[This is the second part of this story. Read Part One here.]
With the bird in the hospital, it was time to figure out what was next for her. It never occurred to me that the bird could be anything but someone’s pet, and that was what the vet told me, too. So, my main hope was that the owner could be located. The bird was going to need not just care, but a lot of expensive medical attention. In the flurry of activity, it didn’t occur to Mel until much later in the day to mention that where this bird came from was probably right in her back yard. A flock of them lived wild in a tree there.
The most intimidating thing was that I know nothing about birds. Pacing in front of a hangar at Santa Monica Airport, I looked up rescues on my iPhone. Rooki had the good sense to wait in the car with the air conditioning on. It was frustrating. No one was answering the phone. One or two messages came back to say that no one had the money to take an injured bird in. Facebook pages led down a couple of blind alleys. I came to grips with the fact that this quarter pound of green feathers was going to bankrupt Roo and me. I started imagining the look on her face when I gave her half a saltine and a peanut instead of her evening treat of duck jerky.
There’s a Twitter feed that supplies a constant stream of what’s happening in Venice. Knife fights, fist fights, gun fights, carjackings, muggings, break-ins, drug deals gone awry, garbage cans on fire, prostitutes slowing traffic down, shopkeepers at gunpoint, police helicopters in pursuit low overhead. It feeds you the breaking glass and bloody sidewalks of Venice, 140 characters at a time.
I tweeted about the bird. If I was 23 and looking for a record deal it would have been a great opportunity to write a song about being ironic. This bird found injured, with a picture.
There were some leads, but none of the local rescues could step up. One of them even sent an angry email dictating that the bird could under no circumstances be moved. I learned that though that make and model of bird isn’t native to California, they fly wild. Local lore, which could be urban legend, has it that 40 years ago someone smashed into a pet shop and freed all the birds. A nice thought, replete with the fullest measure of blissfully dangerous ignorance. All of them, as those who freed them would have been warned was going to happen had they checked, died – except for these guys, the Mitered Conures. They flourished. Baby conures resulted. Soon little flocks began to appear around the city. Eventually they migrated up and down the coast. But, as they are not indigenous, no wildlife organization is any more interested in them than they are in stray Chihuahuas. And since they aren’t house pets, pet bird rescues didn’t want them. They occupy the animal kingdom’s health care donut hole.
In the midst of all this calling, tweeting and emailing, I phoned the vet to check up on the little bird. Good news: she was recovering surprisingly fast.
“I wouldn’t have dropped everything for this bird if he wasn’t in immediate danger of dying, but she’s really snapping out of it. Sometimes they do. I might even take her off the fluids,” he said.
I told him that though I wasn’t having any luck, I was working on finding a rescue to take over. Any idea when it would be safe to move the bird? He said that pending an examination in the morning, he saw no reason why not she couldn’t be moved immediately without risk.
* * *
At that moment, the bird’s name came to me: Paroo. Half parrot, half Roo, the rescue who rescued her.
Online, the web of connections was spreading. Word reached Fiona Graham, who was on duty coordinating emergencies at SoCal Parrots, 150 miles south in San Diego. This rescue’s mission is to address the gap on the spectrum between wild and domestic that these birds inhabit. Fiona grasped the situation immediately. Talking to her was like having a lifesaver splash beside me after treading too much water in high seas. After the guessing and wondering, the unanswered phones and emails that were never answered, finally I was receiving knowledgeable guidance. Fiona began an immediate barrage of communications. Within the hour, a plan to transport Paroo was hatched. Brooke Durham, SoCal’s founder, would drive up to pick the bird up. I offered to meet her halfway to speed things up.
The next morning, there was Paroo, quiet, demurely sitting on a towel in a cardboard bird box. I could see her through the ventilation holes. Her eyes were open. She looked concerned, but she wasn’t displaying any signs of fear. The vet said that he still believed she was a pet because she was so unafraid of people.
Paroo rode in the footwell of the passenger seat of my car. Roo lay quietly in her accustomed place on the passenger seat, never bothering Paroo once on the ride to San Clemente. I was driving with perhaps too much caution, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to turn on the radio and frighten Paroo, so I had nothing but my own thoughts to stew in, and the whole drive I kept thinking of a day years ago when I was transported with broken legs and a banged-up head over the rutted streets of Kathmandu in the back of police Land Rover with shot springs. All my casts shattered during the ride. There wasn’t going to be a repeat of that for Paroo. Eighty miles of drivers were peeved at me for going slow and keeping such a huge space between me and the car ahead in the otherwise bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles portion of the traffic. On the exit ramps and going around corners I moved like a snail lest Paroo would be swung to the outside of a curve. Every once in a while the light was at just the right angle and I could see her through the ventilation holes. She changed the direction she was sitting in once or twice, but other than that, she sat still.
Brooke was waiting in the parking lot of a Starbucks. She had a tiny dog crate outfitted with soft towels and a branch the perfect size for Paroo to perch on. She handled the transfer smoothly and quickly. When Paroo clung to the branch, I saw for the first time her damaged foot, balled up in a claw. It sent a pang through me. Yet, she wasn’t too unsteady. Brooke placed a dish of succulent parrot treats on the floor of the crate, and Paroo was mildly interested, though not enough to try the gymnastics it would have taken to get a piece. I went to get Roo out of the car to introduce her to Brooke.
As soon as Roo got to Brooke’s truck she surprised me by jumping right up and going to take a look at Paroo in her new crate. I had to put a stop to that. I imagined that it couldn’t have done the little parrot any good to see a huge predator bound up like that, though she didn’t seem at all startled. Roo wasn’t aggressive - just curious. She got one sniff in before being invited to leave her weightless namesake alone with her new caregiver. After giving me a cap embroidered with the SoCal logo, which I will always love, Brooke gave me a hug, said good-bye to the Kahoo, and she drove the little bird to the next phase in her life.
Brooke said that if at all possible - if the rehab goes well and the decision is made to re-introduce Paroo safely to the city wilds - she could be returned to the tree where her flock lives. Its not likely that I’ll ever see her again, but if I do, it might be in a passing flock of Mitred Conures, and that would be something.
* * *
It was hot. I saw on the GPS that we were close to the beach. Roo deserved a swim. I marched her right past the sign that said NO DOGS, walking in-between a couple of sheriffs in green paramilitary jumpsuits with their guns strapped to his thigh like Gary Cooper in High Noon, and down to the water. Perhaps they sensed that something about this dog entitled her to the ocean. My puppy ran in the water and sloshed around and I let her do it for as long as she liked. I wouldn’t have cared if they came and wrote me a ticket, but all the cops did was look on. They probably saw what I did and what so many people who stopped to watch Roo saw. A good dog getting a swim at the edge of the biggest ocean on Earth, and for just that minute, no one gave a damn about the law.
There was no other dog in sight.
* * *
Twenty-four hours later, Brooke sent me the following video. This is the first video on this blog that I didn't shoot. And it's the one that moves me the most.