Once upon a time there was a boy who met a bird. The boy really liked the bird, a little green Pacific Parrotlet, named Kiwi, and told his mom over and over again that he wished he could have a bird too.
His mom had grown up with birds, and thought yeah, having a bird might be fun. The family dog was getting up there in age, and there were only two fish left in the giant aquarium in the corner of the family room.
The mom thought back to the parakeets she had had as a child. Popcorn, the yellow and green parakeet, used to bite anyone who came near its cage, but would happily sit on the kitchen floor and stare out the patio door at the family cat who hungered from the other side of the glass for just.one.bite.
Baby bird, the blue parakeet, could talk. He’d sit on human shoulders and say “Gimme kisses, baby bird!” and then he’d peck at human lips to give them a kiss.
Yes, the mom thought, having a bird would be fun. She debated between parrotlets and parakeets and decided in the end, that since the boy was still young, it might be best to start with the less expensive breed, the breed she had some experience with. And besides, she thought, how hard could it be?
And so the mom and the boy made arrangements to buy a baby parakeet, one that had been hand raised by a breeder. Sure, they could have saved some money (and time) by going to their local pet store for a parakeet, but the mom was certain this was the way to ensure that they got a friendly little tame bird. And more importantly, a healthy bird, because breeders are better than pet stores by far…
The mom got things ready for the bird to come home. She ordered a bird cage on-line, waited two weeks for it to arrive, then received an email saying the particular cage she wanted was out of stock. So she went to another website where she spent a small fortune on a flight cage so the bird would have plenty of room to spread his wings. At the local pet store she bought a small cage, one the bird could use and be safe in if the family ever needed to clean out the large cage. The small cage was too small to make a home, but would do the job should a temporary space be needed for a few hours, or even a day.
The mom bought toys, and perches, seeds and pellets. And then she bought a third cage, a tiny little thing no bigger than a shoe box, one meant to transport the bird, if it should ever need to go to the vet.
When the house was all set, with three cages and food and playthings for the bird, the mom set aside the better part of a Saturday afternoon and drove an hour and half away to pick up the family’s newest pet. She paid for the bird and turned around and drove an hour and a half home with the little parakeet, named Blueberry, sitting in a little cardboard box on the seat beside her.
And then, because the breeder offered a health guarantee, the mom took Blueberry to an avian vet for his very first physical. The little bird was deemed healthy, and the mom’s bank account was $100.00 shorter for the effort (ahem, not counting the cost of the three bird cages and the food and the toys that had already been purchased).
Life was good.
For almost a whole week.
Then, one morning, the bird didn’t seem so healthy. The mom was alarmed, so she took the bird back to the vet who determined the bird had Giardia. Giardia, the vet explained, was CONTAGIOUS. HUMANS could catch it. The mom would have to give the bird antibiotics twice a day for two weeks. She would have to wash and bleach the cage and all the bird toys and food bowls twice a week as well. The family would have to be diligent about washing their hands after handling the bird. If they got sick, they were to tell the doctors their bird had Giardia, and perhaps they did too? This was serious. This was BAD. And OMG the mom’s germ phobia anxiety peaked and she wanted to leave the bird with the vet. She wanted to let the bird loose in the parking lot, let him fly away to live in the wild and infect the wild bird population because OMG! OMG! OMG! GIARDIA?! In her Blueberry? In her HOUSE!
The vet didn’t offer to keep the bird. Instead, the mom was given antibiotics and dire warnings, and a bill for $130.00, and told to return in two weeks. And oh, by the way? The bird had lost some weight over the week it had been living with the mom and her family. And weight loss in a bird is not always a good thing. In this case, in fact, it was a bad thing. So the mom should weigh the bird everyday, with a gram scale. And no, that was unlikely to be the scale she had in her bathroom.
Have you ever tried to feed a bird antibiotics from a tiny little syringe? It’s not unlike getting foul tasting medicine into a squirming angry child. There’s screaming and squawking (on the bird’s part) and pleas and please oh please just swallow it already!, and sighs and rolling of the eyes (and maybe a few tears) on the mom’s part. Every day, for two.straight.weeks.
The cage cleaning was troublesome. The large flight cage was too big to wash in the basement deep sink, and too large and heavy to haul up the stairs to the shower. After the mom spent a cold afternoon scrubbing and bleaching the cage down outside where snow still covered the ground, she realized that, for the time being anyway, this large cage just wouldn’t do. So the mom moved the bird to the small cage for a night, before deciding with absolute certainty that the small cage really was too small, and the purchase of a medium sized cage was in order.
Soon the mom had FOUR birdcages, and one bird, whom she’d taken to weighing on her kitchen scale, the one meant to weigh portion sizes of food, not parakeets with Giardia.
At the end of two weeks, the mom took the bird back to the vet who said the bird looked much healthier, had put on a little bit of weight it had previously lost, and wasn’t at present, shedding Giardia. Still the bird should continue to take the antibiotics for an additional two weeks. To be “cured” of Giardia a bird needs at least two clean samples taken a few weeks apart (the samples, in case you didn’t know, come from the bird’s fresh poop). And since Giardia isn’t always shed, it was possible to get a clean sample one time, and sample full of Giardia another time. This is not unlike the samples a man must submit after having a vasectomy. Several clean ones are required to ensure the man doesn’t spread pregnancy. In this case, repeated clean samples are needed to ensure the bird doesn’t spread Giardia. So, after two weeks of treatment, things were looking up. But you have to look up to find the sun when you’re deep in the forest, right?
Being on the antibiotic had thrown off the relationship between good and bad bacteria in the bird’s gut, and they needed to fix that. So the mom was given ANOTHER medication, one she had to add to the bird’s water each day. A medication which should balance out the good and bad bacteria as it should be. The mom was told to give the new medication to the bird every day for a full week, then stop that medication for a week, then start it again for a week, then stop it for a week. Armed with the new medication and all of this knowledge, the mom was handed a bill for $75.00. Good thing the mom had just gotten paid, and had some math skills and a calendar, because this was getting a little difficult (and expensive).
Still, the mom returned home full of hope. Sure, she had to continue the insane schedule of daily medication dosing and weekly cage cleaning, and she had to add this additional medication to the mix, but the bird WAS healthier. All she had to do was make it through two more weeks and go back for a re-check. The end was in sight. The mom was happy wearing her rose-colored glasses.
Until the day she cleaned the cage and the family dog got into the trash and ate the paper that had lined the bird’s cage. The paper that was covered in bird poop. The same bird poop which may or may not have been full of Giardia. Only another visit to the vet would tell, and that was still more than a week away. The mom decided that, since the dog was already 14 years old, and suffering from age related illnesses, that if the dog should come down with Giardia caught from eating tainted bird feces, well, SHE, the mom wasn’t dealing with that one. That could be the husband’s job. The mom already had her hands full.
Two weeks came and went and the mom, full of hope and thoughts of moving the little bird back into its large cage and moving the other three cages down to the basement and into storage, took the little bird back to the vet, only to be given a bill for $95.00 and to be told the GIARDIA WAS STILL THERE, and the bird would benefit from another MONTH of antibiotics. Because clearly, the mom has endless supplies of money and nothing better to do.