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"Ethics" Not Just A Word by Terry Beaudoin

by Terry Beaudoin

When I was a child my parents tried their best to instill in me a basic sense of right and wrong. At times as a child I did not always agree with either their methods of teaching or their opinions on what might constitute the "right" thing to do in a given situation. Even at that age I was typically able to realize that my viewpoint on many of our disagreements was usually colored by a desire to have or do that thing regardless of the consequences. On several occasions I can also remember my mother ingraining in me the idea that my conscience should also be my guide. She let me know that in her opinion if I were to do something that I knew "deep down inside" was wrong - my guilty conscience would hound me forever or at least until I had made amends. Regardless of the fact that these statements came from a traditional Catholic mother (no one understands guilt better) of four boys and two girls who must be toting around a load of guilt after some of our exploits growing up - I think she was basically right. I think most people realize "deep down inside" when they are doing something that could be categorized as either "right" or "wrong". I am by no means claiming that I have always done the right or best things in my life (just ask my mother or my wife if you would like examples of some of my poorer decisions) - I am simply stating that I usually knew basically whether what I was doing was in general terms "good" or "bad" as far as my conscience was concerned. This is not an article about me, or an essay on how moral I am. The above anecdotes were used to illustrate a trait I think is found in all decent people. The rest of this article is devoted to showing how this principle should apply to those of us who have chosen to be involved in an animal related business or field.

I believe that ethical behavior as it applies to anyone involved with companion animals can be summed up quite simply - Is the well-being of the animal(s) involved of the utmost importance? I feel that this simple statement should be the litmus test for all people involved with these animals. Whether the person or organization involved is a pet shop, breeder, veterinarian, boarding service, adoption/sanctuary facility should make no difference. It is when the well being of the animal is secondary to other things that I have seen the animals suffer. The two primary factors I have witnessed that have caused this needless suffering of companion parrots have been money and ego.

Examples of the importance of monetary gain being placed above the well-being of companion birds are sadly quite common. In my opinion far too many members of the pet industry and it's off-shoots (breeders, boarding facilities, bird clubs and even some veterinarians) regularly place financial gain above choices that would be the "right" thing to do for the bird but perhaps not as financially lucrative. Here are a few examples of this: Pet stores who have overcrowded, dirty environments for the birds and who purchase their birds from whoever has the lowest price and then sell those birds indiscriminately without the education of the customer as to the responsibilities of that birds care. Production breeders who force-wean their baby birds to sell as many as possible in as short a time as possible, Boarding businesses that do not practice strict quarantine procedure between birds from different households or require that all birds have a thorough veterinary exam including testing and vaccination by a qualified avian veterinarian (all decent dog and cat boarding facilities require the dog and cat version of this procedure). Bird Clubs who promote the bringing of their members birds to meetings where they could be potentially exposed to one or more contagious illnesses. Clubs who have auctions or raffles where birds are sent off with whoever has the high bid or happens to draw the right ticket. Clubs that are in truth a simple cover for production breeders to sell their birds and products under the guise of being just part of the club. Some of these same clubs are used as a way for these same poor quality breeders to take in unwanted birds from club members by fostering the idea that that particular bird "would never be a good pet and would be better off in a breeding situation". Veterinarians that promote themselves as avian specialists when they do not o attend as many ongoing avian veterinary educational conferences as possible. It is shocking how many Parrot Island customers have related their bad experiences with a number of self- promoted avian veterinarians who clearly did not have a clue about what they were doing with their client's beloved companion bird. Pet industry companies that produce products for birds that well educated companion bird owners know are harmful to their pet. In my opinion companies who produce cages containing harmful levels of zinc, or diets using artificial colors, flavors and scents, or cheaply made toys that are a safety hazard to birds that play with them, squarely fall into this category. Please Note: I am by no means saying that all pet stores, manufacturers of pet products, breeders, bird clubs, boarding facilities, or veterinarians are like this. The educated bird owner who understands the need to keep up with the continuing growth and understanding of the care and needs of these wonderful companion animals, should readily be able to determine who these people are.

Examples of where egos lead to the suffering of animals are far too common and often very hard for the companion bird owner to identify. They tend to be subtle and are usually involving groups that are supposed to be based completely on the well-being of the birds. Examples are: Veterinarians who proclaim themselves to be "bird experts" for the sole purpose of gaining clients and notoriety amongst the bird owning community. People who get involved in bird clubs or organizations that promote bird ownership in order to be in a position of power and promote their own agenda. Bird adoption organizations and sanctuaries that dramatically stretch the limits of their volunteers, funding and space beyond realistic guidelines. It is questionable as to whether the birds in their facilities are actually better off than where they came from. In my experience, any animal rescue group that suffers from this fault tends to have people involved in it's management that are more interested in promoting themselves in the animal rights movement than they are in actually promoting the welfare of companion animals.

The publishing of these types of opinions and expressing actual guidelines that have to be followed for Parrot Island to feel comfortable recommending other businesses to our customers has led to us coming under attack from a number of groups who clearly do not meet those guidelines. In fact, several of these groups have banded together to attempt to discredit Parrot Island and the ideals that we promote. One even went so far as to send an Email, which was a thinly disguised threat to either join the group or be prepared to have trouble because of it. Whenever I have been asked to give my opinion about another bird related business the best response I have is for the customer to thoroughly read any of our literature and that of Sally Blanchard's publication, The Companion Parrot Quarterly (formerly The Pet Bird Report) and then to make their own decision. They should of course, hold us to the same guidelines.

Sally Blanchard, because of her national recognition, has always come under these types of attacks. Sally's publication was the first and for a long time the only companion bird magazine to publish actual guidelines and recommendations for veterinarians, behaviorists, bird clubs and pet stores. One of the many things that I have admired about Sally was that she would not accept advertising dollars from any business that did not meet those guidelines. I have actually seen Sally pull advertisers out of her magazine because enough people whose opinions she had come to trust had contacted her with various problems with that advertiser. Copies of these guidelines can be requested (at a minimal cost) directly from the Pet Bird Information Council. Recently Sally has come under an even heavier barrage of attacks. Many of these were initiated by another publication that in my opinion is a cheap, lesser knock-off of The Companion Parrot Quarterly. How this publication came about as well as the people involved and their attacks on Sally is an example of the worst side of this business. Parrot Island has, and currently does, face similar attacks and so I feel a definite sympathy for Sally's difficulties as they are on a much larger scale. Because of the scale on which the attacks on Sally Blanchard occur as well as the current state of our economy I feel it is even more admirable that Sally refuse to compromise her principles. I would encourage everyone to support the Companion Parrot Quarterly and The Pet Bird Information Council as much as possible. The best way to do this is to either directly subscribe or purchase The Companion Parrot Quarterly from an authorized retailer. Sally also has a book that we consider to be the best behavioral guide currently published. It is titled The Companion Parrot Handbook and can be purchased either directly or through Parrot Island. One of the best ways to show support is to E-mail or write to Sally directly and tell her how much you appreciate what she does. I know how much this type of response would be appreciated by her.

Many of you know that the 4th Pet Bird Information Council Companion Parrot Convention will be held in Minneapolis at the Airport Marriott, May 17th through May 19th, 2002. The first three conventions were held in California. Sally's decision to come to Minnesota was based on Minnesota being centrally located and therefore the convention would draw more people from central and eastern United States. Her other reason, one that we are very proud of, was that Parrot Island was located in Minnesota. Part of her decision was also based on the excellent experience she had during the two Parrot Island sponsored seminars she gave in 1998 and 2000.

The convention coming to Minnesota was seen by a number of groups as a way to try to gain legitimacy through trying to be associated with the convention. Being located in California Sally has had a difficult time keeping on top of every stage of the convention's planning. Trying to operate Parrot Island as well as dealing with occasional family health issues kept us from being as on top of things as we should have been. A number of these groups sent in registrations for vendor space at the convention to promote their businesses and organizations. Once I became aware of this fact and that the groups mentioned were ones that clearly did not meet the guidelines of the Parrot Behavioral Information Council or those necessary for Parrot Island to recommend them I immediately contacted Sally Blanchard and advised her of the situation.

Many of our customers, as long time subscribers, volunteered to contact Sally and give their opinions. Even though Sally was hard pressed on several fronts she still elected to stand by her principles and those of the Parrot Behavioral Information Council.

The convention is moving ahead as planned there will be wonderful speakers, vendors, and several days of great information and entertainment. There is also the knowledge that the funds collected during the convention will go to support an organization such as Sally Blanchard and The Parrot Behavioral Information Council. Issue 54, page 17, of the Companion Parrot Quarterly has the information and the registration form.

In conclusion, either Sally Blanchard or Parrot Island could have "bent" our ethics and taken the easy way out, bur neither one of us were willing to "bend" when that "bending" would have resulted in us not staying true to our principles. The welfare of the birds must come first.

This article was published on Tuesday 22 June, 2004.
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