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Q & A: New Shelter Book: It's for the Birds

Eileen McMarthy of MAARS cozies up to Angel, her 14-year old umbrella cockatoo. BRIAN MICHAEL
The four-legged guests of animal shelters often have a hard time adjusting to their temporary residence, but the feathered fellows who turn up in need of care may find it particularly rough, says Eileen McCarthy, chief executive officer of Midwest Avian Adoption & Rescue Services (MAARS) and cofounder and director of the Avian Welfare Coalition. Not many shelter folks have bird expertise, and typical suburban veterinarians may be unfamiliar with avian health issues. When McCarthy’s interest in birds was piqued after her husband bought her a cockatiel, she found that few animal welfare groups were helping birds even by the late ’90s. She ended up volunteering for the adoption program of a local bird club and eventually helped found MAARS. McCarthy recently helped author the excellent Captive Exotic Bird Care: A Guide for Shelters (available for purchase at She talked with Animal Sheltering’s Carrie Allan about her evolving interest in birds and the challenges of caring for homeless parrots.

You had budgies growing up, but it sounds like you had a very different relationship with the cockatiel your husband gave you.
Yeah, because she was hand-raised and was human-bonded. And then I started thinking I might like another bird, but I never really believed in purchasing animals from pet stores. So I was thinking there had to be birds that needed homes. But I started looking around and there really wasn’t anything except for a local bird club that had a small adoption program. I joined the club mostly because I was interested in adopting a bird. And as it happened, they needed somebody to work on the adoption committee, and I just realized the huge need for it. By that point … they were pretty saturated with birds. … I thought, “This needs to be done, it’s not being addressed. There’s lots of people doing cats and dogs, and maybe this is somewhere I can really make a difference.” I just had a sense of responsibility once I had seen the scope of the issues.

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