In an earlier blog, I wrote about the power of sanctuary. Recently, I interviewed Wesley (Wes) Savoy, who has dedicated his life to providing sanctuary for neglected and abused parrots. From the moment he gets up in the morning to the moment he goes to bed, Wes works toward providing a better life and world for parrots – all while maintaining a fulltime job. His empathy and dedication are inspiring. Here’s an abbreviated version of our conversation.
HF: Tell me about your sanctuary and rescue foundation, Parrots Forever.
WS: It’s a place for unwanted companion parrots to be rehabilitated, loved, properly cared for, and, most of all, for them to be able to be their own parrot and not someone’s idea of what they are or any parrot should be.
Unfortunately most caregivers (owners) want a parrot for what the parrot will give them, when in fact it’s up to the caregivers to be more concerned about what they can and need to provide to their companion parrot.
The foundation advocates for all parrots who need to be heard by their caregivers since most owners don’t understand or listen to their companion parrots.
HF: Why is your foundation needed?
WS: I started the foundation because of a vacuum left by Feathered Friends Avian Rescue and Resource Association (FFARRA) closing their operation sometime in 2010. People were placing their parrots on Kijiji (Canada’s most popular classifieds website) and offering them for free or little money. This perpetuates the re-homing cycle that parrots go through by allowing uninformed new caregivers taking on more than they realize, and then the cycle continues with the parrot going up for sale again and again – if they’re lucky. A lot of companion parrots are just forgotten and left to languish in a bedroom or closet for years and sometimes decades.
HF: Tell me about the emotional and psychological suffering parrots can experience and what contributes to their suffering.
WS: I write about this on our website under “Pain Parrots Feel.” I want to help people understand what parrots go through when they are held in captive environments as pets. Remember one thing: Parrots (except for Budgies and Cockatiels) are not domesticated animals.
As with all sentient beings, they have a telos.
Though you can read more about it on our site, briefly, telos is an end or purpose. It is an ancient Greek word used by philosophers such as Aristotle. All living creatures have a telos. As Bernard Rollin has said, it is what makes a fish a fish with a need to swim. It is the “pigness” of a pig with the need to forage and nest, the “catness” of a cat with the urge to hunt and run, the “birdness” of a bird with a need to make nests, to fly, and to socialize in a flock setting.
All species of animals, including humans, are “wired” with the urges to survive and procreate. We ALL have inherent natures that we are born with. And what most parrots are born “wired” to do is to be hatched into a communal setting where they are nurtured and taught by their parents. They grow and mature, secure in their position in the flock. They forage, procreate, survive daily perils, roost, and live their lives freely with their own kind. They understand and are comfortable with their world and their place in it.
Because of parrots’ intelligence and their inherent need for social interaction, it can be devastating if a parrot’s telos is not met. When we bring captive companion parrots into our homes, we set up an environment for parrots against their telos and to which parrots have to adjust—against all of their instincts. And captive companion parrots experience unstable lives of constant re-homing. Parrots may be re-homed an average of 7 to 9 times in their lifetime.
It’s not enough for a caregiver to meet basic needs such as food and water and a clean cage. The caregiver must also meet the parrot’s emotional and psychological needs, which will evolve and change in accordance with the parrot’s telos as the parrot matures.
Parrots, and indeed all animals, feel physical, emotional, and psychological pain. Companion parrots experience anxiety, loneliness, boredom, wanting, yearning, frustration, hormonal, and desire issues. Left unresolved, these stressors result in increasing unhappiness until parrots show blatant physical and behavioral signs of stress – like plucking their feathers, screaming at their caregivers, or attacking their caregivers. This usually results in the parrot being further shunned and ignored. The cage may be kept covered to keep the parrot quiet, or the cage may be placed in a closed room, a closet, basement, or even in the garage.
HF: Despite all they are up against, some birds recover. Tell me about a bird who surprised you with their level of resilience.
WS: Tobias is a male Cockatiel who is approximately 8 years old. He was purchased from a pet store in 2007 and has had two homes. Tobias’s family of 7 years was no longer able to care for him due to the caregiver’s busy lifestyle. Tobias was released to us on July 2, 2014. Tobias was not overly friendly and really zones in on looking at himself in the mirror, as with most Cockatiels, but his early propensity to do so was abnormal and unhealthy. We believe he developed this disorder due to a lack of attention from his caregivers. Tobias lived in a bedroom for the last 12 to 18 months with his former caregivers and developed a loud screeching sound to get attention.
Since being in foster care with me, Tobias’s screeching has subsided to the point that it never occurs. He likes to sing and has really come out of his shell to become a very well-rounded, confident little parrot. He is always happy now. That’s something that I didn’t anticipate since I thought he was too far-gone when he came to live with us.
When I see this type of transformation in a parrot I care for, it really amazes me what they are able to overcome given the right conditions, fairness, and freedom to be who they are – not as entertaining little play-things for us.
HF: How have your early childhood and adult experiences shaped the ways you think about parrots and other animals?
WS: I was alone and hungry most of the time growing up.
I was rejected twice from my mother when I was 7 to 9 years of age. I was sent to live in a foster home twice.
I was in the hospital when I was 4 years old for a couple of months. I remember sitting and looking out the window waiting for my mom to visit when she said she would, but she didn’t show up. This might be why I understand what it means for a parrot to wait. To wait to be heard, acknowledged, to feel like you matter and that your caregiver cares for you.
As children, we are able to grow up and escape the confines of our room, our home, and our parents’ worlds. But companion parrots are not allowed to escape when they mature, grow up, and want to mate and raise their young. They are made to wait in a cage, for all of their lives, to be acknowledged, loved, and let out.
HF: What do you think you’ve given the parrots at the sanctuary that they didn’t receive before?
WS: The feeling of being important in the every day goings-on in the home, not feeling left out, feeling like they matter and that they are here not for me, but that I’m here for them.
I don’t train parrots to do anything, or ask anything of them. I only ask that they be respectful of others and that they cannot bully or be obnoxious to me, my wife, or the other parrots around them. I treat all the parrots I care for with the utmost respect and dignity and show them that they matter. And because of that and having guidelines and rules in place, it is actually quite easy for them to be their own birds while being respectful of others and their surroundings within the home as a flock. Parrots are very intelligent and it doesn’t take much for them to understand what’s appropriate behavior when they are properly cared for, respected, and treated with dignity in a flock setting.
They are all allowed to be their own birds, to find their way, and to choose who they want to be with, in their own time without any demands from us. They are not here to entertain us. Yes, they can be and are very entertaining in their own ways when they are happy and jovial on their own terms. But that’s because they are happy and healthy mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually – not because they have been clicker trained to perform.
HF: Who was the first parrot you connected with?
WS: That was Lionel. I told a friend at work that I was looking at getting a parrot and he mentioned this to another work colleague and she happened to be a foster parent of a Moluccan Cockatoo through a bird rescue organization. I did some research and went to meet Lionel. I wanted to foster Lionel to see if I was up for caring for a parrot.
We had Lionel for 3 months when the call came that someone wanted to adopt him forever. I became concerned that they might not give him the home that he needs. We decided to adopt him so he could live with us forever. It wasn’t always easy. Although I seemed to have the right way of understanding him and giving him the attention that he needed, I would get upset at him from time to time because of his behavior and loud noises.
One day, I got very mad at Lionel and placed him back in his cage and yelled at him and slammed the door hard! He became very upset and acted out in his cage out of frustration. I was standing in the kitchen looking at him in his cage. As I was looking at him, I realized that he did not ask to be here or to be someone’s pet. I then went to his cage and let him out and apologized. He seemed to understand what I was doing and saying. I realized I was the one who wasn’t acting appropriately. From then on, I changed how I viewed and interacted with Lionel; not as a pet, but as a captive parrot. And I realized that parrots are pets because we put them in that position against their will. And how dare I feel like I’m being victimized somehow by my inability to properly care for Lionel. I was the ignorant one, not him.
Months later, as I was putting Lionel to bed, I realized how much I loved him, and if I could, I would release him. I love him so much I would want him to be free – not captive – if it were feasible, ethical, practical, and he wouldn’t be poached. He wouldn’t be locked-up anymore. But that is not the world we live in.
After we took in Lionel, we took in Marley (a Senegal parrot) and Maxwell (a Red Belly Parrot).
With 3 parrots, I was done taking in birds. So I thought.
HF: What are your plans for the future of the sanctuary? Is there anything you’d like to give them in the future that you haven’t yet been able to?
WS: Right now, we are unable to take in many parrots who need to be surrendered on an annual basis. Many slip through the cracks due to the lack of availability of good homes that are willing to give of themselves for the betterment of a creature forced to live as a pet.
My dream is to build a facility with like-minded volunteers to be able to take in more unwanted companion parrots who are in desperate need of better care.
To learn more about or support Parrots Forever, go to parrotsforever.com.