Parrots and PTSD

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Parrots and PTSD

I've lived with a Yellow-naped Amazon parrot for 35 years. I bought Hopi in a pet shop in Winter Park, Florida, in 1981. I'd been looking for a parrot for some time, but it had to be hand-raised, not captured in the wild for a number of reasons:  
  • the practice has decimated wild populations worldwide.
  • many are smuggled into the country and most die on the journey.
  • a wild caught bird rarely makes a good pet. 
When the pet shop owner called to say he thought he had what I was looking for, I flew up from Miami to meet her. She didn't hesitate and neither did I--in spite of the size of her beak. She walked up my arm and nestled down on my shoulder. We've been together ever since.

Hopi'd had another owner, a man who worked nights and slept during the day. Not a good mix. She knew how to say Hello, Bye-bye, T-Th-That's Nice, the Wee-Wee-Wee part of "this little piggy", and I love you, Bird. About a month after I got her, I left for a pre-planned two week vacation. Since then I've always had someone come visit and feed her every day, but I didn't have anyone back then, so I left her at my vet's office. He gave her a nice big cage which I filled with her toys, and left him a supply of pistachios, still her favorite.

Hopi is able to add inflections to her bye-byes. There have been times when I was sure, if she could, she would add, 'and don't let the door whack you in the ass on your way out.' That day, her repeated bye-bye had a devastatingly sad tone. I'm sure she thought she was being deserted once again. I was in tears as I walked to the door with her pitiful bye-byes echoing across the room. When I turned to tell her once again that I'd be back. She hooked her beak and feet around the bars of the cage, pulled herself against them, and called out loudly, "I love you, bird." 

I was a Pan Am flight attendant back then, so over the years, she got used to me leaving and reappearing once a week. She liked the young man in my apartment building whom I hired to come in every day to feed her. Her bye-byes, when she heard the zipper on my suitcase, were cheerful. She even learned to associate my rare use of the vacuum cleaner with an imminent departure, usually for a vacation. She'd see the vacuum come out and cheery bye-byes ensued. She was fond of my house-sitter, too.

A few days ago, a friend sent me this article from the NY Times. What Does a Parrot know about PTSD? It's long, but worth the read. I Googled Serenity Park, which is a home for unwanted and abandoned parrots, or parrots, whose owners have died. When I got Hopi (pronounced Hoppy) I knew parrots were long-lived--possibly as long as 85 years--but 35 years ago, I didn't give much thought to my own mortality.  I've since arranged for her to go to a close friend, who is considerably younger than I am. And now, there is this safety net in case that friend can't take her when the time comes.

My novel, The Outside of a Horse, is specifically about the therapeutic benefits of a relationship with horses, and honestly, our kinship with animals is the underlying theme of nearly all my books. It's odd, that it didn't occur to me that parrots count.

As for Hopi and me, other than screaming her head off when I'm on the phone, I think we  have a good relationship. Thank heavens she can't weigh in.