Your website describes you as a Parrot Behavior and Care Consultant. I know that in addition to working directly with clients, you also write articles about parrot care, and travel around the United States and even abroad to lecture on the topic. When, and how, did you get started with all of this? How has it unfolded?
I have always had a deep love for the natural world and all living things. When I was 19 years old, I walked into a pet store and came face to face with an African Grey parrot. He met my eyes with a look that communicated intensity and incredible intelligence. It was a profoundly personal moment and I resolved then and there that someday I would live with a parrot like that.
When I reached my early 40’s and my children were almost grown, I decided that it was time for this dream to come true. I had never forgotten that parrot and began a search to adopt one of that same species. Unfortunately, the young parrots I met were hesitant, slightly fearful and reluctant to interact with me. Instinctively, I knew that this was unnatural and that I did not want to begin a relationship with a parrot who might live for 50 years and had already learned a distrust of humans.
I decided to learn all I could about breeding parrots and to produce my own. Looking back, this seems the height of arrogance, but something told me that I could do a better job. I acquired five pairs of African Greys and did have great success breeding them. I encounter people today who have met the birds I reared and who tell me that they are unlike any other greys that they have met.
I did produce a grey parrot for myself, and acquired others along the way as well. As I lived with these birds, my understanding and knowledge about their care and behavior grew. I began to participate on some Internet discussion lists. Slowly, the realization grew that I somehow understand things about birds that others don’t. This still mystifies me, but I have come to accept it. What seems obvious to me about parrots is not at all obvious to others. As I participated on these lists, people began to come to me for help.
After a few years of helping other caregivers at no charge, I was so busy that I had to make the decision to charge for my consulting services. That was about 15 years ago, and my business has only grown since then. Along the way, different publications asked me to write for them. This was a good fit, since one of my college majors was journalism. As I published articles, I began to be invited to speak around the country at different conferences. I still am surprised at the fact that a career has resulted from a simple love of feathers and the brain behind them.
What fears did you have to overcome to get where you are today? How did you overcome them?
I don’t think that my insides are any different from anyone else’s. I have always been afraid of others’ judgments. I fear that someone will disagree with me publicly. I fear that I will publish something that will be wrong and that I will be embarrassed. I fear that I don’t really have anything important to say. These concerns haven’t diminished at all with time. I think that such fears stem from the ego, which always has an element of insecurity. I get past these fears by remembering that feelings aren’t facts. I make a concerted effort to remember the positive feedback I get. It’s easy to remember the criticisms and the hurts. It takes a lot more effort to remember the positive things that people say. I often print out positive feedback from people and place these where I can read them every day. This helps me to have a more balanced perspective of my worth and to continue to remember that I DO have something important to say.
What other obstacles, besides fear, have you had to overcome? How did you get past them?
I have encountered a number of obstacles, the first of which was my own way of thinking. I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional and abusive home. Therefore, I learned a lot of behavior patterns that would have sabotaged any efforts I might have made to be successful. Once out of there, I had to do a lot of personal work to learn healthier ways of thinking and being. I have now learned to maintain a balance in my work life and my personal life, and more importantly…in my thoughts. As balance became more of a way of life, I was able to then come to believe in my own worth.
Second, as I began my consulting career in earnest in California, my husband confronted me with a choice. He wanted me to give up the majority of my parrots and to get a full-time job. He would not compromise. Therefore, I made the decision to leave. While I did not want to break up my marriage, I could not continue to live with a partner who would demand that I give up the birds I loved so passionately and my dream of self-employment. I moved to Oregon with my parrots and continued to pursue my consulting, while obtaining a part-time job.
The third obstacle after separating from my husband and moving to Oregon, of course, was financial in nature. The consulting practice was a first priority, but I also had to find a day to eat regularly and to continue living indoors. This required compromise. So, I sought a way to make some income that would be more regular and dependable than the consulting income, but that would still allow me enough time for my own business. I got lucky and found employment as a veterinary technician for an avian vet. This allowed me to also learn more about parrots and their health, so ultimately furthered my consulting career also.
I had never worked as a technician before and the training was extremely demanding. However, after four years of working on the job, I was able to take the national boards and to become licensed. Now, I am able to work 2.5 days a week as a technician and to pursue my own consulting practice the other four.
Another challenge that I continue to have today is my disinclination to promote myself. Somehow I find it distasteful to engage in self-promotion. It makes me uncomfortable. I think this has to do with two personality traits. First, I don’t like to attract attention to myself. Second, it seems somehow too prideful or conceited. How’s that for an archaic term? However, I have realized not only the need for this, but the fact that this trait does not serve me well at all. I am working on this always by disciplining myself to look for and take advantages of occasions when it is appropriate to promote myself.
The last significant challenge has been to establish and keep to a daily discipline. I hate writing, finding it very difficult. However, publishing raises my visibility and creates my reputation. Therefore, I’ve simply set a goal that I will write a minimum of 1000 words a day – no excuses.
What has been most rewarding to you so far?
I would have to say that it’s the ability to help captive parrots. Taking a bird, a flighted spirit, out of the wild to clip its wings and to keep it in a cage was the worst idea any human has ever had. It breaks my heart that it ever happened. Equally heart-breaking is the fact that so many people acquire parrots without adequate research, totally unprepared for the demands of the relationship, and then discard these long-lived creatures when problems occur. These birds live without ever having experienced the joy of flying or foraging or interacting with other parrots. I work hard to educate caregivers so that the true needs of parrots are recognized and that, hopefully, the standard of care will be better in the future than it is now.
Also rewarding is the ability to use the experiences that people have with their parrots to make them more psychologically visible. Parrots are unique, in that they are both intelligent and highly social, and they can teach us a lot about ourselves. A client of mine wrote to me the other day: “You have a gift for telling people what they need to hear and softening it with encouraging words.” I enjoy helping people to better understand both themselves and their parrots and to help them to continue in that relationship. Most people who come to me for help are on the verge of giving those parrots up. I am able to help them resolve the problems, so that the parrot gets to keep his home, his quality of life is better, and the human becomes a little wiser.
Further, through my writing, I can help people to relate to their parrots with more compassion, to appreciate them more completely, and by extension to want to preserve parrots in the wild and the habitats in which they live. I once wrote the following in an article: “Parrots are only recently out of the wild. Essentially, we have in our hands the interface between the wild and man in civilization. What we allow ourselves to learn from them could have far-reaching implications. Sometimes I allow myself to wonder if they could conceivably have the power, by virtue of their place with us in space and time and their great beauty and intelligence, to finally convince man of the need to preserve what is natural and most precious. They can touch us where we live.” I still work to that end.
What is, or has been, the hardest part for you?
The hardest part, by far, is encountering people who will not take any responsibility for the fact that their parrot is exhibiting behavior problems. They blame the parrot. This lack of compassion…this inability to see the bird as he is, a captive spirit unable to express himself through flight because this has been taken from him…is the most painful. Not only do I feel exquisite pain for the parrot having this experience, but it makes me despair for the fate of the natural world. How can anyone take a creature this magnificent, disregard its needs, and then cast it away when it fails to meet expectations as a “pet.”
Also difficult has been the competitiveness, the discord, and the “politics” that exist among professionals in this “parrot world.” The child in me finds this all very scary. However, I’ve concluded that the only reasonable course of action is to speak my truth quietly and clearly, to ignore discord, to stay on good terms with all people as far as possible without surrender, and to focus on the positive.
What has been most surprising to you about it?
The most surprising thing about all this continues to be the fact that I’m successful, in spite of being terrible with self-promotion. This year, I was invited to speak in Brisbane to the Parrot Society of Australia. I’ve been invited back in 2013. And, it continues to surprise me that, somehow, I understand things about parrots that others don’t. I can’t explain that, but have just learned to believe it.
Without needing to share any specifics, of course, how are you feeling about the financial end of things? Are you able to support yourself doing this work that you are passionate about?
I am able to meet approximately half of my expenses through my consulting practice at this point. I still need to work as a veterinary technician for now, especially because requests for consultations tend to go way down during the holidays as people’s priorities shift. However, with each year, my visibility grows, I get more referrals and do more consults, and am invited to more speaking engagements. I anticipate that, by 2018, I will be able to fully support myself solely through the consulting.
What are your next challenges or goals?
My first and ongoing goal is to become savvier, with regards to using social media to promote my business. I am struggling to become more knowledgeable about search engine visibility and am learning how to get more traffic directed to my website. My second goal is to become more consistent about publishing my blog and to increase the number of subscribers I have. Third, this year I will be offering webinars on different parrot-related topics, along with a friend of mine. And fourth, I have been investigating publishing options and have decided to publish an e-book on a common parrot problem, feather destructive behavior. I see the latter as one of the very best ways to increase my income in the future. There are a number of great books available that help with that process.
Any words of wisdom or parting thoughts to readers who want to follow their dreams?
Finding a dream and then following that requires that we each “wear our hearts on our sleeves.” That means that we always say what’s true for us, regardless of the reaction of others. We are each unique and have gifts that the world needs. However, to offer those up to the scrutiny of others takes courage. We will never find our true niche in the world if we employ any artificiality. We must be truly authentic each day and trust that this practice will lead us to where we need to be.
Second, being true to a dream means constantly reassessing and recommitting to the highest priority – that dream. Life is so busy and there are so many distractions for us all on any given day. I must constantly ask myself questions like, “Do I want to have lunch with my friend, or do I want to write that 1000 words?” If I can’t do both, I’ve got to opt for that 1000 words and then find another day to go to lunch.