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Some of the birds taken in by Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary have strong bonds to one another and can’t be separated.

Bird sanctuary struggles for money after rescuing hundreds of parrots

Almost a year has passed since a Vancouver animal-rescue organization took responsibility for Canada’s largest animal rescue

By Flavia Santia and Masa Kanaan , in City , on March 29, 2017

The team at Greyhaven tries to make special cages to fit each individual parrot’s personality. (Sharon Nadeem)

Almost a year has passed since a Vancouver animal-rescue organization took responsibility for Canada’s largest animal rescue, when it took in 584 parrots left homeless after their caretaker died.

Now, the non-profit Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary is struggling to keep up with the costs of caring for the rescued parrots.

“The birds were kind of left in peril with not much of a financial future to support them,” said Catherine Gwyer, the sanctuary’s business development director.

The exotic birds were found last August in horrible living conditions after Wendy Huntbach, the owner of the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs, on Vancouver Island, died. She didn’t leave any guidance regarding the future of the birds and members of the parrot-refuge board resigned, leaving Greyhaven with no other option than to step in and take action.

Rescuing almost 600 birds was anything but easy for a volunteer-run organization that relies completely on fundraisers and donations and that usually only takes in a few birds at a time. According to Gwyer, though, the situation at the previous shelter was so dire that they decided to take in the birds as soon as possible.

Then began an ongoing struggle to secure funding in order to guarantee a life for these creatures.

It costs Greyhaven about $8,000 a month to rent a new facility for the parrots, as well as to provide food and care for the birds. Medical care for the birds can be astronomical, although the society is trying to spread out those costs to make them manageable.

But the sanctuary’s forethought has allowed them to survive thus far.

“Greyhaven has been around since 1998 and we have slowly been building our own fund to open our own small shelter and adoption centre,” said Gwyer. “If it wasn’t for that nest egg, we wouldn’t have been able to take on a project to this magnitude.”

Challenges arise from the adoption process

 The passionate team of members and volunteers involved has managed to get more than half of the 584 parrots adopted in spite of a complicate adoption process. According to the volunteers, building a relationship between the parrot and its future owner is crucial. 

Staff are counting down the number of birds remaining to be adopted.  (Sharon Nadeem)

“They are not domesticated animals; they are still running on their belief system that they are autonomous,” says Lorraine Livesay, who has been volunteering at the centre since last August. “I have a bird that doesn’t like women and so she’s been handed from house to house and she’s had eight owners, because she doesn’t like women.”

Livesay also says the exotic animals require a greater level of care and commitment than the average pet. A parrot, once it establishes a relationship with its owner, cannot be left alone for long periods of time, as people usually do with other pets like dogs and cats. Parrots fall ill easily, leading to expensive medical attention from veterinary clinics.

An adoption co-ordinator is present throughout the adoption process to ensure that the future owner is aware of the needs of the animal and has prepared their home to take in a bird.

The entire process and the staff required comes at a cost that cannot be compensated for by the price of adoptions. The adoption fees, dependent on the size of the bird, range from $15 to over $700, which doesn’t even cover the monthly expenses Greyhaven faces for the care of a single bird.

Lack of support has led to hosting several fundraisers

Staff and volunteers at Greyhaven are regularly organizing fundraising events to ensure they don’t run out of resources.

The sanctuary has received little support from the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose mandate includes protecting and improving the life of animals.

Gwyer describes the initial grant of $20,000 from the SPCA as “a drop in the bucket for [Greyhaven].” The SPCA also provided help after the rescue by loaning its facilities to Greyhaven, but it is not currently offering other funding for the parrots’ care.

Marcie Moriarty, the chief prevention and enforcement officer at the SPCA, explains that the association did everything in its power to help.

“We provided assistance but, like with other exotic rescues, we have our policies and procedures,” says Moriarty. “We did our job. It is up to those organizations to budget and put policies for adoption.”

Pictures of new owners show off the successful adoptions at Greyhaven to date. (Sharon Nadeem)

Jan Robson, the communication director for Greyhaven, thinks the SPCA should have taken responsibility for the parrots’ rescue, even if its expertise isn’t with birds.

“Twenty thousand dollars don’t even cover our monthly cost. They have said they had done their bit and that they were not the experts in birds. But I guess my question would be, ‘You are the mandated animal rescue organization in the province so, even if you are not the expert, you get somebody else who is.’”

Despite the lack of funding and the adoption challenges, the team of staff and volunteers at Greyhaven remain confident that they will eventually guarantee a home for every parrot at the sanctuary.

According to Robson, adoptions have been successful thus far and only three or four of the parrots have been returned to them.

They can be noisy and challenging, but as volunteer Lorraine Livesay says, “If they love you, and they choose you, then you have a companion for life.”