In April, I wrote about Angus rallying your support in signing a petition that would force the RSPCA to take action against Justin Lawther and remove Angus from his care.
The Committee To Save Angus was formed, spearheaded by Mel Vincent, an animal rescuer in Australia, and included others from both sides of the globe. The story spread like wildfire within the avian community. The Angus Facebook page was monitored around the clock, as were the pages of the RSPCA and the Victoria Police.There was, and is, continued news coverage. Everyone now knew and loved Angus – and hated Justin Lawther.
The committee were good enough to include me in their communications, and I was able to watch this story unfold, although most of the information had to be kept quiet so as not to interfere with the investigation. They spoke of the RSPCA’s failure to get the job done and they pressed on with the petition that was designed to humiliate this organization into action. Mel met with them personally to present the petition, which now had thousands of signatures.
The RSPCA functions in an entirely different capacity than does the SPCA here in the states. Here, the SPCA is an empowered animal welfare group that investigate claims of abuse and acts accordingly to build cases that are passed onto the authorities for prosecution. The RSPCA is more like a division of the police force that deals only in animal welfare and are able to act on their own. Animal related cases reported to the police are turned over to the RSPCA.
At the point where it appeared that the RSPCA were dropping the ball and backing out of involvement in the Angus case, the committee decided that the best option left to work with was to get in touch with Lawther themselves. Since it was apparent that he intended to keep this bird, which he always claimed he had bought from a pet store, it was their hope that they could reach him on a human level. The only thing left within anyone’s power at this point was to educate this man about the care of his bird.
He later provided pictures and videos that confirmed his description of Angus’ environment. He used words and phrases, such as “socialization”, that are only used by knowledgeable bird owners, showing that he has either done research in bird care or has a great vet backing him up. His vet, says that he did not find him to be a bad bird owner.
When questioned about his actions in the Youtube videos he put up, he did not defend or excuse himself. He had been genuinely shocked by people’s reactions. When he purchased Angus (more on ownership issues further down), his wings had been very badly clipped. Justin feels it is an injustice to deny a bird flight. In his misguided attempt to recreate flight for Angus, the windshield wiper idea was born. Not a choice most of us would have made.
In an article posted to Mel’s website just following the RSPCA’s seizure of Angus, she explained that Justin had owned a galah in the past and was not new to bird ownership. It was his experience, however, that when a parrot was frightened or displeased with the environment, it would choose to bite or fly off. Mel explained to him that, unlike virtually every other species of parrot, the male eclectus’ response to fear is to become very still, quiet and small. It is easy to see how Justin could misread Angus’ body language in the horrific windshield scenario. I am reminded about the part in the video where he believes that Angus has drifted peacefully off to sleep. Still, the word idiot comes to mind.
Mel expressed concern for Angus’ health and asked Justin to vet his bird right away. Regrettably, Justin has been the recipient of countless, vicious threats.This reality had prevented him from taking Angus to the vet in recent weeks.Justin was afraid to surface, not only for fear of physical harm to himself, but for fear that Angus would taken from him, either by the RSPCA or by a citizen taking matters into his own hands.
This was never anyone’s intention, and it should never have gotten to this point. Violence is not an acceptable solution to any problem The committee spent a lot of time removing these threats from the internet, but the anger spewed out at Justin stopped him from getting the care for Angus that the public demanded.
Mel, too, found herself in a similar situation, receiving veiled threats from people insisting that she reveal Justin’s location while indicating that they knew where she lived. Justin’s whereabouts is not information she has ever been in possession of.
Since the RSPCA has taken Angus (he is currently in foster care at an undisclosed location), two important things have come to light. First, Angus’ blood work has come back showing him to be in good health. It was initially feared, due to his feathering and it’s coloring, that he may have been infected with the Avian Polyomavirus which runs rampant in Australia. This concern, while valid, turns out to be untrue.
And secondly, as to ownership, it has been established that this is NOT Carrie Chatter’s stolen eclectus. The one main distinguishing feature that both birds had in common was the unusual chip in the beak. However, microchip papers have shown that Justin’s bird was purchased in September, which is prior to the disappearance of Carrie’s bird. Angus rightfully belongs to Justin.
Justin has learned greatly from this experience. He regrets the error in his thinking and is paying for his mistakes. He states that he is actually glad that he has had to face this ordeal. Without this experience he might have continued riding Angus on his wiper blades so that he could experience a type of “flight”, which he now knows is wrong and dangerous. He wouldn’t have come in contact with the people he has, who looked past his actions, and extended their hands to him in an effort to further educate him about bird ownership and support him through the battles he now faces. How can you hate someone who wants his mistakes be a learning tool for the rest of us? How can you judge someone who wants to learn and move forward?
So, what we are left with is a homeless bird that is missing it’s owner, and an owner that pines for the return of his beloved bird. For whatever reason, the RSPCA sees clear to retain possession of Angus even though no charges have been filed against Justin at this time. This may be explained by the fact that Justin disappeared with the bird once before when the heat was on. Although, given the threats he was receiving, there wasn’t much choice on his part.
But Justin Lawther is turning out to be his own worst enemy. His erratic behavior in recent days may the very thing that secures that he does NOT get his bird back. He is not an eloquent man. He seems to spend a lot of his time with his foot in his mouth. In his grief, he has resorted to acts of desperation and is staging a public hunger strike in the protest of the removal of his bird. He has been the subject of several interviews. In most, he has portrayed himself to be a raving lunatic, which will only turn away public support.
To Justin Lawther: I understand your pain and I feel for you. I know you are not a bad person. Most of all, I know you love your bird. Please follow the good advice that is being given to you. Be calm. Stop and think before you act because what you say and do now will ultimately affect the futures of both Angus and yourself. Public opinion put the wheels of this event in motion, and it will determine the outcome. What happens next is entirely up to you and how you handle this crisis.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.