My Volunteer Visit to The Oasis Sanctuary

by Mary Ann Andrukiewicz

February, 2013

I was thinking about how to open this piece when I heard the song “Home” by Phillip Phillips, American Idol winner. I dedicate this song to the Oasis. “Home” is what the Oasis staff makes day after day for all these wonderful feathered souls. I traveled from upstate New York to visit and volunteer for three days in February 2013. I have been following The Oasis for a long time, donating what I can, and recently sponsoring an African Grey named “Small Talk”. My decision to just “do it” came from the potential needs of the four feathered kids that own me now and my concern about the many abandoned, abused, neglected, or simply given up for economic reasons or disability or death of an owner. It doesn’t matter, for at the Oasis, they give every one of the birds in their care a forever home.

As I walked down the dirt road along the big fence toward the “noise” aka the aviaries, I was met by Joe Dyson and then introduced to Jean who took me on the tour. I was in awe and in love with all these beautiful creatures. Some were friendly but many kept their distance from the newcomer. My head was spinning… Jean’s rapport with the birds was truly special.

Lunch takes place after ALL birds have been provided fresh food and water. This includes pulling all the old food and water, washing all the dishes and putting the fresh food out on trays… and giving medication. This was after the staff did a full check of all the birds. I really didn’t get the full scope of what needed to be accomplished every day until my second day. It takes incredible organizational and managerial skills to operate a facility of this size.

Back at the guest house/office, which are amazing facilities, dare I say, in the middle of nowhere, over lunch I pondered just what I had gotten myself into. When the staff returned after an hour, off we all went back down to the Staging Area. I was asked to help in the Bird Barn and I started on cage cleaning. Cages were amazingly clean already but the process is to still scrape/scrub, disinfect and replace all papers. I was assigned Amazon Island and I loved talking to these chatty guys. My little buddy was Rio and his somewhat unfriendly cage mate Margaret. Rio sang and talked and the others started doing the same. The goal is to finish by 4 to 4:30 PM so that Shut Down can begin. I helped with rounding up all the chickens, turkeys, geese, etc. and making sure everyone had food and water, and fresh swimming water in their pools. I also got to put booties on Dottie, a handicapped duck. After the perimeter fence is secured, it’s back to the house. The guardian dogs were in charge after shutdown. I was on my own for the evening. Once the sun set, all was quiet and I went outside to look at the amazing sky with so many stars. The constellation Orion was right overhead. Each night I did the laundry, folding towels that are used in many of the bird cages. The accommodations were spacious and comfortable. After a shower, it felt like heaven to fall into bed under a warm comforter and dream of all my new Oasis friends, human and feathered.

The next two days were similar to the first, except I got to help Carlton with feeding. I did get to learn some of the bird’s names as I followed Carlton and tried very hard to be useful. Sunny, a Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in the Female Cockatoo Aviary was particularly taken with me
and pestered me constantly for head scratches and attention. Romy, in the Pumpkin Trailer, liked me a lot too and stayed on my shoulder. In the Small Bird Aviary, Cockatiels were pulling at my shoelaces, sitting on my head and shoulder.

I constantly talked to the birds everywhere as I worked, even the wild ones outside hanging around for some feed and the resident geese, who I called the Gang of Five and Tom the Turkey. The larger birds touched my heart the most. So many of them said “Hello”, “I Love You”. Here is where I get misty eyed. Someone taught them those words and said “I Love You” to them, and I’m sure they were loved, but yet here they are, in a sanctuary. Granted, they were lucky to land in one of the best in the world. I couldn’t help but wonder as I looked at them, they seemed to peer into my eyes and look down into me as if to say “Are you my person?” “Are you here to take me home?”

One of the things that amazed me is the thought and care that goes into finding exactly the right place at the sanctuary for each bird. Choices like the species specific aviaries, mini-flights, the Bird Barn, or a cage in the Pole Barn. Also, the patience and creativeness of the staff in trying to
find each bird another bird that they can bond, socialize, be with. The majority of the birds find that new friend that is just like them, but some will become friends with another species, like a Cockatoo and Amazon, birds from two different continents, who just like each other.

The other astounding thing is that the staff is respectful of every bird in residence, regardless of how aggressive some can be as a result of their past distrust of humans who have failed them. As a volunteer, I wasn’t permitted in the Male Cockatoo Aviary but I watched Carlton as he was able to navigate and talk and address these more aggressive birds as he worked. He always emerged unscathed, although I’m sure that’s not always the case.

Being at the Oasis was one of the most touching, amazing, hardworking and incredible experiences in my life. As I headed back to Tucson to fly back to New York, I vowed to myself two things. One: God willing, to return to The Oasis and volunteer again next year and Two: to make my own birds lives as fulfilling in captivity and to ensure the appropriate provisions are in place now so my guys will be cared for when I am no longer able to or when I die. I have since seen an attorney, who is preparing the necessary documents. I hope everyone who is owned by a bird thinks of their future and I find it my mission lately to inform people. I am doing a presentation at my local bird club on options for their birds should they no longer be able to care for them.