Nov 112012

-Written by Judith Lavoie.

One artist is blind, another is epileptic, and they all paint with their feet and tails.

Geriatric and chronically ill parrots at the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs are creating artwork for cards, which are then sold to raise money for a parrot palliative-care unit.

“In the last couple of years, we have become the go-to place for senior citizen parrots,” said refuge president Wendy Huntbatch, who is caring for almost 900 birds.

Some are blind, some suffer from arthritis and some don’t seem to be quite as sharp as they used to be.

“Some of them just want to sleep and watch Littlest Hobo on TV,” Huntbatch said. “Their minds seem to wander.”

That makes it difficult for older or sick birds living in flocks where friends or relatives try to persuade them to take part in parrot activities, Huntbatch said.

The answer is a 111-square-metre trailer with electricity, plumbing and a steel lining.

The renovations to create the geriatric parrot centre will cost about $15,000, and Huntbatch is hoping the cards, sold in the gift shop and online, will help.

The artists include a macaw called Hello, who is more than 60 years old and blind because of a vitamin deficiency; Bailey, a 20-year-old umbrella cockatoo who had a foot amputated after catching it in a toy; JR, an Amazon parrot caught in the wild 38 years ago and treated for epilepsy for the past 36; and Lago, a 22-yearold Moluccan cockatoo with bone and lung cancer.

Huntbatch started providing the parrots with finger paints last year. Some throw paint at the canvas, others like the sweeping effect of tail feathers and some enjoy using their feet.

Money raised through the cards, which cost $5 each, will go directly to the palliative unit, but Huntbatch is also struggling to raise money for the refuge’s day-to-day operations.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to make the next payroll. It’s really tight.”

The refuge is the only one in Canada and takes birds from across the country.

“We have received a large number of birds this year that are not financially supported. Many are coming in from rescue organizations that cannot find homes for them and cannot afford to keep them,” Huntbatch said.

Even though all fruit and vegetables are donated by Save-on-Foods, it costs $1,339 a day to run the refuge.

In addition to volunteers, there are 18 paid staff.

“There are 295 water dishes to be washed and refilled, 505 seed and nut dishes and trays to be cleaned and refilled, 236 fresh fruit dishes and trays to be filled every single day – and that’s just a small part of the enormous amount of work it takes,” Huntbatch said.

To purchase your own set of Parrot Painting cards, click here.

Article originally published November 7 in the Times Colonist here.

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