their family, we have a lot of pluckers here because they can’t handle the stress of being re-homed.”
Trumbule said many of the birds suffer from neurotic behaviors, such as plucking, manipulating and biting.
But there is no room right now to take more in. The Oasis is currently at capacity, she said — so aside from birds being accepted after deaths of Oasis donors, and some extreme emergency situations, it cannot accept any more birds until further notice.
She said the organization is currently only using 12 of the 72 acres it owns, and is working on expanding the oasis, hoping to eventually have the capacity to care for 1,700 birds.
She added that currently they also are facing troubles with not enough workers, because the Oasis provides housing for workers, and that’s full. This explains the push for more buildings.
Oasis Director of Development Lori Bell who has been involved with Oasis for close to 15 years, said the sanctuary is completely donor-funded, with no funding coming from government.
“It’s quite expensive to do what the Oasis Sanctuary does — everything from fee to veterinary car. All those expenses add up for almost 800 birds,” Bell said.
Rosales said back when he and his ex-girlfriend bought the parrots, he had some misgivings that perhaps birds shouldn’t be bought and face uncertain futures.
So he said he takes the opportunity when he can to dissuade people from buying a parrot, encouraging them to instead sponsor a bird or donate to a sanctuary.
Trumbule said the Oasis Sanctuary has a contingency plan for the future to continue operations and provide care. Not only do birds live a long time, but there will always be other parrots that need to be rescued.
Jim Jarchow, a veterinarian for over forty years, said that all most people need to do is research before taking in or buying a pet.
He said that while not all animals are meant to be pets, there still are many qualified owners at there who have done their research and know what they’re getting into with parrot ownership.
Angelica Padilla is one example of that. She has been a green-cheek conure owner for a little over a year. Her parrot PJ was originally a present her father gave her mother after the mother’s own parrot died.
Padilla and PJ have become extremely attached. She said she considers him a lifelong friend and intends to care for him he dies.
At the Oasis, the same determination is obvious. As its name says, it is a sanctuary.
“We provide an old-age home for birds that have no other options,” Haynes said as she cleaned some cages, while parrots chattered and chirped all around. “We do the best that we can here.”
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