01/25/2012 02:31 pm ET Updated Mar 26, 2012

Let's Not Forget the Birds

I have loved animals my entire life, and there is only one thing that I have always hated about sharing my life with them -- having to say "goodbye" far too early. I think most of us can agree that if we could change one thing about our pets it would be their longevity.

But sometimes that very attribute that we all seek in our pets -- the ability to live long, healthy and happy lives -- can present a challenge. This is particularly the case with large captive exotic birds such as parrots, macaws and cockatoos that can live more than 65 years. Since many large birds can outlive their human guardians, they are often by necessity rehomed several times during their lives. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to rehome a bird and many animal shelters do not take in homeless birds.

Birds of all sizes can be wonderful companions, as they are intelligent and captivating. They can also be loud and messy when expressing their natural behaviors. However, when deprived of an outlet for their natural behaviors (such as flight) they may bite, pull out their feathers or get depressed. Birds are sensitive to various stressors and, depending on their size, may be expensive to care for. Too often people who acquire birds as pets do not educate themselves before they do so and, hence, do not understand their special needs. Given all of these factors, shelters and sanctuaries that do take in homeless birds are rapidly filling.

Local animal shelters would do well to develop relationships with avian rescue groups and community bird groups. These species-specific experts can offer foster care and re-homing options.

If you are currently the guardian of an unwanted bird, please know that releasing exotic captive birds into the wild is a death sentence for most. If you cannot find another home for him or her on your own, contact your local shelter or bird rescue.

For shelters that are considering the implementation of a bird program, always keep in mind that birds are prey animals and that stress should be minimized. Work with local avian rescues to train your shelter personnel in bird care. The information necessary to safely care for birds is far too complex to convey here, but certain practices are universal, such as the importance of taking a good history upon intake. First, you should find out why the bird is being surrendered. What problem behaviors does he exhibit? How old is he? How many homes has he had and how long did he live at each home? Has he lived with and gotten along with other birds? What other animals has he been exposed to? Does he prefer one gender? Is the bird male or female? What does he eat? Obtaining answers to these questions is important to the bird's next guardians as well as to the veterinarian and shelter staff.

House birds in a relatively quiet room in the shelter. Before a bird is handled at the shelter, try to observe him. Monitor his alertness. Remember that the bird may not be used to handling by strangers. When you are ready to handle him, make sure you have all your equipment and supplies ready, to minimize stress. All captive birds should be banded, so take note of the numbers on those bands. For shelters that have an active bird program, new birds should be quarantined from the rest of your flock for 40 days to safeguard health.

I hope that one day there is a safe shelter or rescue in every community for legal pets of all types, but until then species-specific rescue groups need our support. To that end, the ASPCA has issued a call for proposals open to 501(c)(3) avian rescues and sanctuaries to improve the welfare of birds. We will award up to a total of $25,000 in grants of $500-5,000 to help deserving groups promote adoptions, make capital improvements, purchase enrichment equipment, train shelter staff in bird care, and pay for vet care for victims of abuse or neglect. More details can be found about the ASPCA's bird grant program at Act soon, since all applications must be received no later than March 1, 2012.