The Role of the Humane Officer in Bird Rescue
How to Change It
In the past few months Humane Officers played two different roles in cases in Ohio. I’ll not mention names, but in one case, one refused to do anything, and even returned the owner his birds when in fact they were still being held on his property, not even confiscated. She even stated that she could do nothing, her hands were tied. Birds this man had bred for years, were allowed to suffer, and die, with no vet care, very little of food, and water, he allowed them to live in the worst conditions imaginable. It had once been a mobile home, and the birds were just let go in the home to take over, and they chewed the paneling off, crawled in the holes they made and could not get out and died. Some birds attacked one another, and killed one another. Furthermore, some got their leg bands caught on cages, and were left there to eventually die. The humane officer even did away with evidence of dead, decapitated and even mummified birds were strewn about like trash. This case is so horrible that writing it is making me ill to this day. I like many have seen the images posted on facebook from here to Timbuktu. It went viral. This case of abuse was never prosecuted. The abuser, owner, in his own words “a money hungry bird breeder” never was charged with a crime. The bird club, who was asked to come in, was blamed for stealing birds, even though the owner signed a release form. The club was taken in front of a Grand Jury Hearing, to see if they themselves could be charged and thankfully no indictment was handed down against them. But the case continues in the way of lawsuits. The case is about who owns the birds, the Vet who received the birds by the club via a transfer. Or the owner who let them suffer and die in the name of a dollar. The vet spent an enormous amount of money to get these birds to somewhat normal, but they will need ongoing care for the rest of their lives.
The other case is that of a Rescue / Sanctuary a 501c3 on-profit organization that has been around for years doling out the minimum care standards, such as food water, touting they were always broke, and the woman who runs it, and her board of directors who allowed conditions to get worse, and worse over time. The birds endured filthy conditions such as mice, crawling in the cages of the birds, keeping containers of food uncovered, and mice and roaches climbing all over the food. This was a commercial building, where birds were in the front window, and the sun beating down on them in the summer heat. They touted needing volunteers to help, feed, and clean, but if anyone dare make a suggestion, or questioned them in the least, they were fired (now remember these were volunteers). As if you can fire a volunteer. I personally knew of two such volunteers. I have received calls on an average of once a month asking what we can do about getting this rescue closed. Every time my statement was the same. “Call the County Humane Officer”. I’m a citizen like them, I have no authority, and I’d call and say I’d be willing to help them with my experience as a bird owner, and director, or assistant director of several rescues over the years. But if a Humane Officer blows you off or won’t do anything, what can you do? Well they got a new humane officer in town, finally one who cared, one who took her job seriously, and when offers came in from “Bird People” she listened. She made a case; she contacted the people who could assist. She brought in other departments, Attorneys, Health Department, HSUS, and a team of some of the best aviculturists around, and did the impossible. This Humane Officer is the HERO, and I never use the term lightly. Although at this time the case is still open, I find the timing perfect for this article as well.
I am not a professional writer; I am just a “crazy bird person” who is jotting his thoughts on the ideal humane officer, what I believe the standards should be and what we in the community of bird people should do to assist them. Every state has their own laws in regards to animal care. But let’s face it folks food, and water, does not a good home make. We in the bird world know it is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT… Birds, or any animal need enrichment, in the way of toys, humane contact, good size housing, a clean environment, and last but not least good health care. I know there are those among us who do not do that, but really? That’s another article.
We need Humane Officers who will listen, we need Humane Officers who will go the extra mile and encourage the, (and I hate the term “Professionals” who live, and care for these creatures everyday) to get involved, not from the enforcement end but to help them understand what is, and what is not good animal care. No matter what the creature is they deserve the minimum standards. Food and water is not the minimum.
We can do this people, we can make a difference. We can volunteer to assist, we can educate them as we do anybody who gets a bird and wants to learn what to do. We as rescues are constantly educating, sharing our knowledge, just as those did for us. We did not become great bird owners by osmosis, or by reading a book, or even reading on opinion from one person. Humane Officers are people too. They make mistakes, and let’s face facts; there is no magic phonebook for rescues and sanctuaries being published. (Light bulb clicks next great idea). Some are afraid to approach these people the Humane Officer. I have never had one bite me yet, like the birds I care for.
In the state of Ohio all it takes is a minimum of 20 hours training to become an H.O. I do not believe this is enough; I think we need continuing education classes for them. Officers of the Law, Firefighters, EMS Workers, Doctors, etc, constantly train, retrain, and recertify to do their jobs. So what do we do about it? How do we change it? Where do we go from here? Do you have a working relationship with your HO’s? If you do share with the other groups how you approached them. This is the age of the internet. There are Bird groups all over Facebook, Twitter, and Forums. This is not hard anymore we can do this, instead of bad mouthing, each other. Work together, let’s change laws. Let’s get professional in our attitudes, in the way we present ourselves to these HO’s. Maybe, then maybe they will listen. Maybe they will take us seriously if we don’t act like the little snitch on the playground.
My very first group in the 80’s was “We’ll go out on a limb for your bird”.
My Mottos is “It’s not about what I do today that matters, It’s what I leave behind for the future that does.