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The Gabriel Foundation: A home for birds

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Rhett, Scarlet, and Jade are good parrots. They loved their human “mom,” and never (OK, rarely) misbehaved. But through no fault of their own, they suddenly found themselves homeless when their owner fell seriously ill and could no longer properly provide for them.

It’s always heart-wrenching to give up beloved pets, but that decision is even harder when there’s no safe place to relinquish the animal. Traditionally, dog and cat owners have had some options, but fewer choices existed for pet birds -- especially larger parrots that require plenty of space and more experienced owners. These birds often bounce from home to home, sometimes confined to tiny cages, largely ignored, and subsisting on a substandard diet. It’s not that people are intentionally cruel, but caring for a parrot is not as familiar or intuitive as caring for more common household pets, such as dogs and cats.

Finding a haven

Like Rhett and friends, some birds are victims of a loving and responsible owner’s failing health or finances. Other birds, especially parrots, are bought on a whim by people seeking a trendy pet, and then dumped when the novelty of caring for such a high-maintenance and long-lived creature wears off.

In 1996, Julie Weiss Murad, an avian behavioral consultant from Colorado, put her talents to work to create the perfect haven for abandoned parrots. She named it “The Gabriel Foundation” to honor the memory of her beloved hyacinth macaw that died at age two from an intestinal blockage.

Since then, The Gabriel Foundation has grown into a world-renowned educational and rescue facility. What makes TGF so unique? “We set the highest standard of care, not just for birds, but for the people who own them,” said Patti Christie, a certified veterinary technician and registered nurse who gave up nursing to work full-time for the foundation. “We work with the veterinary community to provide the care and education needed to keep birds in their homes whenever possible, and to provide potential bird owners all the tools needed for success. Education is our number one commitment.”

This proactive approach to bird ownership has created many happy endings for pet birds, and garnered the respect of both the veterinary and aviculture communities. The organization, according to its purpose and mission statement, focuses on six aspects of parrot welfare: educational outreach, conservation, rescue, rehabilitation, adoption, and sanctuary.

  • Educational outreach includes classes, lectures, printed materials, internships, and a host of other avenues designed to create an awareness of parrot care and conservation.
  • Conservation efforts are important not just to protect parrots in their natural habitats, but also to help us better understand our pet birds in captivity. TGF works with the conservation community worldwide and provides both funding and educational assistance.
  • Rescue is an important part of TGF’s work in the community. Lost, abandoned, and abused birds are brought to the shelter for evaluation and treatment.
  • Rehabilitation of surrendered birds can include veterinary treatment for physical injuries or illnesses, nutritional evaluation and improvement, and behavioral and socialization assistance.
  • Adoption is the ultimate goal for birds that have been successfully rehabilitated by the facility. TGF’s staff works closely with prospective owners to ensure that they are committed to providing the specialized care and love required to keep a parrot healthy and happy for life.
  • Sanctuary is provided for birds that are not suitable as pets for a variety of reasons, such as chronic illness or disability, or for those birds that simply do not enjoy the company of humans. These parrots are tended by the devoted staff, and they live out their lives with others of their species in the state-of-the-art facilities.

“Birds tend to get lost in the public perception,” Christie said. “They have long-term needs [due to their long life expectancies] and money is always a struggle. About 85 percent of our relinquished birds come to us with no funding, and often need intense dietary and veterinary intervention.”

Rhett, Scarlet, and Jade might not understand the sacrifices and struggles these hard-working volunteers suffer on their behalf, but that’s OK. The happy ending that occurs when they settle into new loving homes is reward enough for everyone.

Credit: Reviewed by Dr. Greg J. Harrison, DVM, Diplomate Emeritus American Board of Veterinary Practitioners -- Avian Practice, Dip ECAMS (retired)
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