With all the pets I've had in my life, you'd think I'd have seen just about everything. And for the most part, that's true. But there's one thing I haven't dealt with because I've been both careful and lucky: I've never had a pet go missing for good.
I've come close a couple of times. A few years back, I was staying at my brother's house, while buying one home and selling another, when my smallest dog slipped through a gap in the fence. Fortunately, he immediately latched on to some nearby children who took him home and called the number on his ID tag.
Not long after moving into the new home, I lost my parrot, but that too ended happily. As with most successful recoveries of lost pets, it was the things I'd done before Eddie got out that brought him back home again. Eddie didn't fly away to a likely death because his wings were clipped to keep him from all but the lowest of flight patterns -- and because we had a relationship of trust that extended beyond my front door.
Here is what you need to know if your pet bird takes wing:
-- Prepare for possible loss
Have your bird microchipped. Keep his wings clipped to prevent him from flying away, and make sure everyone in the family knows to keep doors and unscreened windows closed. In Eddie's case, I'd forgotten he was sitting loose on a playstand rather than in his cage. When I walked out the front door to get groceries out of the car, I didn't see him hop out behind me and didn't realize he was missing until after I'd put away the groceries.
-- Don't waste time
The longer your bird is out, the smaller the chance of recovery. Immediately start searching nearby. If you have some game you play that would elicit a response from your bird, start playing it. In Eddie's case, he responded immediately to my whistles because it's a game we play all the time in the house.
-- Lure your bird with favorite treats
Eddie had climbed more than a dozen feet up into a nearby bay tree. His favorite treats didn't work on him -- probably because he'd just had a big breakfast -- but they might work with another bird or even with Eddie at another time. Because birds are more likely to eat at dawn and dusk, even a bird who's not immediately interested in treats may come into a familiar cage at feeding time.
-- Use the hose, cautiously
Because being sprayed from the hose is frightening and may injure the bird, don't go for this technique first. But it can be successful. In fact, a good soaking is finally what brought Eddie down after all else failed. He was so angry at the soaking that he was anxious to bite me, so I wrapped him in a towel for the safety of us both.
Had I not been able to collect Eddie relatively promptly, I would have put up fliers around the area and at the local bird shop, pet supply stores, veterinarians' offices (especially avian veterinarians) and pet shelters. And I would have taken out both print and online classified ads, all offering a reward.
More important than anything -- keep up the search. Many birds are found days, weeks and months after they're lost, but they're found by people who don't know just who is looking for the pet. If you don't keep putting the word out, your bird may be lost for good, even if found.
(Video bonus: Training expert Mikkel Becker shows how to teach your dog to ignore items you don't want picked up while you're out walking. (vetstreet.com/teach-your-dog-to-leave-it)
The eyes are key
to mood in macaws
Q: My macaw is the most unpredictable pet I've ever known. I can't ever tell whether he plans to bite me (and he draws blood when he does) or snuggle. Can a bird have mental illness -- is he bi-polar? -- via email
A: Sure, a bird can have a brain that isn't functioning properly. But you're bird's brain is just fine. Parrots can be loving, cuddly, playful or contemplative one minute, and demanding, aloof, manic or peevish the next. Sharing space with a parrot is like living with another human: Sometimes, you just have to pick your moments and know when to back off.
Some of these moods are pretty obvious. Other times, though, behavior signs may be more subtle, and the failure to heed these clues may earn you a nasty bite.
You need to watch your pet's body language. Parrots have keen eyesight and often stare at something that fascinates or frightens them, using one eye and tipping the head, or using both eyes for a head-on look.
When you see that your bird is fixated on something, follow that line of vision. A relaxed body posture accompanies a calm, curious bird's staring, and a more defensive or aggressive body language demonstrates fright. Most often, a locked-on look is a sign of fascination: Like the youngest children, birds can become attracted by something colorful.
Birds are able to control their irises, shrinking and enlarging their pupils rapidly in a display that's called "flashing" or "pinning."
You have to read the whole bird to put the message in its proper context. Birds may flash their eyes when they're excited or when they're angry. Flashing accompanied by aggressive posturing, such as tail-fanning, signifies a bird who's bound to escalate his warnings -- and maybe even bite -- if not left alone.
Consider flashing to be the physical display of strong emotion -- anything from the "I want to kill you" vibes of an angry or aggressive bird to the "Hey there, cutie" of an infatuated bird. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many wish people
were more like dogs
-- It seems some people are not dreaming of getting a puppy as a Valentine's Day gift, but rather wishing their human mates were more like a dog. And their dogs are helping them look for mates! According to an American Kennel Club survey:
-- 25 percent of women polled wished men were in a perennially good mood, like a dog.
-- 15 percent of men polled wished women were just as happy to stay home as go out on the town -- as a dog would be.
-- 58 percent of men said a puppy is a foolproof way of meeting women in a park.
-- 46 percent of women said they'd stop and talk to anyone with a cute puppy.
-- Children under the age of 5 left unattended with a dog have the highest chance of being bit. A study conducted by the University of Colorado looked at data of 537 dog-bite cases from 2003 to 2008. Children under 5 accounted for 68 percent of dog-bite cases, and most of the bites were by a familiar dog.
-- It's natural for a dog to bark when a stranger comes to the door. In the case of the mail carrier, that stranger comes almost every day. The dog barks to alert the family and to warn the carrier to go away. From the dog's point of view, it was his brave warning that drove the stranger away. He doesn't realize the mail carrier's just going to the next house on the route. Over time, the dog's reaction intensifies as he tries harder to send a message to the stranger who just doesn't seem to understand. As the dog becomes more and more worked up over time, the potential for a bite increases, with many mail carriers injured as a result. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.