By Sybil Erden, with Jean Gauthier and Janet Trumbule – December 16, 2010
The hardest part of running or working at an animal sanctuary is not the tedium of cleaning and feeding…it is not fund-raising or business stresses….it is when one of our many little friends becomes ill or simply ages and passes away. And each time it becomes harder to write about….
Pong Yo (whose name means “friend” in Mandarin) and Jezebel, a not-so-bonded pair of Eclectus parrots, were among the first birds to arrive at The Oasis Sanctuary in the mid-1990’s. At that time the “facility” was run out of my home on an acre of land in central Phoenix. Although I was busy setting up the sanctuary with an attorney and a CPA, we were not yet established as a non-profit corporation. I was taking in birds and had around 40 parrots in residence when the little green man and his red companion arrived. Jezebel was born in 1988, and Pong Yo in 1990. Chris, their caregiver, had them from the beginning of their lives and hoped the two would buddy up. But as we were all to learn about these most unusual parrots, in the wild, the Eclectus females are solitary except during mating/breeding season, and the males hang out with other males.
Once Jezebel hit sexual maturity, she began hiding under furniture, ripping up the carpeting and becoming defensive and aggressive in order to protect her “nest”. Chris tried working with Jez, and contacted avian behaviorists in order to find out how to deal with the little red bird’s hormonal fury. But nothing worked.
Chris made the difficult decision to find an organization that would accept the pair, with someone that could appropriately handle Jezebel’s aggressive behavior. Ultimately the two Ekkies arrived at The Oasis, which would provide them a home and care for them the rest of their lives.
While Pong Yo became a volunteer favorite, Jez continued her broody behavior. Charlotte Fox, who started out as a cage-cleaning volunteer with the sanctuary in 1999 remembers: Jezebel would wander the floors looking for a place to build a nest and Pong would follow her around like a lost puppy. When I first started volunteering, Jezebel would hide under this cabinet in the room and wait to get me. As long as she saw I was watching her I was safe. If I turned my back, I got nailed!
In 2000 The Oasis moved down to Southern Arizona with over 250 animals in tow.
Jezebel remained a little curmudgeon, but bonded with staff member TJ. Due to her continual broodiness, in the Fall of 2005 she became ill with a condition all too common to female Eclectus – egg binding. By the time she showed symptoms of her illness, she had two calcified (rock-like) eggs adhering to her uterus. She was rushed up to Phoenix for surgery, but passed away from complications on October 11, 2005.
Pong continued to thrive in the Bird Barn, where he hung out with the African Greys…until a week before Christmas 2009. On December 19th, Pong was found on the floor of the Bird Barn, in severe distress. He was immediately taken to the Infirmary, kept warm and hydrated.
The next day Pong was doing no better and was rushed up to our veterinarian, Dr. Todd Driggers in the Phoenix area. While Dr. Driggers suspected a stroke, he did numerous tests and kept him overnight for observation. Pong Yo returned to the Sanctuary, but a final diagnosis (stroke) was not made until January 9, 2010.
We were extraordinarily fortunate to have a long-term volunteer staying at the Sanctuary during that time. Yoch had worked with numerous species around the world and was able to take on some of the primary care needed by the sick and weak little bird. During the first several weeks Pong, being paralyzed from what in a person would be the waist down, was unable to poop on his own. Several times a day Yoch, with Janet’s help, carefully removed the feces from Pong’s vent. This process caused Pong to get wet and in order to make sure that he did not become chilled, Yoch would use a warm dryer to dry all of his feathers. On January 3rd, Dr. Driggers was able to clean out Pong Yo’s intestinal tract, and through the end of March he was able to evacuate at least once a day on his own. But Yoch and Janet continued making sure that nothing backed up with twice daily flushes.
Although Pong showed some slight improvement, he was still weak and unstable. He had little appetite, so his weight was monitored daily. Yoch and Janet fed him soft foods that he preferred, such as cantaloupe, birdie bread and cooked vegetables. Pong found it difficult to stand and his movement was limited. But through all this, Pong’s spirit and will to live shined through. We knew that he was not giving up, and neither would we.
On January 18th visiting Board member Pat Rudikoff created a YouTube short about Pong Yo:
Yoch also spent time with Pong on physical therapy. When he began to show some movement in his legs by mid January, Yoch would place him on a towel on the floor and encourage him to take a few steps, then a few more steps. At times this was very difficult for him since his coordination and balance were still tentative. In time Pong was eager to walk the length of the towel, several times, although still with slow steps.
Pong lived in the office in a smaller cage with towels on the flooring which were changed several times a day. Yoch spent hours a day with him until she left for her next job (in Norway). At that time Jean took over as primary caregiver.
On February 25th Pong went back up to Phoenix and had an echocardiogram to check for heart disease, which needed to be considered as a cause of his stroke. At that time his heart was found to be normal and healthy. By the end of March Pong was pooping 2-4 times a day on his own. He was beginning to have more movement in his legs. Recovery was underway! Jean started “flying” Pong Yo soon after Yoch left. This is a procedure she had read about that is promoted by Shari Beaudoin (a regular writer for Companion Parrot Quarterly) called “Assisted Flight Air-obics.” The idea behind this exercising program is to enhance parrots” lungs and air sacs and promote better cardiac movement for sedentary birds. Jean would hold Pong cupped in her hands with the top half of his body and wings exposed. She would speed around the room and he would spread his wings. As he grew stronger he would flap his wings mightily in joy. Both Pong and Jean seemed to enjoy the interaction.
Pong was moved back into the on-site hospital once his need for intensive care seemed to have passed. Things appeared to be going well until April 30th, the day before the Discover the Oasis event… also the day before Sassy, my first “big bird” was found dead.
Pong had a second stroke during the night of April 29th. When Jean did her early morning hospital check she found him barely conscious. Pong recovered rapidly from the second stroke. The following day he was still in the incubator on oxygen but was alert. He was out of the incubator after 48 hours. All his regained muscle coordination after the original stroke returned quickly as well. After this experience, it was important that his heating pad always was turned on. We found that Pong needed the increased supportive care in order to maintain his body heat.
After his second stroke, Pong occasionally needed help with evacuation (a two-person job) through July. Jean and Janet were still assisting him about every 4-5 days. They would do a careful flushing out, because he”d be a bit backed up despite going three or four times a day on his own. Pong continued to show improvement otherwise. He was eating well, continuing to strengthen his lower body and he even began to climb to a low shelf perch in his cage.
Jean brought Pong Yo to live at her house in early August. At that point he was regularly pooping on his own…so it became easier for one person to care for him. Once Pong was at Jean’s house, they flushed him two or three times over the next few weeks but then totally quit.
In order to keep the little green bird clean, Jean changed his towels twice a day. She fed him, washed his laundry and insured that his heating pad was always on. Since he could not clean out his nares (nostrils) with his toe-nails like a healthy bird would, Dr. Driggers began cleaning out his nares on a regular basis. In order to help with respiration, Jean kept a humidifier going near his cage.
Jean wrote:These are things Pong loved to do in my house…walk around on the floor, and he quickly learned the layout of the house…I could leave him out in the main room and soon I”d hear his slow steady steps rounding the corner into my bedroom to wind up at my feet as I was at the computer, then little tugs on my pant legs to pick him up; having me ”fly” him from room to room, buzzing my other birds (occasionally giving a good Eclectus scream as he flew by them!); perching on his padded shelf perch as he looked out my window into the garden (especially if I was out gardening, I”d wave at him as he”d watch); and he loved to climb, though he was unsteady…he became adamant about climbing to the top of his cage when I opened his door, so finally I put a towel on top of it and he”d perch happily up there, as high as he was allowed to get (about 3 feet off the ground, but still I had it padded around him and watched him like a hawk). I didn”t feel comfortable leaving the room with him there, but he was good as long as I was simply chopping vegetables in the kitchen and the other birds were on their cages as well. Janet would bird sit or drop by to see him and the other guys and he loved her visits as well.
I had placed his small cage on a toweled claw-foot table in front of the window to the back yard, between Pilot, my Vosmaeri Eclectus male and Veronica, my blind Aru Eclectus female, so he had company on either side. He really only had eyes for me though…as in the barn, he had little use for other parrots” company, but loved his chosen women. Before his stroke, he had no interest in me…I tried to make friends many times but he was not interested and would even warn that he”d nip me if I pushed it. I know he was extremely bonded to Amy Meade (a former employee,) and I believe he pined for her for a long time after she left. Yoch was the first person he truly bonded with again, then finally me (although he became pretty bonded to Janet as well.) He and Pilot were both floor-walking Eclectus, Pilot was used to coming in the back room to find me and share a bowl on the floor of food made for him while I ate my lunch or dinner…so now I was putting down two flat bowls for my ”green dogs”, but Pong was prone to chase Pilot away if he decided to. Pilot was always curious but definitely intimidated by and respectful of Pong. Pong Yo ruled. Pong and my Lorikeet Vic both got evening meals of fruit daily in addition to their morning meals…it seemed the fruit both helped Pong”s energy level and his ability to poop on his own, so it became part of my routine. He ate organic uncolored pellets and vegetables for his morning meal, like my other Eclectus, but I would whirr his raw vegetables in the food processor each morning to discourage him from picking and choosing his favorites…he ate a bit better that way. I also was supplementing his food with flax oil to increase his Omega 3”s, which all my birds are given.
I took Pong Yo out to the yard with me on sunny days, and a few days before his passing, I placed him in a basket and brought him out for the Christmas fair. The weather was warm. The “people loving” Pong really enjoyed the trips out and did not get at all stressed. He was happy in the sunshine and enthusiastic to see people and get the attention.
Pong Yo’s third stroke occurred late on December 6, possibly during Janet”s drive home with him back from Phoenix after having his nose cleaned out again by Dr. Driggers. Pong seemed partially compromised when he was put to bed that night, but Jean and Janet attributed his sleepy quiet to being tired from the long day.
The next morning Pong was definitely in trouble when Jean checked on him at 6 AM.
Jean called Janet, waking her up. After consulting with Dr. Driggers, they immediately set Pong up in the hospital where they and staff kept checking on him throughout the day. He rallied a little by mid day, but had half-closed eyes most of the day, as if his head really hurt. Caregiver Ben commented that he looked like he had a bad migraine.
Around 3 PM Pong Yo’s eyes began to water. One of his pupils started to expand and contract as if he was having stroke activity/brain dysfunction. He had not been very responsive all day, even when conscious. He no longer recognized staff. He was half conscious, staring wide eyed into space.
Several staff members stayed with Pong Yo during the evening hours. He began having small seizures and was given a Valium injection around 5 PM, but the effects of the tranquilizer wore off about two and a half hours later.
When Pong Yo passed shortly before 8 PM, staff and friends were thankful that his suffering was so brief.
Thanks to the amazing care and support of staff members, particularly Jean and Janet, Pong Yo had many great days during the year after his initial stroke. Jean wrote: I brought him home knowing I could easily lose him at anytime, but wanted to spend what time he had left giving him a good full life as a loved companion. I have no regrets for this decision but miss him very much.
On December 14th The Oasis received Pong’s final necropsy report from Dr. Driggers. Pong had passed from subdural hemorrhaging and had advanced atherosclerosis which, in all likelihood, was the cause of the strokes. There were no contagious or contracted illnesses.
Pong joins the birds who have lived out their lives at the Sanctuary, and are always too soon gone… Pong was only 20 years old.
He had made many friends during his years at the Oasis, and all mourn his loss. We will continue to miss him very much.
It was only because of your generous donations that we at The Oasis were able to care for Pong Yo for the many years he was with us. Thanks to you we were able to pay for his veterinary expenses during this last difficult year of his life. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to each of you for enabling us to help him and all the other Special Birds at The Oasis Sanctuary.
Pong Yo’s Heroic Story – Epilogue
After the death of Pong Yo in December 2010, Staff Member Jean Gauthier designed and planted a fruit garden in his honor. An existing Pomegranate tree which was in disrepair was trimmed and rejuvenated and has once again produced fruit which Oasis birds have enjoyed. Jean planted a variety of shrubs and trees that within a couple of years will produce more fruits that we can feed The Oasis birds. A memorial plaque and beautifully painted sign express our sentiment for Pong and the other beautiful Eclectus Parrots we have known. Appropriately named the “Parrot Pomoretum” it will be a lovely garden to visit and reflect on those we have lost and to remember the little green bird that touched us deeply…Pong Yo.