A while ago I wrote a blog post about a cockatiel called Jackie who lived in an aged care facility. She came to my attention when she was extremely ill with a chronic egg laying problem and a severe calcium deficiency. When I last wrote, she had got through those issues and was returning home. I didn’t want to remove her permanently from her home and so had found a way to help her stay there. I have been cooking for her, sending her toys, and bringing her to my place regularly for a weigh in, bathing and thorough cage cleaning. It was a way to make sure she was ok and had the support she needed.
A few weeks after she returned home, Jackie had another serious weight drop, which rang alarm bells as you can imagine. Once again, Jackie was showing signs of illness but this time she had a slight discharge from her nostrils and seemed to be panting. Once again, I found myself nursing her back to good health at my place and yes she did get through it.
It raised questions about what was going on at the aged care facility though. What caused respiratory symptoms in a bird that hadn’t been around other birds and couldn’t have picked up something contagious? What had changed in her environment to cause that? The answer was frighteningly obvious.
Jackie had lived in the same room, with the same elderly resident for about three years. Apart from the hormonal and diet-related issues, she had been healthy. What had changed was actually the health of the resident whose room she was living in. The woman Jackie lived with had taken a turn for the worse. The woman had become incontinent, the result of which was a room with higher cleaning needs. Cleaning chemicals were being used in the room more frequently and a plug in deodoriser had been switched on to mask the chemical and any other unfortunate smells.
It hadn’t occurred to any of the staff at the nursing home that this change might impact the bird because to them this wasn’t a change. To them, this was standard practice in how to care for their residents. A few questions later and I found out that there were at least 60 plug-in deodorisers in use throughout the facility. Jackie had been living in pretty much the only room that hadn’t had one with a resident who liked to keep her door closed.
So here’s the dilemma: A facility that runs like a hospital will inevitably use hospital chemicals that aren’t bird safe and that can’t simply be stopped for the sake of a bird. I can’t ask the facility to deprive their human resident of whatever chemicals she needs used. Furthermore, it isn’t ethical to leave the bird in an environment that is making her sick. But on the flip side Jackie is bonded to this resident and the resident in turn adores Jackie who is really her one and only companion – she doesn’t get visitors. Add in the other residents who also really care for Jackie – she’s their only contact with animals. The situation looked pretty hopeless.
When Jackie had returned to full health again, I sent her back but this time not to the resident’s room. Her cage had been moved to the living area. Deodorisers in there had been unplugged and the cage was located next to an external door that was usually left open during the day. The resident was livid that Jackie was moved from her room, but it seemed the only way to keep Jackie at the facility.
It didn’t work. 2 days later, Jackie was showing signs of stress and starting to mouth breathe again. She started screaming continuously and pacing. Residents were begging nurses to do something to shut her up. Unfortunately, I had to admit defeat. There just wasn’t a chemical free room in the facility that was suitable to house a bird and there was no way to completely eliminate the effects of the chemicals even in an open area.
Jackie is back living with me while I work out what to do next? She has been here for a few months now and the good news is, that she is back to full health and continues to improve daily. I’ve thrown out her old cage. As she’s not going back to the facility, she doesn’t have to deal with the same small room space restrictions and is enjoying a cage three times the size of what she is used to. Her colour has improved, her feather condition has improved and she has even learned to bathe herself.
In terms of what next? I’m now waiting anxiously for spring to see if she needs another hormone implant to prevent a recurrence of chronic egg laying? That’s when the current implant is due to wear off. Spring will answer a lot of questions about what kind of vet treatment or home she is going to need in the future. Chances are that with her history she is always going to be a special needs bird. I have got some re-homing options in mind for her if it comes to that. There is also the option of keeping her here permanently. The plus side of keeping her here is that when winter passes and the weather improves, she may be able to have daytime visits with those she loves at the aged care facility. She’d have a permanent home here but could visit the facility if I set up day cage in an outside courtyard.
In terms of what next for the residents at the aged care facility? Obviously their environment doesn’t work for a bird. Staff have found another way to give the residents contact with an animal though. They’ve been in contact with a rescue organisation and one of the staff is adopting a dog through that rescue. The dog will come to work with the staff member. The plan is for the dog to spend the day with the residents but go home with the staff member at night. The rescue organisation has found a suitable dog, saved it from a kill shelter and they’re currently putting it through some extra training in preparation for its new life.
It isn’t the outcome I’d hoped for but it could easily have been worse. It’s frightening how close Jackie came to being killed by those plug-in deodorisers. This situation has taught me to hate those things. I find myself throwing something at the television every time one of those “Make your house smell like a rainforest” adverts is screened. If I want to sniff a rainforest, I’ll go visit one!
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.