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Favourite Field Trip

pp_cooperLast weekend we drove out to Smith Falls to visit the Parrot Partner bird sanctuary in their groovy new digs. Since our last visit, they’ve become a registered charity and they’ve moved out of Judy’s house, which had been taken over by all the parrots she had rescued. You know how it goes. One parrot turns into two, then five, then seventeen, as people keep bringing you parrots because “you’re so good with them” and you can’t say no. The parrots eventually take over your house, and then they eat it, starting with the moldings and trim, and you end up living in the closet in your spare room. (I’m only half joking.)

Judy and the parrots now live in a wing of the old Rideau Regional Institute. It was built in 1951 as a residential institution for physically and developmentally challenged people, and was shut down in 2009, as Ontario moved to the community living model. The building is now called Gallipeau Centre, and it houses, among other things, a theatre, a seniors’ residence, and the parrot sanctuary.

ppshowerYou can visit any Saturday or Sunday. It’s a blast. You get to interact personally with about 30 different parrots in their cheerful new quarters. You can even put on a raincoat and hop in the shower with a parrot if you want.

Upon your arrival, Judy gives each person a little bowl of cut-up grapes and a skewer and takes you to meet the birds.

Each bird has an individualized behaviour modification plan, depending on the issues it is working on. You reward each bird with grapes for different good behaviours.

Crackers the cockatoo, for instance, was given up because she was a screamer. Now she gets a grape if she says “Hello” instead of screaming.

Molly, a little Caique, gets rewarded for stepping up nicely. One untamed bird gets rewarded if he trusts people enough to come to the skewer to take a grape. Sammy the 60-year-old cockatoo gets a grape just for being 60. A whole bunch of macaws get grapes for spreading their huge wings and showing how magnificent they are. A gorgeous, gregarious blue and gold macaw, Cooper, performed relentlessly and hung upside-down from a ceiling net and nibbled on GC’s hair. My personal favourite was a sweet, tentative African Grey named Freddie.

Parrots are complex wild animals who live for a very long time. Judy only allows educated and trained people to adopt them. Too many of these birds wound up at the sanctuary precisely because their former owners didn’t know what they were getting into, or didn’t know what to do when behaviour problems developed. Some of them were rehomed many times before reaching Judy. In order to maximize the odds of a successful adoption, Judy rehabilitates the birds and trains all adopting families. There is no adoption fee charged for the parrots, but there is a fee for the human training.

In addition to the day-to-day work of running the shelter, Judy’s been figuring out ways to raise money to pay the shelter’s bills.

There’s a gift boutique, where feather artwork and jewelry, made by volunteers, is sold.

pptrainThere’s a Summer Day Camp program, where kids learn about and work with parrots, take them for walks, make toys, and do parrot-related crafts and activities.

She depends on an active volunteer program that includes everybody from teens to seniors. She says there are volunteer tasks suitable for every ability level. “Some elderly people, all they can do is sit in a chair next to a cage for an hour,” she says. “And that’s exactly what some parrots need.” Some of their more active elderly neighbours are growing vegetables for the birds, and taking them for daily walks.

She also offers Parrot-themed birthday parties and provides parrot boarding services. And she’s always got one eye on the future, dreaming up creative ways to improve the lives of the parrots, like an outdoor aviary.

Parrot Partner is definitely worth a visit if you live anywhere around Ottawa. Take kids or fun grown-ups.

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