I really can’t remember when I first met Liz — it was so long ago. Avian medicine was in its infancy, and we would attend meetings and hang onto every word. Those words would provide clues that might help us save birds’ lives. There were few pieces of information written, so we relied on the experiences of others to help us move forward in the field of avian medicine.
Most meetings of the Association on Avian Veterinarians were small enough that you got to know those in attendance pretty quickly, and it was there that I first heard Liz talk. She came by her credentials from the road of experience — as a veterinary technician who had seen a lot of parrots and, like all of us, knew that we needed to help them adjust to a life in captivity.
She came to lecture to veterinary students and veterinarians back in the early ’90s at The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. I think that was my first time to sit down with Liz over a period of days and talk ”parrot.” Her deep voice (a bit gravelly), quick wit, and even quicker assessment of the situation, were hallmarks.
I remember the first thing that Liz wanted all parrot owners to do when they first got their bird and especially if they were having a problem: she wanted them to take it to their avian vet! She needed them to learn from their vet the “bad birdie” diseases and how to keep them safe. We all knew then that husbandry issues – the lack of quality care, from food to cages – had a hand in killing birds. As a veterinary technician, Liz knew how important it was at getting care right. In a more recent conversation with her, we discussed that even fewer new bird owners, and even bird owners in general, do not seek yearly exams and help from avian veterinarians.
Liz was even more alarmed at Internet doctoring and many owners’ lack of general knowledge. She alluded to the hazard of Internet misinformation and mystery sources with her famous quote, “The danger with internet quotes is that they can rarely be verified… Abraham Lincoln. ” With this, she again demonstrated her wit and cut-to-the-chase style of communication. She knew that this problem has only escalated and is a detriment to parrots!
Another topic that we had recently discussed was her rewriting of the veterinary issue topics in her articles. The first issue is “Is it TRUE you can’t tell when a bird is SICK?” She relates in one of her articles that a novice bird owner actually picked out a bird because he was “real nice and quiet.” Her recommendation was to … you guessed it … take your bird to your avian vet! As she related, it is NOT normal for a parrot to be quiet. And in this case the bird had psittacosis, a disease that can be transmitted to people and make them very sick! The point is that birds often have subtle symptoms when they are first sick, and these early warning signs are very important clues. That means that when an owner sees a bird on the bottom of the cage, the time to go to the vet … is NOW!
“When dogs are sick they stare at you with mournful eyes and they practically pull on your pant leg and say I DON’T FEEL GOOD! This is because (as a predator species) the body language is so different… and with birds the body language is unfamiliar.” Liz related that she had a problem with her female, blue-and-gold macaw, Sam, and so she took her to her avian vet. She said that she knew that there was a change but “telling the difference between a normal biological change and that a medical problem developing is the job of a competent avian veterinarian.”
As she told vet students so long ago, when working with owners she would refuse to work on their bird’s behavior problem until they had been “vetted,” that is, the bird was thoroughly examined by a veterinarian. She also insisted that birds go to qualified vets. In one of her articles, she related how a bird owner said her vet had told her that her bird had a runny nose due to an allergy. Liz, in her quintessential, direct manner, questioned the qualifications of “this vet! ” She stressed that the vet be “competent in avian medicine.” And to determine a vet’s competency, Liz had a routine question that she would pose to the receptionist — “What was the most recent continuing education avian veterinary seminar the vet attended?” As she said, there are fewer veterinarians who are willing to spend their own money and their own time to attend a continuing education seminar having to do with birds. Her attitude was “my own bird deserves state-of-the art medicine, and yours does too!”
Another issue that we discussed recently was her article, “The ToP 18 ways to drive an Avian Veterinarian CRAZY.” This is a classic article and those of us who only see birds and exotics really understand and unfortunately nod our heads in recognition, albeit sadly. Those words still rattle us vets 15 years later. One common item to share is number 5 from an owner: “Don’t do annual check-ups with their birds, only bring in a bird when there is an emergency.” Unfortunately, this still drives avian vets crazy. Birds deserve yearly exams just like dogs and cats!
I will always remember Liz at the podium discussing how we vets would grab birds up in a towel – acting, as she said, like a Harpy eagle! “And how and what does the parrot think?” she asked the veterinary audience with her eyes almost bulging! “No wonder they scream and are in a panic!” She went through a calm, slow approach with the towel, and we all benefitted.
Once she came to visit my avian and exotic animal hospital, and she patiently answered questions and worked with a variety of owners, from those wanting a 5-minute “silver bullet” session to ask questions about their birds to those who paid to spend an hour with her and their birds. She was able to assess and provide care from biters to screamers to complex problems. I remember how Liz replied to an owner who said her young Amazon parrot had not bitten her. “Yet!” was Liz’s one-word response. I often think of that word when owners say similar things. And I smile, and think ”Yet “in Liz’s voice.
Liz reminded us that parrots are intelligent sentient creatures. She wanted so much for humans and birds to live well together. Her words over the years ring true to all of us in our search to enhance the lives our companion birds. Liz was very special, just like the parrots that she loved. We will miss her words of wisdom.