Animals and humans both suffer from anxiety – it’s very common, and nothing to be ashamed of, though sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. Veterans returning from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder might seek out counseling or receive medication. But what about something that doesn’t require a prescription? Here is one high-flying option!
Many of us have heard of or met therapy dogs, even therapy horses and cats… but what about therapy birds? Meet the feathered friends of Birds of Paradise Sanctuary & Rescue, located in Bradenton, Florida.
Founded in 2011, they are one of two organizations in the U.S., the other being Serenity Park Parrot Sanctuary, in Los Angeles, who have found a way to rescue birds who have been abused, abandoned or owner-surrendered, and assist military veterans at the same time.
Dogs speak with their eyes and body language; many birds can verbally express their empathy, which can be lifesaving. Jim Eggers, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, would have loud mood swings. When he felt one coming on, he would start saying “calm down”. His bird, an African Grey Parrot named Sadie, saw what was happening, and learned how to say “calm down”. When Eggers hears Sadie, he comes out of his state and regains control.
BOP founder, Debbie Huckaby, is not surprised, “They can understand speech and they can speak back to you. The parrots are very intuitive so instinctively if there’s something wrong with you they’re going to pick up on that.”
Parrots are intelligent creatures who can bring joy, as long as they have owners willing to spend the time and energy to care for these empathetic birds. And many come to BOP with severe issues. Birds are flock animals, and may become depressed from loneliness, pulling out their feathers. There is currently a waiting list of 40 parrots looking for sanctuary, from Ohio and North Carolina alone.
One veteran who spends much of his time alongside Ms. Huckaby, caring for the BOP birds, is Greg Para. Para, who battles PTSD after serving in Afghanistan, couldn’t go out in crowds. “I couldn’t go out with cars trying to just cut in. It created a lot of anxiety because that’s what they would do in Afghanistan, try to cut into the convoys and separate them and blow up and all that stuff.”
And then he got involved with BOP:
“The more time I spent with the birds it kind of got me out of that … my nightmares became less.”
BOP offers their PTSD program to help treat veterans like Para. The winged creatures, able to interact with other birds, flourish under their care, while the vets bond with the intelligent animals. Says Para,
“The more they get to know you, they let their guard down they start healing, you let your guard down, you forget that you are wondering if there’s a package over there that’s gonna blow up.”
As part of their program, BOP also shelters the birds of deployed veterans, such as little Paco, giving military families peace of mind. They know their feathered family members will be safe till they return from their deployment or out of country travel.
Like any rescue, they heavily on volunteers – many of whom are also veterans. One survivor who has found solace among parrots says, ‘‘Their spirit gives me the will to get up and do it another day. They’re all victims here. Kind of like what the veterans have been through, in a way.’’
BOP is a safe haven for abused or unwanted exotic birds, regardless of species, age, special needs or behavior issues. If you’re interested in assisting, please click here or here, Paypal: firstname.lastname@example.org or snailmail: Birds of Paradise Sanctuary, 17020 Waterline Road, Bradenton, FL 34212.
Like that? ShelterMe.tv has a NEW episode featuring Ms. Jane Goodall, called “Shelter Me: Community Matters”. To find out more, click here!