Parrots caught in snare of crack
Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 3:49
City Parrots in Animal cruelty, Psittacula derbiana - Derbyan Parakeet, Rescue, Welfare

Lôro quer biscoito Photo: Eduardo Pelosi

Polly want crack? Or maybe marijuana, a beer or a daily dose of cigarette smoke blown in her face?

All are familiar situations for Wendy Huntbatch, president of the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, where, among 800 rescued birds, are at least a dozen parrots withdrawing from drugs, recovering from exposure to smoke or healing after mistreatment by drug users and dealers.

"We have birds that were used as toys by drug addicts. Watching them go through withdrawal is dreadful," Huntbatch said.

Parrots are a status symbol for many people, who have no idea how to care for a noisy, demanding, long-lived bird, Huntbatch said. "They put a parrot on their arm and they think they're a pirate," she said.

The backgrounds of many birds at the World Parrot Refuge are enough to make their feathers fall out — literally.

A derbyan parakeet, usually a vibrantly coloured bird, came in with all colour sucked out of its feathers, a broken tail and a bad case of the shakes.

"He would just vibrate. It was horrible," Huntbatch said.

But the parakeet is a success story. "We have given him vitamin shots and he has done remarkably well. It took about three weeks before his colour started coming back," Huntbatch said.

Others take much longer to recover or are beyond help.

An emaciated macaw, from a Toronto drug house, had lost all its feathers by the time it arrived.

"I worked with him here every day and we managed to put some weight on him, but we never could get far. He was too damaged and he passed on," Huntbatch said sadly.

Parrots, snakes and pit bull puppies are the animals of choice for many drug dealers and users, said Penny Stone, B.C. SPCA Victoria branch manager.

"Those are the animals they are drawn to because it makes them feel macho," she said. But caring for exotic animals takes a good deal of knowledge, Stone said. "So those are the ones that suffer the most."

Birds are a specialized field and Huntbatch, who has free-flying cages so the birds can flock, is doing a vital job, Stone said.

But money is running out and, with wild-caught birds still being imported and owners continuing to breed, Huntbatch wonders what the future holds.

"I have come to the understanding that we are enablers. As long as we take away the unwanted, just like the garbage collector does, then the providers will create more new ones to tickle the fancy of buyers," she said.

Provincial gaming funding was cut off two years ago and the $400,000 annual budget has to be raised entirely from donations.

"We have managed to pay the staff this weekend, but after that, I don't know how I am going to get through," she said.

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