(Oscar's Story) by Dotty Hart of "Your Lucky Parrot" in Kentucky
The purpose of Perma-Play publishing the following story is because we, as avian caretakers, need to take responsibility for the lives entrusted to us. It's all about being concerned enough to help avian medical research find the answers that can save thousands of companion parrots, maybe even our own, one day. If we love the birds, we must do everything in our power to ensure that their physical and emotional well-being is a priority. Oscar's horrible tragedy was no one's "fault" -- it was simply due to a lack of medical knowledge about his condition.
The author's hope in publishing this article is that it will motivate other people to support avian medical research, hence making the loss of her beloved Blue & Gold Macaw a little easier to bear. Ask your veterinarian today how you can help by contributing to valid research programs and many other efforts.
Goodbye My Love...
It started a year ago. It was a year of devastating back sets of small triumphs, a year of high joys, a year of deep sadness. It started with a small itch on his back and progressed to angry open holes.
Oscar was an incredibly beautiful blue and gold Macaw. He came into my life when he was a year and a half old. His first family was not able to keep him and I was blessed to be chosen to keep, care, and love this young life. The first time I met him he laid on his back in my arms and tried to feed me. He loved me almost as much as I loved him.
This bright intelligent creature brought an amazing joy and wonder to my life. Our first three years together were wonderful. He was so bright, teaching him was no effort. When I would have to leave the house I always said "I have to go out, but I'll be back." He started to say, "Ibe do." He said this for several days. One day what he was saying came out loud and clear! "I have to go out, but I'll be back." The "Ibe do" was "I'll be back." I started to teach him our phone number, but he was never able to quite get the numbers in proper order. Whenever I moved his cage for cleaning I always said "Hold on!" He started to tell the other birds in the family when they were moved to "Hold on!" He lived in a beautiful room that has windows floor to ceiling on three sides. One day he saw a child riding his bicycle down the street in front of our house, and because the child was moving he called to the child "Hold on! Hold on!" The command to get on my arm was perch-on. To get off was perch-off. Whenever I passed close to him he would beg "Perch on?" (I wish I had never refused to hold him) When Whitney Joe, the Cockatoo, would start on one of his screaming sessions, Oscar would call in a disgusted voice "Whitney Joe, do you want to go night night!" I could write a book about the sweet things he did.
The first indication that there was a problem was when he began to scratch his back. Not constantly at first, but it was as if a flea would bite him. If you've seen a dog lying peacefully and a flea would bite, Oscar's reaction was the same. He could be eating or playing and the bite or itch would stop him and he would bite at it. He developed a small sore on his back. I took him to his pediatrician (veterinarian) Dr. Sam Vaughn, where a full check-up was done. The only thing that was found was an elevation of zinc. We are totally puzzled as to how he got the zinc. The doctor put him on calcium EDTA, an ingredient that pulls metal out of the body. His condition stayed about the same. After a month, I took him back to the doctor to have the zinc level checked. Test showed the zinc was still in his body. This meant he had to have injections twice a day. Two dear friends, Sue and Jerry Clark (God bless them) took on this awesome responsibility and kept my love at their home for two weeks. After the two weeks, Oscar was tested again and the zinc level was normal. I brought my baby home.
Dr. Vaughn put Oscar on Baytril, an antibiotic. Getting the Baytril into the bird is no easy task, as anyone who has tried can testify. (It tastes much like ear wax, but don't know how I know) I've found you can get almost any medication into a bird in Cool Whip, except for Baytril. I tried peanut butter, and almost anything I could think of, and he tried to take the medication because I asked him to. Eventually we finished the dosage, and his back seemed to be better.
He continued to scratch at his back, not constantly, but the itch became worse. His doctor decided he should have a biopsy. The biopsy was done, and I brought him home. I had to make certain he left the stitches in place. (I held my breath) The first night was fine, the second day was okay too. The evening of the second day, my husband and I were dressing to go out, and I stepped into the bird room to check on my boy. His beak was bloody as he had torn a stitch. We rushed him back to the doctor. Dr. Vaughn felt an Elizabethan Collar was essential to give the back time to heal. The collar was put on Oscar. He was not happy, but he seemed to tolerate it well, so we brought him home again. I put a sleeping bag in front of his cage and slept there for four nights, just to make sure if he fell I would be there. I would be there if he needed me. It broke my heart to see the limitations the collar gave him. We moved food and water dishes so he would be able to eat and drink with some ease.
His back began to heal and he seemed to get a little better. We decided to remove the collar. In a very short time, Oscar started to bite his back again. Dr. Vaughn, who was constantly researching trying to find an answer, put him on Predinisone. The results were dramatic! The itching stopped immediately! It was wonderful to see him playing and just being my Oscar again. We kept him on the dosage for two weeks and slowly started to decrease it. He did well on the lower dosage too. I began to breathe easier. Dr. Vaughn had to go to an avian conference, after which he planned a vacation. He called me from Atlanta between flights to tell me there had been thirty something avian veterinarians at the conference and Oscar had been the main topic of conversation. (How can you not love a doctor that cares that much?) One veterinarian kept a blue and gold on Predinisone for ten years and he tolerated it well. So it seemed the Predinisone was safe for that species.
While Dr. Vaughn was gone, Oscar became worse, tearing at his back. I remember one Friday night with Dr. Vaughn gone, my husband gone fishing, and Oscar was just miserable. I had to do something to help him, and the tears didn't help. Out of pure desperation, I called a psychic, who was supposed to be able to communicate with animals. She was well known and reputable. Supposedly, she could look into the animal's body and see the problem, or communicate with the animal to ask what was bothering them. I had two books she has written and she seemed kind. I knew she would help. I called California and told her our problem. Her reply was "send twenty dollars, and I will talk to him to see if I can tell what is wrong." I begged back, "Can't you talk to him tonight, he needs help." Her reply was "No, not without the money." I asked if she took credit cards, but she did not. As I've thought about our conversation that night, I realize had she been a true psychic, she would have known I would have paid a hundred times what she asked. I would have mortgaged my home to get help for my baby. Had she been a caring human, she would heard the pleading desperation and tears in my voice.
Although I was a little frightened to mess with the dosage of the Predinisone, I upped the dosage to where we started. That helped. When Dr. Vaughn returned from vacation, we decided to call Dr. Branson Ritchie. (We had tried almost everything else that either of us could think of) Dr. Ritchie suggested it could be an allergy. He said I should put Oscar on the Harrison diet and get him outside as often as possible. I bought him an outside enclosure. Fortunately, the weather was warm and I was able to put him outside every day. He converted to the Harrison diet better than I dared hope. I did feel guilty when I gave the other birds spaghetti. (Oscar's favorite!) I tried to arrange the spaghetti feeding for the others when he was outside. The new diet didn't help, nothing helped. One afternoon when I had tried distractions with food and a new toy, he was still miserable and scratching. I went into the bedroom and laid down. I looked at the blue and gold figurine on my dresser, the eyes seemed to say "why can't you help me?" I prayed, "Please God, give me an answer."
I needed to go out of town for the weekend on a job-related project. Oscar was miserable. I called the doctor, and he told me to increase the Predinisone dosage. I did and it helped a lot. I felt it was okay to leave. When I returned on Monday, he was worse. I immediately called Dr. Vaughn. We scheduled an appointment early the next morning. Monday night after I put him to bed must have been horrible for him, because when I uncovered him the next day, he had blood all over his cage. I rushed him to the doctor. The doctor put him under a light anesthetic and cleaned his wounds (deep holes) and put the collar back on him.
Dr. Vaughn suggested I go home and get his cage because he would be more comfortable in that. I drove home (an hour away) to pick up his cage and bring it back to the office. The doctor put him in his cage. I sat on the floor and talked to him until I felt he needed a rest. I drove to the grocery store to pick up some Brazil nuts for him to have when he came home. He loved Brazil nuts, and I wanted to do something for him. And that's all I could think of to do. When I got home, there was a message on my answering machine to call Dr. Vaughn. As I picked up the phone, I prayed, "Please God let it be good news." Dr. Vaughn said when he went into check on Oscar, he appeared to have a convulsion and he died. We both cried.
Through my grief, I thought to myself what did I do wrong? What didn't I do, that I should have done? What did I do to cause the death of my baby? Arrow, my African Gray, seemed to know something was very wrong. She tried to soothe me. She kept saying "Poor baby, poor baby." Those are the words I use to calm her when she is frightened. I wanted to bring my Oscar home and bury him next to our beloved dog Sydney, but I knew it was essential that we get a necropsy done because we needed answers.
The following is a portion of the letter I wrote to Oscar two days after he died. They told me sometimes it helps to put your grief on paper.
As a poet once said, "Go gently into the night." My precious Oscar, you did, on a beautiful October day. You would have been six years old in November. My love, you came into my life when you were a year and a half. You were pure energy and love. We had four years together my darling, and I will treasure each moment we had. My love, thank you for the joy you brought into my life. Thank you for being you. I will always love you, my darling. Only those who have loved a special angel will understand my pain. So, my Oscar, go gently into the night and know how much you are loved. Mom.
The necropsy told us he had an auto-immune defense and a congenital defect. PLEASE, this is my plea. We need to help our wonderful doctors, who do research. Avian medicine is in its infancy. If even half of the bird clubs in the United States would give a thousand dollars each, what progress could be made against the diseases that plague our birds. What if no other bird parent had to lose their baby? Just think ... how wonderful that would be.