The Ties That Bind

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Recently we had some orphans flown to us from Florida. All under 8 weeks and still being hand fed; there was an Indian Ring Neck, a Redrump Parakeet and 2 Plumhead Parakeets. Ok, so I am not an expert at hand feeding babies. I have lots of support and a partner that is master level hand feeder. “I can do this!” So we drive to LeGuardia to pick up said babies and begin our adventure. They were so small it seemed there was no way the syringe would fit in
their mouths! Yet every 4 hours like clock work they would extend their necks to the sky and call out to be fed. We were in a routine, after an initial brush with aspiration, and they slowly dropped down from 5 to 4 to 3 feedings a day.

After 3 weeks they began to fly around our room very adroitly. They even came along to a Daisy meeting with the big birds! I felt the day coming where they would reject the syringe for the cup of millet and leave “momma” for the bigger flock. Until….Friday afternoon last week. It was like any other day. After the afternoon feeding I put them in their big boy cage and shut the door to my room and left to pick my daughter up from school. However, I had no idea the drama that would ensue once I returned home.

My beagle was standing on the stairs between me and the bedroom looking very guilty. I looked closer and in her mouth was my baby redrump! “Drop it!” I screamed. Immediately she spit out a very unhappy and tail-less redrump, whose rump was now red from lack of feathers! I scooped her up and headed for the bedroom. My heart sank when I saw the door wide open! There in the middle of the floor was a plumhead missing all its back feathers and the third was nowhere to be seen. Images of a bloody pile of feathers somewhere in my room bombarded my brain.

Before I could stop myself a primal scream poured from my throat and I totally lost my mind! Searching the room my anxiety and hysteria grew by the second. My husband, who had entered the scene in the midst of my confused search, tried to break into my funk by offering these innocent words, “take it easy, you’ve only had them a few days…” I glared in his direction. “Shut the f*ck up!” I spewed with venom at him. He found the third hiding under my dresser untouched and I called the vet. Through tears I pleaded that they take me right now, “please tell me Dr Tracey is on” (our avian vet.) “Come right in!”

Not until Dr Tracey walked into the exam room did my chest relax enough to inhale fully. Everything would be alright now. Wounds cleaned, fluids on board, antibiotics administered and 3 hours in the oxygen tank and they were home again. Bruised and featherless, but otherwise none the worse for wear. I put their cage next to my pillow and woke every hour to make sure they were still alright. In the light of day after my morning coffee I pondered all the what ifs. The dog ambled in stopped at the door and looked up with big brown eyes; the babies saw her and nothing changed in the demeanor. Odd, wouldn’t they be traumatized enough to be scared stiff by her presence? “OUT” I screamed and she skulked out. I put the babies away and started looking on the floor for more clues. Under some newspaper I found feathers, unfrayed or broken. Closer inspection revealed some formula still on some. The stark realization came to me that the dog wasn’t trying to KILL the babies. She was cleaning them! Of course, no blood, no puncture wounds, no apparent trauma; just missing feathers. I laughed silently to myself.

Well a few days have passed and we found a new home for the beagle with no small animals and a couple of kids to play the energy out of her. The babies don’t seem changed in any way by their experience. So I had a moment of reflection. Why did I get so hysterical? I am always the rock in a crisis. Even where my kids were concerned, I handled emergencies with aplomb. Well my kids are grown and these birds are my children, but with more responsibility. They will always need me to protect them. They will always depend on me for food, shelter, medical care and affection. They are helpless in this world and I should have been more careful. I let them down. My level of attachment had become embedded in me in the short time we had to bond. This is how hoarding starts.

We all need to take time to reflect on our motivations for being in the rescue business. How long will a perfectly adoptable bird wait to be placed because of your perception that it isn’t ready, needs special consideration, needs time to transition or gave you a special look that tells you he needs more time to adjust? We have very little control over our levels of attachment. insidiously we succumb to our own delusions of grandeur. The saviour of the universe. Everyone else has duplicitous motives or are some how not good enough for our babies. It is the nature of the beast, we aren’t unfeeling robots, we have evolved to form attachments to our young because they depend on us much longer than other animals’ young. We also evolved empathy that allows us to attach to unrelated beings who need help due to illness, injury or old age. It is in our nature to NEED to help the helpless.

These feelings are not bad by themselves. Without them civilization would not have been possible. For those of us who dedicate our lives to the abandoned, abused and less fortunate, of ANY species; these feelings are particularly strong. Forewarned is forearmed. Knowing we are susceptible to over attachment can steal us to the reality of severing those ties when necessary. Altruism in moderation can be a driving force for the better in this scary world, but altruism taken to excess can lead to a compulsive need to collect the needy and down trodden until we can no longer function. It is a fine line we walk.

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