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From Friends of Animals: May Birds Know A World Without Cages

January 03, 2006 | Monk Parakeet

On National Bird Day, 5 January 2005, Friends of Animals will celebrate birds' freedom to fly, wherever they are in the world.

Just to our South, the New York Companion Bird Club will be celebrating in a different manner.

Although they will be hearing about activism on behalf of Connecticut's monk parakeets during an event held at the New York Theosophical Society, bird enthusiasts will also raffle off prizes from Grey Feather Toy Creations, and listen to Robert A. Monaco, DVM, speak about "state-of-the-art medicine and surgery for avian and exotic animal companions." The raffling off of a "bird gym" will fund the transportation of a bigger cage for a nursing home-based cockatoo. But unfortunately, Grey Feather Toys sees the event as an opportunity to promote "the outstanding quality of their products" and herald themselves as "one of the leaders of the avian toy market" for Bird Club members.

Overall, the planned Bird Day event is a promotion of cages, not freedom. Because it's advertised as taking place at the New York Theosophical Society, it carries the appearance of Society's endorsement. (To date, the Society has not commented.)

On 14 January 2005, the Theosophical Society will provide the venue for Larry D.D. Clifford to speak, exhibiting a macaw. Clifford, the owner of the Exotic Parrot Breeding Aviary, trains animals for Sea World and other shows and television commercials. Clifford's trainees include cetaceans, sea lions, parrots, grizzly bears, and big cats. For a fee -- $65 for single, $85 for couples -- Clifford will show how people can correct unwanted habits in pet birds, and train birds to talk. This is an upscale yet circus-like event staged on the Society's premises. Other animals were not put on this earth to be objects of our amusement.

Due to the disturbing mix of subjects described above, we at Friends of Animals want to be clear that we do not endorse these events.

Said Friends of Animals legal director Lee Hall, "The Theosophical Society's mission is to cultivate the spiritual growth of humanity. A pioneer in its history was the acclaimed vegetarian doctor Anna Kingsford, who spoke of the inherent value of animals other than ourselves. To offer a venue for patently exploitive promotions is to flout the Society's best traditions."

We urge people everywhere to rethink the idea of owning, breeding, or trading birds in captivity. For every day is Bird Day -- a day when beings born to fly freely should enjoy that experience.

Those who agree should feel empowered to ask the New York Theosophical Society not to host promotions by Grey Feather Toy Creations (5 Jan), or the Members-Only Exotic Bird Training Workshop by Larry D.D. Clifford (14 Jan), or to invite such promotions in the future.

It is no justification that a Bird Club thought up and organized these events. They do not merit hosting in a Theosophical Society venue.

Lyn Trotman
The New York Theosophical Society

The Friends of Animals Contact for this Release is:
Laurel Lundstrom
Phone: 203.656.1522
Fax: 203.656.0267


The recent decision of officials in Rome, Italy, to ban the keeping or selling of goldfish this past October - - is an unprecedented and hopeful sign for future municipal decisions on behalf of so-called "domesticated" animals. Perhaps Rome, or another forward-thinking government, will ban the caging of birds in the near future. For the time being, January 5 is a great opportunity for all activists to grab some leaflets (print your own from the Web if you don't have any professionally-printed leaflets on hand), locate your nearest pet store or shopping center, and distribute them liberally. You don't need a group with you - do it yourself. Good luck. Caged birds are counting on all of our efforts now. [Blog editors' note: Good parallel and call to action from Marc Delaney. We'll also be keeping up with the develoments in Rome through our quarterly magazine. Thank you for your dedication and for writing in.]

If bird owners would relinquish their interest in preserving trade in birds, that would be progress. One parrot sanctuary told us they receive 20 calls each week from bird -owners who are sick and tired of their birds, and seek to dump them on a sanctuary holding more than 200 parrots. That's the sordid truth that needs to be told to anyone who puts a positive spin on viewing birds as pets. The economics is about supply and demand. Priscilla Feral Friends of Animals

It would seem to me that saving the Connecticut Quaker Parrots and being a responsible bird owner are not incompatible. There are so many parrots in captivity--many discarded by owners who were not aware of the commitment required, and incapable of fending for themselves in the wild--that there will be parrots and other birds eligible for adoption to a committed, informed, home for generations to come. Your condemnation of the event assumes that these people are irresponsible. Would you not rather birds be true companions in loving homes than be discarded or euthanized? I would suggest more focus on putting bird mills out of business than hounding the New York Theosophical Society, the venue for an event attended by people committed to the well-being of all birds. [Blog editors' note: The reason that the parrots are in this bind in the first place -- here, yet facing harassment by those who point to their South American origins -- is the pet trade. Worth noting.]

The reason parrots are in this bind because of the bird mill industry and people who buy birds on impulse who have no idea what they are getting into. There are 40,000,000 pet birds in the U.S.. They cannot be let back into the wild. They cannot all be sent to some sanctuary--sanctuaries that are already full to bursting, and which, in the end, are only bigger cages. Your blog comment that "this is why we're in this bind in the first place" doesn't do anything to educate bird owners or the public and is tinged with "holier than thou." If you truly care about these captive birds, then you would welcome efforts to educate the people who are prepared to make the commitment, for example, to take parrot into their house, care for it for the rest of their lives, and to provide it the interaction, stimulation, exercise and quality of life it deserves as one of God's creatures--and, in many cases, make provision in their will and with their families and relatives to insure that level of care into the future. Furthermore, you would seek to encourage such people to support your efforts to end captive commercial breeding and to protect wild birds from poaching. Your commentary only alienates those people most whose support you need. Even if you eliminated bird mills and poaching today, most of us will be dead and buried while the captive bird population which cannot care for itself in the wild still numbers in the tens of millions. To condemn bird owners by lumping them together as a single class of irresponsible individuals makes your cause and case less, not more, persuasive, and denigrates the cause of looking after the captive birds alive today with love and responsibility. If we could turn back the clock, certainly, there are better scenarios one would wish for than 40,000,000 captive birds, a significant portion of which are improperly cared for and/or abandoned. To wring our hands over the situation may make us feel better as humans, but without expanding the number of informed, responsible, and committed bird owners, things will only get worse--not better--for the current captive bird population. Most of all, "informed" also (!) means people who want to be bird owners, and who, being properly informed and educated, determine they are not prepared to make the commitment. Whether they, at that point, believe "all birds should be free" is immaterial--what is of paramount importance is that they know enough not to become part of the current problem. If you have any commitment to the proper care of of birds in captivity and to stemming the problem of irresponsible ownership which you yourselves indicate got us to our current state, then hounding the Theosophical Society and seeking to deny a venue for *responsible* people to gather and discuss issues is hurting those birds, not helping them. Best regards, Peter [Blog editors' note: There seem to be a few basic misunderstandings, so let's try to clarify. Please know: (a) We do not advocate releasing pet birds into the environment; (b) Nor do we advocate taking all birds and putting them into a sanctuary. ( c) What we do advocate is allowing birds who are living freely and integrated into the ecosystem their peace. These birds did not need rescue. All that they needed, and still need, is to be allowed to carry on with their lives. That freedom from being managed itself is a core part of the "quality of life" that matters most to any group of conscious beings born into the world. In contrast to what you write, we are trying affirmatively to educate the public rather than to accept the status quo that assumes other animals are to be controlled (either by industry or humane groups). We do not say this in order to alienate people. Almost certainly every one of us was brought up in a society and with parents who told us it was perfectly acceptable and right to own birds or other animals. We don't condemn people with these views; we simply hope to point to another possible way of thinking. We welcome critique and debate, but would be remiss not to point out that captivity will have a cyclical effect. As long as people own birds, there will be those people to whom you refer as irresponsible owners. One more clarification: After talking with the Theosophical Society, we know that the Society did not in fact endorse the promotion for the bird cage vendor or the wild animal trainer and parrot breeder. Thank you for writing.]

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I wholly agree with your position to educate people to another way of thinking regarding the traditional view of captive birds. I would also challenge you to a different way of thinking--did you attend the presentation that you labelled as "birds as toys?" It would seem to me that the kind of constant attention and social interaction required to "train" a bird--and I have met enough parrots to know that they don't do anything they don't want to do--is precisely the kind of level of stimulation that can lead to a happy and rewarding life for both bird and human. If we don't label the activity as something denigrating and harmful to the bird, that it has real potential positive value. If you had attended any of these events and rendered an objective report after the fact, and offerred constructive suggestions, then that would be appropriate. However, to use phrases such as "disturbing" and spinning event announcements to fit your agenda is neither constructive nor inclusive. Most of all, I urge you to actively pursue responsible bird owners as allies--rather than lodging complaints--which has no positive message or reinforcement associated with it and is not in keeping with the spirit of "simply pointing out another way of thinking." Consider reaching out to such events as opportunities to talk and present positively and constructively. Sincerely, Peter

A key part of what Priscilla Feral calls "relinquishing this interest" involves thinking of birds in a respectful way, allowing the birds to be the measure of their own life experiences. Perhaps we should actively examine and question the idea that birds will reach their best potential if provided a good, human education. Lee Hall, Friends of Animals

About... "That's the sordid truth that needs to be told to anyone who puts a positive spin on viewing birds as pets. The economics is about supply and demand." I was not "spinning" a positive view. If the bird trade disappeared today, there are millions of birds that need responsible, caring owners--that is, competent and commited *adoptive* parents. If we do not educate and solicit people to be informed and responsible adopters/owners, then our only other alternative is to euthanize captive birds by the millions. My wife's best friend and her husband took in a parrot (from an irresponsible relative) that had been so neglected she had plucked herself clean. That parrot now lives in a loving home full of caring and social interaction, is regrowing her feathers, and is learning friendship and trust. The reality is captive birds need owners--they cannot return to the wild, and sanctuaries are already strained beyond capacity with just the birds which are so mentally and/or physically damaged that they are beyond the capabilities of the average individual to care for. Eliminating bird ownership is a noble long term goal. *Until then*, our only option to address *today's* captive bird problem is to make owners part of the solution, not to disparage them as the cause of the problem--we cannot change what has gone before, only deal with the situation as it is. If our *sole* concern is for the birds, then--for the present--we have to put aside our personal feelings about the sordidness of bird ownership. Peters [Blog editors' note: Here you present a false dilemma. We can care about the birds who are already in captivity and yet still reprehend the bird trade, and not promote events that advance the trade. For example, say we are in a club that decides to promote an event featuring an animal trainer who breeds parrots. This is one of the events that happened in New York. Can we then say -- if we support that event or decline to question it -- that our sole concern is for the birds? It is not disparagement to express an opposing point of view. It is, indeed, a responsible act, aligned with your statement that "[e]liminating bird ownership is a noble long term goal."]

I believe the dilemma for you, as I state it, is a real one. Given today's captive bird population in the tens of millions, birds will be "owned" for decades to come. It's noble (and simple) to lump bird owners and the bird trade together as one "sordid" mess to be eradicated--yet, in the meantime, pursuing *responsible* bird owners--an easy-to-find target--will only drive away the people whose support you and the birds most need. That is your dilemma--you would seem to prefer to just treat all bird ownership and owners as "the problem." Reality is rarely that simple. Larry is not a bird mill. The people who attended these meetings are not people who heat unattended Teflon cookware to 500+ degrees turning their birds' lungs into a bloody pulp or who keep their parrots in empty rooms in cages so small their tails stick out. These are people who are incensed at irresponsible, neglectful, abusive owners and at arguably avicidal outfits like Connecticut's United Illuminating Company. Your real dilemma is that there is *so* much to do, you will never accomplish your goals without recruiting these people as active allies. Finding their activities "disturbing" draws a clear line of demarkation and unwelcome. That is the point which I am trying to make. I am not at all conflicted in being supportive of responsible bird ownership with a goal of reducing or eliminating bird ownership in the (realistically distant) future. On the other hand, your dilemma is that you see yourselves as condoning ownership (and all its sordid evils) if you reach out to responsible owners. Ultimately it's your choice whether or not to avail yourself of that resource and energy. If not, then the sheer number of birds involved dictates your cause will be more about feeling good about your cause than about impactful results. Results do not come from the purity *of* your cause, results come from recruiting people *to* your cause. Best regards, Peters [Blog editors' note: The view of Friends of Animals — an animal rights advocacy group — is that breeding parrots in and for captivity is part of the problem, not part of the answer. You believe that there are responsible bird breeders (apparently good) and mills (apparently bad). The precise thing we are questioning here is the thing your argument takes for granted. (The 20 calls a week, cited by Priscilla Feral in the comment of the 16th, are from owners of birds from all types of breeders -- the point is simply that they are bred.) So we urge you to rethink this, rather than repeat the argument; otherwise this becomes circular or last-wordism. Please understand that we do want unity; but we seek a principled unity. Again, thanks for posting your views.]

Peters wrote, "The people who attended these meetings are not people who heat unattended Teflon cookware to 500+ degrees turning their birds' lungs into a bloody pulp or who keep their parrots in empty rooms in cages so small their tails stick out. These are people who are incensed at irresponsible, neglectful, abusive owners and at arguably avicidal outfits like Connecticut's United Illuminating Company." Thank you. I did not attend the meeting, but I do live with a bird. (I can't say I own him. If anything, he owns me, for every decision I make, from what's for dinner to what time to turn the lights out, hinges how it will affect him.) I accept, as reality, that there will always be a demand for pet birds. That does mean I disagree that the total elimination of "bird ownership" is possible. Decreased demand, sure, but total elimination? No. With 6 billion people on the planet, there will always be someone who wants a bird as a pet. As such, I don't have a problem with conscientious breeders: those who will not sell unweaned birds, those who use a varied gene pool, and those who thoroughly screen all families who wish to have a bird. I would much rather see birds born, hand-raised, and imprinted on humans than taken out of the wild, which I feel is absolutely unforgivable. A bird born free should stay free because a bird born free will never adapt to life as a pet and will have a short, miserable life, just as a bird raised by hand and imprinted on humans will never adapt to life in the wild. Moreover, the conditions of smuggling and importation when birds are taken out of the wild are nothing short of reprehensible, and I do everything I can to educate people about this. I also do everything I can to dissuade people from getting birds on a whim, because I'm well aware of what happens to birds who are punished simply for behaving like birds--revolving homes, abuse, neglect, and so on. Many, many times, people have told me that they never knew how much work caring for a bird really is, and many, many times, they've told me they didn't know how emotional and social birds are. I've actually talked people out of getting them, once they realized all it entails. Currently, I live with one bird, but I hope to adopt another from a sanctuary. They are flock creatures, and my avian companion needs an avian friend. And, I also want to do my part to alleviate the crisis facing unwanted birds. I encourage anyone who, after hearing all I have to say about the care and love of a bird (and that's a LOT!), is still thinking of getting one to contact a sanctuary FIRST, just as I would encourage anyone thinking of getting a dog or cat to go to the pound first. If you consider that "unprinicpled" or "part of the problem," there's not much I can do about it. You have your mission, and I respect that. But it appears to me that my resources and energy might be appreciated more by an organization that recognizes that issues like this are not black-and-white. To be lumped in with people who run bird mills and to have my own efforts categorized as part of the "sordid truth" is off-putting and alienating to me indeed. [ Blog editors' note: Thanks for respecting Friends of Animals' work to assure that birds have the freedom to live their own lives in nature. On a trip earlier this month to Senegal, we saw someone in the street with 3 caged parrots -- birds who had just been caught in the bush, and were likely destined for prisons known as bird cages in the U.S., or Britain. That there's a commercial market for pet birds, drives the nefarious bird trade. It will stop when consumers change their minds about whether birds are deserving of freedom, or whether they're commodities who exist for human-defined purposes. What's needed is an educational campaign to halt the breeding, sale and trade in birds. They're not pets, and we're not their companions. They deserve respect for living their lives in their own ways, and on their own terms.]

I would observe that it's not worth the risk for someone to import poached birds into the U.S. (or the U.K.). The penalty in the U.S. is a felony conviction with five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. These people are caught, are fined, and are imprisoned. The EU, additionally, banned bird imports in October--for now, associated with avian flu fears; however, there is a strong movement to ban imports [of poached birds] throughout the EU. Since you didn't determine where the Senegalese birds were bound, you can't simply say they were "likely" destined for "prison" life in the United States. That's a minor point, however. Let's say Terri and I renounce our "sordid" ways. Let's say we shut down all the bird mills. What do you suggest we, and the millions of others of responsible (and irresponsible) bird owners out there do with our birds and all the birds in sanctuaries today? "That's not the point, birds should be free!" (admittedly my summarization of your general position) may be a viewpoint of "principled unity," but it does little to solve today's bird problem or to enlist people to solve it. If your sole agenda is to eliminate all bird ownership, I can respect your cause. But don't do it by alienating responsible bird owners who are trying to improve the circumstances of captive birds. Or by decrying their meetings as "promotions of cages, not freedom." That's a squandering and misdirection of your resources that engenders more ill will than support--and does nothing to solve today's bird problem. [Blog editors must butt in one more time here and repeat what still seems to need clarification: No one is saying not to look after the birds who are currently dependent on owners. What's being asked is that captivity and breeding cease to be promoted. To do that effectively, we suggest actually coming out and denouncing it.]


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