Friday, March 10, 2017

FAMILY DYNAMICS - A Cautionary Tale (or Tail)

Auggie Thomasson

This is a personal story about my family.  I haven't seen anything like this in print when perusing parrot sites, or getting the weekly updates from some well-known avian websites.  I think that it's worth sharing, because, I just  don't believe that my "family" is the only one that has experienced what mine has with the dynamics of different animal species under one roof.

We have always had dogs in our household.  And parrots came into the fray in full force almost thirty years ago.  For many, many years, everything was copacetic.  Everyone got along, whether two-legged or four,  pretty much, with some careful supervision by us.  

We have two dogs right now, and five big birds in the house.   Our dogs are thirteen and twelve years of age.   The twelve-year-old is a gentle boy, German shepherd/Australian Shepherd mix.  And this "tail" is about him.   His name is Auggie and he has noise anxiety.  Noise anxiety? Yup...there is such a thing, and canines are susceptible to this condition.    Here is how we finally were able to come to this diagnosis:

Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
A number of years ago, I brought two lovebirds into my flock.   They were as wild as a March hare, bonded dearly to each other,  chirped incessantly and preciously, and after a few years, both began suffering from seizures and a number of  other health issues.  They were under the care of my avian vet until they both passed away.   But...while they were alive, a strange thing began happening:  the lovebirds seemed to choose the middle of the night to have seizures, which meant one would end up in the bottom of the cage struggling until the seizure passed.   Our bird room is next to our master bedroom, and the dogs have always slept in the bedroom with us.   Whenever one of the lovebirds would have a seizure, we knew because Auggie (all 80 pounds of him) would climb up on the bed and literally stand over our heads to wake us let us know. The bird made no chirping sounds...just fluttering, floundering.   We would immediately go to the lovebirds' cage and hold the bird until the seizure passed.  Lassie truly let us know that Timmy was on the tracks.

At first we thought that this was some innate 6th sense that Auggie had (and possibly actually has) and though he seemed alarmed, he settled down once the bird was attended to.   And, as I mentioned, we finally lost those two little birds.  I dearly missed them and what they added to the ambience of our home, and so we adopted two more little wild lovebirds to replace them.   And then...Auggie's behavior started changing.

Whenever the new lovebirds would chirp or ring their little bells or flutter around their cage, Auggie became frantic.   He pinned his ears back, he tucked his tail, and he looked for anywhere  to escape the pain he was experiencing.  That included, if he went into the back yard and away from the birds, trying to dig under the fence, trying to squeeze between a gate and the fence to escape. If still inside, he paced indoors...all the time exhibiting a frantic look in his eyes that was just simply TERROR.   We made a decision after watching our dog be so very miserable:   we chose to ask a friend to care for the lovebirds until we no longer had Auggie.   My reasoning was that the lovebirds would outlive my dog, the birds would be in loving care in the interim, and Auggie would have some peace.  

For nearly five years now, my lovebirds have lived with my friend, and Auggie occasionally struggles with noises from our five big birds. But it is not as traumatic for him now as it was with the lovebirds that he had to endure.  He is on a minimal  dose of anxiety medication and also wears a collar with synthetic dog pheromones, which seem to give him  relief.   He avoids the birds, the bird room, and he still flinches when there are big flutters and typical raucous outbursts.  But we are aware and try to make sure he is as comfortable as possible.  He deserves it.  He is a great dog.  

And so... the cautionary "tail:" if you share your home with animals other than birds (furry, four-legged), be observant.   Yes, dogs can act "scared" of birds and avoid them.   But look closely into your animals' eyes and watch their body language as well; is it just a normal balancing of pecking order in your home, or is your dog or possibly cat experiencing an anxiety disorder like Auggie does?   

Lastly, please transfer this observance to your flock.   Watch how your birds interact, caged together or individually,  next to each other.  Can you see aggression or fear between birds?   If there is discomfort, do them a favor and adjust their living situation (separate them, juggle cage locations or rooms, even) so that they don't have to live "on guard" all of the time.  It's not a pleasant way to live. It's not a good thing to watch.   It is  something we can change and improve.