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HERNANDO AND CITRUS COUNTY

 

FOR THE BIRDS

By Donna Vavala

Wendy Haas, 51, always wanted a cockatoo for a pet, so when she saw a pair of them advertised for sale in the newspaper, she didn’t hesitate to buy them. Lizzy and Ziggy came from a filthy home and needed medical attention, a diet change and lots of love, but they proved to be wonderful pets.

But all was not rosy. Lizzie suffered from epilepsy spells and, a year later, Ziggy became very sick from an intermittent intestinal blockage that ultimately killed him over a two-year period. Haas and her family were devastated and decided not to replace him, but Lizzie changed their minds. She was as heartbroken as they were, and Wendy’s daughter, Tanya, insisted they get a new pal for Lizzie. Tanya was so enamored by the birds that she wanted to become an avian veterinarian. Sadly, she died in a car accident in 1995 at age 17.

After much searching, the family found a parrot rescue and, after talking to one of the rescuers, who explained the dire need for more parrot rescuers, Wendy decided to start one in honor of Ziggy. That was in 2004 in Lake City, Fla. Two years ago, the Haas’ moved their rescue to their hometown of Inverness. They bought a house on seven acres and are currently trying to buy the adjoining five-acre property so they can expand.

“This is a beautiful community,” said Wendy. “You can drive down the road and wave, and people wave back.”

The house is fronted by woods and set back off the road. A long dirt drive winds past seven huge outdoor metal enclosures and a couple smaller ones full of a variety of tropical birds—101 of them, to be exact—many chattering, all beautiful. These are the birds that are not adoptable because they bite and/or are not socialized.

Strutting and clucking around the house are a handful of hens that provide fresh eggs for the Haases. Several rescued horses and colts are corralled in the barn beside the house.

On the other side, on a screened side porch, there are six or eight large cages, some holding pairs of birds, some with only one. Inside the house, more cages line the kitchen, bedroom, living room—wherever one can fit. The house is home to the 65 tropical birds that are currently adoptable.

“This isn’t our house,” she said. “It’s their house.”

Why are there so many birds up for adoption?

Some birds come into the rescue because their owners have died or are unable to care for them physically or financially. Some are confiscated in hoarding cases, usually in large numbers.

“Some of these birds can live 80-plus years and outlive you,” Wendy said, “It can cost between $20 and $60 a month for food. And then there are vet bills. People need to plan ahead when they adopt one of these birds.”

Surprisingly, Wendy said a lot of cockatiels that get loose from their owners, fly in and end up staying.

“We put an open cage out there,” said Wendy. “If they fly in, they can stay.”

Thank goodness for volunteers!

Feeding, socializing, changing the water, hanging toys, cleaning and changing paper in cages for 165 birds, can be overwhelming, but luckily Wendy has help. Right now, there are seven or eight regular volunteers. About twice that many are needed because most volunteers have full time jobs in addition to putting in volunteer hours.

Wendy prefers volunteers who are at least 14 years of age, who have waivers (because some birds are wild and bite), and she hopes they will be able to help 20 hours a week. Other types of needed volunteer assistance include: fundraising, grant writing, media and public relations, construction, maintenance, landscaping and fostering.

Ziggy’s is a non-profit 501(c)3 charity that welcomes donations from individuals, groups and businesses

Most of the cages on Wendy’s property were purchased with donated funds, and donations are needed to keep the rescued birds in food, toys and vet bills. And to create more interest in adopting birds, Wendy is raising money for her new pet project.

“We’re looking to build an education center on the property,” Wendy said. “We’d like to have school groups come in once we get it built.”

The rescue also visits area libraries and holds events to “let people know that we have great birds here looking for a home.” There is a Facebook page that needs updating constantly, plenty of jobs for volunteers of all ages.

How much does it cost to adopt a bird at Ziggy’s?

Because there is such a large variety of birds, Wendy said the prices for adopting one vary greatly. There are cockatoos, Amazons, Macaws, love birds, ring necks, hawk head parrots, and many more varieties. If you bought one from a breeder or a pet store, some of these birds could cost upwards of $10,000.

”We don’t charge specific fees; we ask for a donation,” said Wendy. “Smaller cockatoos are $50 a pair, a Macaw is $300. Each bird comes vetted by a veterinarian, with a cage, and a month’s supply of food and toys. We make a list of likes and dislikes for each bird.

To make sure the adopter and the bird can adapt to each other, Wendy recommends daily visits with the bird of choice to include feeding and handling it.

“You have to use caution. If they don’t like you when you take them home, they’ll never like you,” she said. “Everything is going to be scary, but you’ll be familiar and they’ll know they’ll be safe because you have been good to them.”

Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary is located at 2600 E. Hayes St., Inverness. For more information or to make a donation, call: 352-422-1874. Email: ziggy’shaven.org. Visit them online at Facebook.

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