When I got a tip that Michael Vick and his family had joined the ranks of exotic bird owners I had to follow it. How could I not? Who could forget the outcry from animal lovers when the Eagles signed the nation's most notorious animal abuser two years ago.
After the story about the Vick's purchase of a Caique (a species of parrot shown above) ran in yesterday's paper I braced for full-frontal feedback from Vick lovers and Vick haters. But, surprisingly the response was fairly muted. A few readers thought the Inquirer was wasting space. A few thanked me for reminding readers of the extent of Vick's cruelty. A few told me Vick should never own another animal again. (Remember, Vick has said he'd like to own a dog again one day. Under terms of his probation he cannot own a canine until May 2012.)
Then there were the bird experts, who cautioned that the Vicks should a)realize they are in it for the long haul - 30 years or more to be exact and b) a bird isn't just window dressing; it needs attention and stimulation.
Monica Engebretson, senior program associate with Born Free USA, wild animal advocacy group, read the story.
Most captive birds spend their days confined to their cages. For an active, intelligent, social, flight-adapted animal, a life spent in a cage is cruel. Ultimately many people cannot handle the responsibility of caring for their birds and relinquish them. Exotic bird rescues and shelters across the country are overwhelmed with requests to take in unwanted birds.
Each year thousands of birds are sold to people who are under the false impression that a bird is a low-maintenance pet. However, few people are actually capable of fulfilling the serious commitment of caring for the special needs of exotic birds, who can live for 15 to 70 years or more depending on species
She also pointed out that the Vick children named their bird Rio, after the popular Disney movie about a macaw, suggests that the Vicks were among those who rush out to buy a particular animal after their children fall in love with a movie character without considering the pet's long term needs.
To shine a spotlight on the plight of birds in captivity, Engebretson says, Born Free hosts the National Bird Day every January 5.
The Born Free Foundation was founded by the two stars of Born Free, the movie based on the real life story of wildlife conservationists Joy and George Adamson and their rescue of the lion cub Elsa.