Saturday, June 21, 2014


This is a bit long, but worth sharing. "R" sent this email recently. I've not edited anything out.
I have some sad news I wanted share so others don't make the same mistake.  I recently lost my 2 Scarlet Chested Parakeets.  One of my dogs killed both birds, even though she had been around them flying loose in my house for 3 years.  Before them, I had another dog for 17 years that never harmed any of my birds.  So while I am upset and depressed about this, I understand that my dog was just doing what came natural.  But I am disappointed and angry with myself for not being more careful.  I thought things were OK but my dog must have "snapped".  Now I don't think I'll ever trust a dog around loose birds again.

To go into detail, the first bird attacked was a new baby female Scarlet I got for my male.  She was partly hand-raised but never fully tamed.  I had her out one day (just a few days after I got her) and she would not go back on my finger.  I could not get her back in the cage.  My dogs needed to be walked so I left her out while we walked.  When I got in, she was not where I left her.  Before I knew it, one of my dogs took off into another room.  Immediately, I heard a bird scream, and my dog had killed her, all in 5 seconds.  She was apparently walking on the floor.  At the time, I had never seen my dogs go after my birds.  I assumed naively that the dog just didn't "know" this bird and maybe didn't see me with it − but I was wrong − the attack was just predatory.
A few weeks later, my dog got my other adult male Scarlet Chested.  I'd had this bird for 3 years. He was hand-raised but never really became finger tame. I never wing-clipped him but I got used to letting him fly around my house. A problem I had with him was, once he was out, he would not go back in his cage until dark. So there were evenings where I had to go out and I had to leave him out of the cage. He was a good flyer and seemed to be "street smart".  I'd come home and he'd be back in his cage.  This went on for 3 years without problems.  But, a few weeks after the first incident, he must have pushed his luck one evening by walking on the floor where my dog could get him.

Now in retrospect, I KNOW I should not have let these birds fly freely in my house if they were not 100% tame.  And I know I should not have trusted the 2nd bird, after what happened to the first.  I stupidly though they left the 2nd bird alone because they "knew" it.  But my point is, my dogs never showed predatory behavior toward them − so I pushed my luck − trying to accommodate both pets, giving my birds free flight time and not forcing my dogs outside for long periods.  But, even after 3 years of no problems, this happened.  My conclusion is, you cannot trust dogs 100% around birds − and not for 5 seconds, when your back is turned.
I still have my 2 tame Bourkes but they "cooperate".  I can let them out for a while and they will go right back in their cages.  So now, the rule is the dogs are outside the house when my Bourkes are out of their cages.  Period.

I feel so bad about the whole thing and wish I had known better.

ANSWER:  Dear R--,

You have my condolences. When I was a kid, I had very tame banty chickens and three dogs. Everyone lived happily together. Then one day the family was away all day. When we got home, the yard was a mayhem of blood & feathers. One of the hens had hidden a nest and when the eggs hatched, the dogs got into it. She tried to defend her chicks and they injured her. From then on, the dogs tried to get to the chickens and we had to give them all away. Once they'd killed a chicken, they were ready to try again and again if they could.

I think once your dog killed a bird, it was more likely to do it again.
If it helps, I'll plan to do a blog on bird safety and use your experience in it. Very bad things happen. I have always had cats, but I've never allowed them (intentionally) to stay in the house with the birds unless I was right there too. Accidentally, I've left and thought the cats were all outside, came home and found one sleeping in the window seat or elsewhere. I'm very lucky...none have gone after the birds, who were all in their cages.

I never leave my birds flying free unless I'm there with them. I've had them fall behind pieces of furniture and all sorts of things. Even so, we've lost birds to accidents too. My sweetest, favorite young hen was on the floor a lot and I'd warned my husband to always look any time he entered the room while the birds were out. Did he step on her? No ... it was me. A baby fell behind the cages, made a lot of noise and I turned suddenly to go rescue it and didn't realize she'd walked across the floor to me ... That was my most horrible experience with birds ever. I still feel awful about it and it was several years ago. She'd paired off with another young bird and he still refuses any other hen. I feel like I owe him my loyalty and affection because of what happened to the hen he chose.
We also had a Splendid get away from my husband who was transferring them to another cage for me. He flew into a window and injured a wing. He could never fly after that. Another young Bourke flew into a window because I'd forgotten to close the drapes. He broke his neck and died.

Looking back, we have many more successes than failures, but it's the failures that are sadly memorable.

Our big dog, Chinook, lived with birds for 14 years and never threatened them either, but he did step on a baby chicken and break its neck. I don't think he intended to hurt it, but he was so big and it was so little. The smaller dog we have now is not to be trusted. I've been working with him, but he is a definite risk. More so than any of the cats we've had.

We only have one cat now and I've had baby Bourkes get away from me when I was hand feeding them and land on the couch in front of her. She freezes ... she knows she'd better not hurt them since I'm screaming at her to leave the bird alone. I think the little dog would obey if I was screaming at him too, but I try not to give either of them an opportunity to prove me wrong. However, if I wasn't there at the time ... it's very likely that either the dog or cat would take that opportunity to grab the bird and "play" with it, killing it.
At night all the birds are in their cages, and the cat is locked in the bedroom with us. I've never intentionally left any cat or dog alone with the birds. But, it has happened and I've been very lucky that nothing bad transpired.

I'm sorry for your loss. Try not to blame yourself too much ... we all make mistakes. It's part of being human and not divine. As you can see, I've made my share of them too. We do the best we can.

Dear Gail, Thanks for the kind note and sharing your experiences.  I still feel awful about it − sort of in shock − but I have no illusions any more − I simply cannot trust my dogs − and they are very loving to me and good dogs, otherwise − both were rescues.  I think the point you should make in your new blog is you can never completely trust dogs and cats with birds − and they can "change" after 15 years and suddenly kill − and it can take only 5 seconds.

My brother's children had aquatic frogs in a fish tank for many years.  Their cats seemed amused by them but never showed real aggression or even interest.  And then one time, after the cats had lived "peacefully" with these frogs for over 10 years, my brother's family came home one time and the frogs were out of the tank and ripped to pieces.  These were the aquatic type of frogs that never leave the water.  So apparently, one of the cats finally decided to go for them and fished them out of the tank and killed them.  It was a total shock to my brother's family. 
And another incident I know:  I am friends with an elderly Chinese American couple who had 2 pet chickens for many years.  I think these chickens were like 10 years old.  They were total pets − they came when you called them and even liked to be petted − during the day, when they were home, they let the chickens have the run of the back yard.  They also had an older ChowChow dog that was completely OK with these chickens and never attacked them. 

Well, finally, the old dog died and they got a new puppy of the same breed.  He seemed OK with the chickens − but they still didn't trust him.  However, one day there was an accident − somebody let the dog out without checking to see if the chickens were in their pen.  The new puppy killed both chickens all in about 30 seconds.  The couple were both devastated.  I worked with the woman and she always talked about her pet chickens − after this happened, she could barely talk about them.  They have chickens again but they stay in their pen now and the new dog is kept away from them.
Oh well − more sad stories − but maybe your future blog can help stop future accidents.

Thanks again for the kind words.

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