Over the years, I have made some very strong comments about pet stores with regards to the treatment of the birds in their care. This is because I have personally witnessed some horrific conditions and I have had the unpleasant task of guiding others through their bad experiences, sometimes involving illness or death, with some particularly bad pet stores. I admit that I am opinionated on this subject.
There are establishments out there whose owners will knowingly, without conscience, send a diseased bird out the door to infect the existing birds that reside in the homes of their customers. Some birds awaiting purchase suffer in such dismal living conditions that they are emotionally and physically challenged before they even get into their new homes – so much preventable suffering just to make a sale. These issues infuriate me and I feel a responsibility to the readers here to let you know what is happening out there and how to avoid falling victim to it.
I know that in the course of bringing certain atrocities to your attention, I am lumping ALL pet stores into one broad, evil category. I have unintentionally hurt the feelings of some of the conscientious pet store people who visit this site, and I want to give equal time to the greatness that happens in pet stores on the opposite end of the scale.
The Good Guys
I remember when I purchased my first parrot, a cockatiel, from a pet store. We came home with a small cage, bag of seed and virtually no instruction about life with birds. Our new bird transitioned easily into our home because we carried on the tradition of care it had received at the store – that’s all we knew to do. Shortly thereafter, we bought a second cockatiel and simply popped it into the cage with the first one. The gods were smiling on us, apparently, because that went off without a hitch and both birds were happy in each other’s company.
Within our first year with the cockatiels, we moved into a new house which was right around the corner from a “bird store” in Chicago. I was fascinated. I had no idea that they were such popular pets in the 1980s that a business could stay afloat catering only to the needs of birds.
When I went in there, my jaw hit the floor. The cages were “mansion” compared to the small, cheap one I had for my birds…and such elaborate toys! And bin food! I was in heaven.
The owners of the store were a married couple whose lives revolved around the birds in their care. They were very well educated in the needs and traits of the different bird species and had knowledge about (and equipment for) parrot critical care. I learned a lot from them.
In their store was a female umbrella cockatoo named Abu that had been surrendered to them. My young daughter, Adrienne, was smitten with this bird, as was I, and we began to discuss purchase. The only way the owners would consider selling the bird to us, knowing that it was intended for our daughter (with our supervision, of course), is if we went on a six month payment plan which required Adrienne to go to the store every day to help care for Abu, with the real intention being to educate her about the care of cockatoos, which they explained to be challenging.
My daughter was at the bird store every single day after school – even when it meant she had to trudge through three feet of snow to get there. By the time we brought Abu home, my daughter was teaching ME things about birds! In retrospect, I am very impressed by their insistence on the arrangement we made and know it was an uncommon one at that time. It’s uncommon now. Since that time, I have had several great experiences with bird stores from all over.
Given that pet stores are a retail operation, after all, it can be particularly inconvenient and non-cost effective to do the right thing. I applaud those of you who go the extra mile by taking financial risks with your business for the sake of the living beings in your care.
- Thanking you for seeing to their medical needs.
- Thank you for making sure that they have a good quality of life while awaiting purchase.
- Thank you for the great food and toys you make sure they have in their cages.
- Thank you for protecting them from obtrusive customers visiting your store.
- Thank you for saying no to a potential sale when you know it will turn out badly for the bird.
- Thank you for socializing your birds so that they can make a successful transition into a new home.
- Thank you for taking the time to educate your selves so that you can educate your customers.
Since parrots are such popular pets, there will always be someplace to buy them. Thank you for being one of the good guys.
Do you own or work at a pet store that goes above and beyond for their birds in your care? I’d love to hear your stories.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.