July was a bad month for the Dean family of Cherry Creek, and early August was just as difficult for a sweet white cockatoo.
But by late August, the family and the bird, named Cloud, were happy and together.
The story starts with Lisa Dean, a stay-at-home mother of three who had wanted an exotic bird for about 20 years. She and husband Ricky knew that, no matter how friendly they are, exotic birds with strong beaks can injure small children, so they waited until their kids were older to think about adding a bird to the household.
After their youngest, Cheyenne, turned 10, Lisa Dean began to look for a bird. A friend knew a couple who owned a pet store in Jamestown, and they had a clutch of baby African Grey parrots. Lisa Dean paid $1,000 for a bird and another $1,500 for a cage, toys and food. The children -- Dylan, 17, Brittany, 13, and Cheyenne -- were delighted with the bird, whom they named Baby.
Three days later, the bird was dead and the children were heartbroken. A veterinarian's necropsy showed that it had been diseased, as had three other baby parrots sold by the shop. A Small Claims Court judge awarded the Deans $1,500 from the pet shop owners, but they never saw a penny. "The couple closed the store not a week later and left the state, and we have no idea where they are," says Lisa Dean.
Devastated by the loss, the family hesitated to bring another bird into the family, which includes a 4-year-old dog, Peanut, who was adopted from the Jamestown SPCA, and three cats. But Lisa Dean kept checking the website of the SPCA Serving Erie County, just in case a bird showed up.
On Aug. 5, a small white parrot with a white crest, a Goffin's cockatoo, was turned over to the SPCA Serving Erie County. The man who surrendered the bird said he was a male named Fred.
Like other exotic birds brought to the SPCA, Fred -- soon renamed Cloud -- was placed in the office of public relations director Gina Browning for some one-on-one attention and observation. "We want to learn about them, so we can tell potential adopters their likes and dislikes," Browning says.
At first, Cloud was traumatized. "He was petrified, huddled in the back of his cage and shaking," says Browning. Because he was surrendered on Friday, she says, "I came in over the weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, to spend some time with him. He started to respond to my voice a little bit on the third day, and by day four he was on my shoulder and very happy."
After a few weeks, Cloud was considered ready for adoption, and his photo was placed on the SPCA's website. In Cherry Creek, Dean spotted it.
"I kept looking at the picture and reading the description," she says. "I told my husband about it, and he said, 'It wouldn't hurt to go up and see.' "
Dean made an appointment to see Cloud on Aug. 31 and, with Brittany and Cheyenne, drove 90 minutes to the SPCA in the Town of Tonawanda.
"We got there a little early and the girls were so excited," says Dean. "They could see into Gina's office and they kept saying, 'Mom, there's the bird!' We went in, Cloud came right out and we were talking to him. He squawked a couple of times -- he's not really loud. We just fell in love with him."
Cloud went home with the Deans, cushioned in their bird carrier with a soft cotton baby blanket. The girls took turns holding the carrier and talking to Cloud.
Back home, Dean put Cloud in the roomy cage. "I told the kids to leave him alone and let him get used to the new place," she says. "The cage has two little doors on it, and within 15 minutes he had figured out how to open the door and climb out!"
Cloud settled in almost immediately. Browning says, "I happened to still be at work at quarter of 8 that night, and Lisa called to say Cloud was on her shoulder."
Dean began to research the Goffin's cockatoo, and determined that Cloud was in fact a female -- the color of Cloud's eye told the tale. "Of course, it doesn't matter," she says.
Today, Cloud enjoys plenty of attention in the active household. In the morning, Dean opens her cage and Cloud climbs to the top for playtime. "She loves my husband, and when Ricky gets his coffee and sits on the couch, she is right on his shoulder. She will fly over to him, or climb down and walk over. When Ricky leaves for work, if I am doing laundry or in the kitchen, she will start squawking for me. Today she came walking through the house looking for me; I could hear her little feet on the hardwood floor. It's just like having a 2-year-old in the house," Dean says.
Cockatoos and other exotic birds are so intelligent that they have to be provided with plenty of challenging toys, or they will gnaw furniture or walls. If caged and bored, they will pluck out their own feathers in frustration.
"An exotic bird is not a toy," Dean says. "When the bird doesn't talk at the drop of a dime, people get tired of them. You have to commit to an exotic bird, and you'd better know what you are getting into. They are extremely loud, they need a lot of attention. You can't just leave them in their cage."
The Deans constantly interact with Cloud and switch out her toys, including plenty of bird-safe ropes with knots that Cloud tries to undo. Dean has also discovered that Cloud likes to watch YouTube videos of other cockatoos, squawking at them and imitating their dancing. "She's perched on the back of my computer chair right now," says Dean.
The Deans also have a green-cheeked conure named Baby that a friend purchased at the Springville auction without realizing how loud it is, or that it had never been socialized and was aggressive. Baby occupies a cage next to Cloud, and with patience and time, Dean has trained Baby to step up onto her finger. But because of early neglect, she may never be as social or loving as Cloud.
Although their first bird experience ended in sadness, Dean says her family is happy to have Cloud. She says, "I am so glad I kept checking the SPCA, and I would rather adopt a bird like Cloud who needed a home than ever go through what we went through before."
"It's tragic what this family went through with the African Grey," says Browning. "But now it's a great situation, for them and for Cloud."