A Tribute To A Special Lady
by Carina Graham
I received a call from my sister. “So… we have a parrot here, and we don’t know what to do with it.”
Once upon a time there was an elderly man who could no longer take care of himself. His family decided to put him into an assisted living facility. The problem? This man had a parrot, an African grey and no one else in the family knew what to do with the bird. After asking around, someone in the family gave this parrot to their dog’s groomer. Though the groomer was an animal lover, she was aware that she had no experience or knowledge when it came to caring for birds. Fortunately for the african grey parrot, this groomer was my sister’s roommate.
She brought the bird home and then called me, a brand-new recruit to The Chloe Sanctuary for Parrots and Cockatoos. And I’ll admit it… I panicked a little. A real parrot! With no home! Abandoned! Oh no! What to do?
So I did what any new volunteer would do. I called the director of our sanctuary to ask for help. After explaining the situation to Father Don, he asked me to bring the bird over. I left my house right away and drove forty-five minutes to my sister’s.
When I arrived, I found a grey bird, much smaller that I had imagined, standing in the back of her cage staring at me. “Her name is Murri,” my sister said, “short for Murrieta. She talks, but she hasn’t said anything yet.”
I sized Murri up, and I think she did the same to me. She stood, silent and still, probably apprehensive about what was going to happen to her. Her chest and legs were plucked of feathers, giving her a very ragged appearance. Perhaps it had been a lifelong condition, or maybe it was something that had come with the stress of recent events. When we loaded up my SUV and put her and her travel cage in the front seat of my car it didn’t help matters. Poor Murri, having just left her owner of however many years and being passed from house to house in a very short amount of time probably didn’t know what to think of all the commotion. We got her in, and off I went on a short drive to Father Don’s.
I wanted to make this little bird feel better, so I played music and I sang and I talked to her. Murri just stood still and stared at me. I vividly remember her golden eyes watching me as I sang, wary and unsure, as if wondering what I would do to her next.
We made it to Don’s place unscathed, and he met us outside. He opened the passenger side door to help carry Murri inside. And this grey parrot that had been still and silent this entire time looked at him, stood up straight and tall, and said very clearly:
It was as if she was introducing herself. And Don took the prompt right away. “Hi Murri!” he said enthusiastically. “Want to come in?”
That was the start of it, and in that very moment I knew I was witnessing something special. Murri hadn’t spoken a word to me, my sister, or her roommates this whole time but there was something about Father Don that she instantly connected with, and connected enough to want him to know who she was.
There is one thing I’ve learned in volunteering with an animal rescue. A person can work as hard as they possibly can and help to save as many lives as humanly possible but when a parrot chooses you, that’s something that cannot be replicated or replaced. Murri definitely chose Don.
Over the years, Father Don worked very hard with that girl. He helped to reduce her feather destructive behavior. She became more vocal with him. They withstood a house fire and a move together. He observed amazing behaviors between her and the cockatoos in his care. She taught him things about parrots, and he taught her to love and trust a human again. Over the years, they forged a strong bond.
Anyone who knows Father Don knows that he has many cockatoos in his care. As one might think, having several of these giant white birds keeps a person very busy but Don still made time for Murri, personal time set aside every night for her and him to spend together, time that they both cherished and needed from each other. Over the years, she developed her own special word that she only shared with Don. She would say “Murr”, a shortened version of her name, like a little purr. Only for her special person.
Those of us around them, who never heard that special word, grew to love Murri nonetheless. We were amused and delighted by her antics. She would boss around those cockatoos like a pygmy queen sitting on her perch! “Oh good grief!” Murri would cry, watching those white creatures chase each other across their cages. When Don would bring a special snack of almond butter, she would say, feeling most satisfied, “You’re a good boy!” Sometimes, when no one was paying much attention to her, she would politely cough, just enough to startle a person into looking at her, before we remembered that parrots don’t actually cough.
Murri was an old parrot when she came into Father Don’s care. At least fifty, Doctor Young estimated by her feather condition and her arthritis. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when her weight began to fluctuate in the last year, or when she began to drop some of her clever vocabulary. Still, no one expected the end to come.
On March 10, Murri had a neurological event, perhaps a stroke. She had an issue with motor skills right away, but slowly recovered them. Physically, she was weak, but mentally she was sharp. She showed signs of knowing her name, and knowing her special person. All the volunteers with The Chloe Sanctuary held our breath for days while she slowly recovered. Perching, eating, responding to cues from Don. She had ups and downs. Times when she was so exhausted she could hardly stand on her feet, or when she would stand on the bottom of her cage with her chin resting on her perch and would sleep for hours.
Our wonderful avian vet, Dr. Lee Young of Discovery Animal Hospital in San Marcos, examined her and confirmed our worst fears, that Murri was suffering from a protein deficit, especially the proteins that help with immune response. It wasn’t something that was treatable. Murri was just an old bird, and like any mortal creature, her body began to give out.
I helped Don pick her up from the vet after an overnight stay, and when the assistants brought her out I heard that bird give a sweet cry of “Murr!” as soon as she saw her special person. Murri only had eyes for Don, and did well on the way back to his home. There I was privilidged to hold her while Don prepared some food and while we all sat and talked for some time after. Murri was exhausted. She laid in my hands and fell asleep several times in her dish of food. Still, she kept hearing Don’s voice and kept waking up and looking over at him with those bright, golden eyes of hers.
The next day, Murri seemed to wake up. She was eating well, and giving Don attitude about getting almonds. She made bubble sounds when she was spoken to and reacted to her surroundings. She and Don had a last, good day and then Murri drifted away. Thankfully she didn’t exhibit pain or suffering, just seemed so very sleepy at the end. Yet even the most peaceful death is heartbreaking to those that love. There are many, many people who loved Murri. I cannot speak for her caretaker, the person she loved the most and who loved her the same. I know that he must be aching beyond reason or comprehension at the loss of his beloved companion, but I can say that Murri was the first parrot I ever helped to rescue. She was the one who made the mission of The Chloe Sanctuary real to me. She was the first bird I witnessed coming from a state of petrified fear and uncertainty to finding a loving, secure home. She was the first bird I witnessed learn to love and trust again, to watch her unfold like a flower over time, revealing a little more of herself as she got more comfortable and felt more safe.
Thank you, Murri. Thank you for the opportunity to know you in the beginning and the end. Thank you for giving us human beings a second chance after you were given away so freely. And thank you for helping to build a rescue group that has, and will continue to help more birds like you.
Please remember, friends, that the mission to rescue these special creatures is not free. Times are tough for us all right now, but if you can make a donation (perhaps in Murri’s memory), The Chloe Sanctuary will continue to help save more parrots in need.
We are grieving, but we know our mission is never over. While there will never be another Murri, there is always another bird who is hurting, who is just waiting to show someone how very special they are.