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Photograph by Eric "ug" Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

For the Birds

By Eric "ug" Carlson

PARROTS ARE supposed to live forever. So I thought it somewhat churlish of William, a Mexican Redhead Amazon parrot I have lived with for several years, to start bleeding internally, pooping out puddles of blood onto the bottom of his cage. The little brute only weighs 7 ounces, so it wouldn't take too long until he disappeared completely, perhaps into an alternate parrot universe where peanuts fall from the sky like manna. Who does one call to fix a broken bird? I did not know. And Lorie, my housemate and owner of William, did not know. Time--for William--was running out.

Fortunately, the reputation of Fern Van Sant, DVM, has preceded her, and a helpful vet directed us to her business, For the Birds (1136 S. De Anza Blvd., Suite B, San Jose). It took me about two seconds to get a warm fuzzy about the place. The premises are spotless; the birds are treated like kings and queens; the equipment and cages are top-of-the-line; and Fern and her technicians exhibit a confidence that comes from knowing what the hell they are doing. Willy received a blood transfusion from another Amazon parrot and was placed into an incubator with forced oxygen.

The bleeding stopped, and he has been improving with each passing day. He has been poked, prodded and X-rayed, but the cause of the bleeding remains elusive. William has cheated death thanks to Dr. Van Sant, but his back is still against the wall. Some things even Dr. Van Sant can't fix. William must think he is in a bird resort, as he has cockatoos, cockatiels, Amazons and even a hawk (with two broken legs) for company. Not all the birds are in for repairs; Fern provides bird boarding as well. When I walked into the room for the first time, a green parrot, speaking in a voice filled with gravitas, looked up at me and said, "Hello there."

Fern has owned and operated For the Birds since 1989. Until recently, she was the director of the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. "The commute was a bit much," she told me. A wealth of information about parrots is found on her website: www.forthebirdsdvm.com.

There you will find the caged bird's Bill of Rights, which Fern wrote after waking up in the middle of the night on the Fourth of July. "I just went straight to my keyboard and started typing." What she wrote that night might apply to any living creature: right to a clean, safe enclosure, food that promotes health, clean water, fresh air, exercise, interaction, a bath and the experience of sunlight, wind, rain and the elements of nature.

Parrots are irresistibly beautiful, sociable and talkative. That is their tragedy. They are purchased impulsively by humans clueless as to the complexity of caring for a wild animal. The birds prove too much for most and are passed from home to home (an average of seven homes in a bird's lifetime) or to a rescue center. Fern advises, "I would encourage people, before they buy a parrot: find out what that really means." She added that much of the information found on the web and elsewhere is wrong. Fern offered that if one is bound and determined to buy a parrot, give her a call; she will provide vital information to obtain and properly care for a parrot. I have already learned a thing or three from Fern, such as Cheetos are not good for a parrot. "Cheetos are a great way to whack a parrot," I was chided.

The photo above depicts Fern surrounded by Laurie, Sandra, Chris and Maxine--an African gray. (Crystal, Julie and Corina are also part of the crew.) African grays are charming to the core, but can be high-strung. A vet friend of Fern once stared into the cage of a gray, and the gray stared back and plainly spoke, "What are you looking at, puckerhead?"

Final Note: For the Birds is an ideal place to board your bird, but if you are a dog, cat or reptile person try Spots in San Jose. Spots offers cageless boarding and 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year supervision. See www.spotspets.com.

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From the February 25-March 3, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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