Much of our focus here at Legislative Rights for Parrots is on how we can help parrots. It's equally important to acknowledge how parrots can help us! Sensitive, social, and intelligent, parrots make excellent companions. They serve as emotional support animals, help veterans with PTSD and mental health recovery, and in several notable cases, parrots have even helped solve crimes and prevented injuries!
HOW PARROTS HELP US
Parrots as Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals, or ESA, are companions whose support alleviates some aspect of a disability. In many cases, this support allows the disabled person greater independence and emotional security. Adrianah Tucker, a Wayne State University freshman, struggled with depression from the age of 14, but she always had her pet birds as a source of support during tough periods. In Michigan, campus housing rules have recently made allowances for parrots to live in a student’s dorm housing. Brobee, a green and yellow canary winged parakeet, and Buddy, a white, blue and yellow budgerigar, live with Tucker in a room at Atchison Hall. The parrots make her feel more at home and are her family while at school.
Prior to this allowance for Tucker to live with her ESA parrots in 2019, Biology freshman Brady Lee lived with his ESA, a cockatoo named “Alpine — or Al for short” at the University of Texas. Brady had previously been diagnosed with social anxiety and depression. Al provides companionship to help with Brady’s depression, similar to Tucker’s parrots. Additionally, when people approach Brady, almost everyone comes up asking questions about the cockatoo, rather than Brady himself. This relieves some of his social anxiety and makes interactions more comfortable. This allows Brady to focus on academics rather than spending mental energy worrying about how to avoid distressing social situations on the large, populous UT campus. In addition to helping people with anxiety and depression, parrots have also shown great promise as partners in recovery programs for veterans.
Parrots and Veterans Recovery Programs
Dr. Lorin Lindner, Ph.D., MPH, has authored books and journal articles on how parrots can help traumatized veterans. Lindner was Clinical Director of New Directions for Homeless Veterans at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center. There she began an inter-species recovery program that places rescued parrots with veterans dealing with trauma. Now at Lockwood ARC, parrots that have been abandoned work with veterans suffering from PTSD, survivors’ guilt, adjusting to civilian life, coping with the reality that they have killed individuals, traumatic brain injuries, and a host of mental health issues.
The Parrots for Patriots program, which pairs abandoned birds with veterans in need throughout the Northwest, helps veterans deal with their issues by providing a sense of routine and responsibility that some veterans feel they lack after leaving service. Parrots are particularly good for this purpose as they are highly intelligent, vocal, and social. Founder Chris Driggins said, “With PTSD or any other type of mental disorder, your life is a little confused. Birds demand normalcy, and certain birds are very needy. They help you fall into a pattern — get up at this time, give me a treat at this time, give me TLC. Then you find yourself in a normal routine again. There are so many things that birds can do for you that no other animal can.” Also, as many parrot species are very long-lived, they provide a sense of stability to veterans. Paul Thomas, who served in the Air Force from 1999 to 2003, turned to birds for that exact reason. “I got tired of burying my dogs. That loss can be hard. It brings up a lot of things.” Parrots have helped with other types of loss, as well. Some parrots have assisted in solving crimes and saved lives from fires.
Parrots as Crimefighters
Many people are aware of police canines who are trained for a variety of jobs like search and rescue, detecting drugs or explosives, and community outreach. However, numerous parrots have helped police solve murder cases without any specialized training at all.
In the winter of 2015, Michigan police were left to determine what caused the fatal shooting of 45-year-old parrot owner Martin Duram. When police first arrived at the scene both Duram and his wife, Glenna, appeared to be deceased. Once the scene was safe it was found Glenna was seriously injured with two gunshot wounds to the head, while Martin was shot five times. Later, family members recorded Bud, the 19-year-old African Grey owned by Duram, repeating what appeared to be the last minutes of dialogue between the couple leading up to the shooting. "Don’t f---ing shoot," quoted Bud in Martin’s voice. African Greys are known for not only repeating what they hear, but also imitating the voice of the person who spoke the words. Glenna Duram was convicted of first-degree murder in that case. Historically, Bud is not the first parrot to help with a murder.
Gary Rasp, a 49-year-old San Jose businessman, was accused of killing his business partner, Jane Gill, in a Kenwood mansion on Nov. 3, 1991. Max, an African Grey parrot owned by the murder victim, was in the home at the time of the killing. After being removed to a pet shop for safekeeping until the case was settled, Max began repeating the statement “No, Richard, no, no, no!” The defense council wanted Max’s statements brought forth as evidence, especially in light of the fact that Gill had a former housemate by the name of Richard Mattoon, whose alibi for the time of the murder was not properly verified. Dr. Irene Pepperberg, an expert on African Greys explained “that the bird could, and likely would, accurately repeat words exchanged in a stressful situation after hearing them”. Parrots have also helped internationally to solve crimes.
In Agra, India, police initially failed to make any headway in the case of Neelam Sharma, a woman who was murdered in her own home along with her pet dog. Neelam also left behind her beloved parrot Hercule, who began to exhibit abnormal behavior when the victim’s nephew Ashutosh visited. Prior to Neelam’s death, the parrot showed no fear toward the nephew, but after her death, the parrot became scared and frantic in his presence. Neelam's husband, suspicious of this sudden change, contacted the police. Acting on the lead, the police questioned Ashutosh, who confessed to killing his aunt when she caught him stealing from her home.
In another case, 46-year-old Elizabeth Toledo was killed in a violent attack at her home in San Fernando, Argentina. A policewoman at the crime scene heard the victim's parrot mimicking a cry for help, "Ay, no, por favor, soltame!" (No, please, let me go!). According to Laurel Braitman, a science historian and writer-in-residence at Stanford University, a parrot can form a powerful emotional bond with its owner and suffers significant trauma if it sees that owner come to harm. Braitman also notes, “[Parrots are] also more likely to repeat something if there is a person close to them who is speaking with emotional urgency." The parrot's words were submitted into evidence during the trial, where Toledo's two male roommates were charged with her rape and murder. In addition to helping solve crimes, there are numerous incidents of parrots alerting their owners to dangers such as fire.
Parrots as Protectors
In 2020, Anton Nguyen of Queensland, Australia, became extremely glad to be a parrot owner when his pet Eric began to scream “Anton!” repeatedly in the middle of the night. The parrot’s yelling woke Nguyen, who smelled the smoke and saw flames at the rear of his house when he went to investigate. While parrots are obviously not a substitution for smoke detectors, the noise Eric made actually woke Nguyen before his smoke detectors went off. Thanks to the early warning, Nguyen escaped the fire that destroyed his two-story house along with Eric and few of his possessions.
Another family was saved in Lebanon, Tennessee, when a green-cheeked conure named Louie woke his owners, Barbara and Larry Klein, with cries of “fire!”. This was all the more startling as the family had no idea that Louie had learned the word, let alone its meaning. The Kleins and their young granddaughter survived the house fire, though Larry was badly injured trying to rescue the family pets who unfortunately did not survive. Barbara called Louie a true hero, and the Kleins have named their new parrot "Louie Jr." in his honor.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a family was awakened by their Indian Ringneck parakeet, Pearly. The sudden squawking roused the Niesel family around 3:45 in the morning, alerting them to the presence of a smoke inside their home. Due to Pearly's warning, not only did the family escape, but the fire department was able to quickly contain the fire.
Parrots are intelligent and amazing companions who have saved human lives in many ways. This is why Legislative Rights for Parrots feels it is imperative to not only advocate for stronger laws to protect parrots from abuse and neglect, but also to create overall standards of care for rescues, rehabilitation centers, sanctuaries, breeders, boarding facilities, and pet stores.
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