Janet Hilton and Lisa Avant

We humans have a penchant for collecting beautiful things. We see it, we like it, and no matter the consequence, own it. Despite all the negatives, we acquire that beautiful object. At first, we can’t get enough of it. We take it out and look at it every day. We show our friends. We give it a place of honor. We tell everyone, and we can’t wait to show off our latest acquisition.

And then it happens. We run out of time. It doesn’t happen all at once. One day we just forget to bring our “pretty” out and admire it. No worries, we will make up for it tomorrow. But then, something else happens and before we know it, we’ve almost completely forgotten about our latest pretty thing. Maybe it is another pretty thing that we must have. Maybe it is a change in jobs, mates or homes. The potential changes are limitless. So our pretty object languishes, and is pushed further into the corner, sad, alone, bored and left to its’ own devices.

But let me digress. This past week, my dear friend Lisa and I were able to volunteer at the Oasis Sanctuary in Benson, Arizona. While I have followed and supported the sanctuary over a few years via the Internet, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The Oasis is home to 700 birds, as well as dogs, horses, sheep, and other “not so desirable critters.” Our first walk through the compound left me speechless (not a common occurrence) and extremely teary-eyed. Most of these once “beautiful objects” had been transformed into sad, lonely, paranoid, plucked remnants of what they once were.

In such a few short years, the individuals at the Oasis, under the influence and leadership of Sybil Erden, have created a miraculous last chance for these creatures to call home and live out the remainder of their (often extremely long) life. Sadly, they have already run out of space for the larger birds.

The “barn” is where the feed preparation takes place and where dishes are manually washed, soaked for three minutes in a bleach solution, rinsed and then refilled. Believe me when I tell you this is no small feat. While we were at the Oasis we began gathering food dishes and cleaning soon after 7:00 a.m. No one stopped until everyone had been fed, watered, and in some instances medicated and had their cages cleaned.

The “flock” and “herd” must be fed and tended to every day, several times a day. They are fortunate enough to have 8 fantastic people caring for them. But can you really imagine 8 people caring for so many animals? Just do the math. With 700 birds alone, that entails a minimum of 2 and possibly 3 bowls per bird depending on how many birds occupy an area. Lisa commented that she washed more dishes during her time at the Oasis than she did during the entire year 2009. How wonderful if they could afford duplicate food dishes for each bird/or aviary, and an industrial sized washing/sanitizing machine. The time-saving alone would be the equivalent of adding one additional staff member.

Food is only one part of the daily routine. Every day in addition to feeding, additional tasks are performed. One day may be hand washing cages, or raking around the outside cages. New birds are brought in and must be evaluated and properly placed. Toys and stimulation must be provided for every bird. Birds have to be counted several times a day. Since the misting system is under repair, the birds have to be manually given their baths. Cages must be checked, and when required, repaired. Perches must be monitored and replaced when called for. Beaks and nails, when required must be trimmed.

The birds must be monitored for compatibility issues. Often “breeder” pairs will come in, and one bird will subsequently pass away. The staff tries to find another “friend” for the remaining bird, but this is no easy task. There is no “E-Harmony” for bird match making!

Once a week the staff prepares the gourmet fare that is supplemented with a mixture of pellet, seeds, nuts and other goodies. Even while all of this is going on, each staff member gives their love and attention to the birds. Everyone seems to have their favorites but no one is overlooked.

Everything about the Oasis is amazing, from the flight aviaries for the male cockatoos, the female cockatoos, the African Grays and Macaws. The aviary is a wonderful attempt to return a bit of freedom to these beautiful creatures.
But why should they even be living there? What has caused these intelligent, beautiful creatures to end their days at a place such as the Oasis? It goes back to our “need” to possess these creatures of such grace, intelligence and beauty. Nature never intended for we humans to “own” these creatures,” rather we must admire them and respect them in their God given environment.

I must commend the dedication and hard work that takes place every day at the Oasis. But beyond that, I must commit my efforts to ensure that fewer of these birds need this environment. Somehow, someway, we need to put an end to the breeding of these birds. We need to take those unwanted, tortured and available birds and allow them to live in all the splendor, beauty and grace they were created for.