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1996 - 12/8/97

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I was so excited when I got the flyer informing me of the Big African Grey auction. Nearly 140 African Greys were to be auctioned off! I hoped that this was my chance to get a mate for Newton. I began to save up for her immediately, and my friends and I grew excited as the day grew closer.

But then, when I saw those poor creatures at the auction my heart sunk. They all seemed very stressed out, and several had injuries (mostly eyes and feet). A couple of birds seem to have respiratory problems. I felt bad for all of them, especially knowing that they had come all the way from Africa to Florida, where they had been held as 'evidence' for four years, and then had been shipped to San Diego to be auctioned off. Also, as the auctioneer pointed out there would be no health guarantee -- another reason not to purchase a bird that day.

I had saved for several months for "Newton's girlfriend" and didn't want to take the chance of getting a sick bird. What an irony that was I was to find out a few months later ...

Instead of purchasing one of the African Greys at the auction, I went to one of the major bird stores in San Diego. A couple of friends joined me and we all agreed on this beautiful, powder-grey African Grey that I decided to call "Xena" -- just as the strong and powerful warrior princess in my favorite series "Hercules." Another irony ...

She looked perfect. She was perfect. Or so I thought.  However, it seemed that she didn't deal well with the stress of the move. She kept begging to be hand fed. This didn't appear too strange to me. I have many birds, and most of them are birds that I hand fed and raised myself. They still get excited when they see me with baby food! I decided to humor Xena and fed her faithfully. I thought this was a good way of "making her feel at home."

Besides her constant begging for babyfood, I found that she was so "nervous"-- she kept falling and hurting herself. I checked around and was told that this was typical for African Greys: "They have heavy bodies and if the wings are clipped too short, they will break open the skin over their breast bone ..."

The vet said this, my Internet friends said it too and I stopped worrying.  Besides, we -- who own and love African Greys -- know how nervous they can be, diving to the floor when they get spooked.  I padded the floor of the cage and the sutures healed nicely. But only one month after having gotten her first sutures, she managed to hurt herself again.

Back to the vet she went. I started to wonder and asked him, "Are you sure she is alright? She should be eating by herself by now.  She is over a year old! Her eyes seem so droopy.  Isn't this a sign that something is wrong?" He looked at her and said, she is fine.  He told me to stop worrying.  But she didn't get better ... I made another vet appointment for Friday. Upon my request, the vet took blood and stool samples, and gave her another once-over. I again told him about my concerns, but he emphasized that he believed her to be fine. His words were:  "She is fine.   If she were a human being she would benefit from therapy," he joked.  Still, I wasn't convinced.   I was concerned.  Thanks to the excellent advice from Internet friends I had placed Xena in strict quarantine, inside the house, away from my other birds, weeks before PDD was diagnosed and at a time when her vet felt she was healthy (my previous vet was not an avian vet and did not have experience with PDD).  Anyway, Xena did spend a couple of months in the same cage as Newton -- her intended mate -- but fortunately she had shown little interest in his advances and that may have saved his life. Anyway, that day -- after another visit at the vet's and his reassurance that Xena was well, I decided to make an appointment with an avian vet in North County for a second opinion -- but Xena never made it to this appointment.

The very next day,  I found Xena crouched on top of her food dish. She was barely alive. My husband and I bundled her up in a towel and rushed to the emergency clinic. When I entered the emergency clinic, I must have made a pathetic sight ... Tears were running down my cheeks, as I cradled Xena in my arm. It was obvious that it was a real emergency and the vet took her from me immediately. She called an avian vet since she lacked the experience with birds. However, she did give Xena supportive care to keep her alive till the avian vet came. Dr. Cecil, who seemed very nice and knowledgeable, took good care of her. On a couple of occasions, it seemed like she was going to "cease," but he managed to keep her going by giving her some injections, etc. It was heart wrenching to see her this way. Eventually, late Saturday night, we had to go home, even though I wish I could have stayed there. But the vet said they would need to stabilize her before he could find out what is wrong with her. He said he would keep her in the hospital until Monday and, if she survived until then, they would start running tests.

On Monday, he mentioned "PDD" (Proventricular Dilatation Disease, a.k.a. Proventricular Dilatation Syndrome, a.k.a. Macaw Wasting Disease). My heart stopped when I heard this dreaded word. I immediately thought about Newton ... and my birds in the sunroom. At that time, it was like a death sentence for all my beautiful birds, not just Xena. He suggested a crop biopsy and we decided to go ahead, even though he said that a negative result wouldn't necessarily mean that she DIDN'T have PDD. Still, we decided to do it, if only for our own peace of mind.

The next days were pure torture. I had to tell my friends that Xena most likely had PDD. I felt so isolated. My house now was the "death trap." All my friends have birds and I knew that they worried about their birds. They remembered the times when they visited and wondered if their birds carried this disease too.

Meanwhile I was feverishly awaiting the biopsy results. When I didn't hear from the vet, I decided to make another appointment for Saturday. I had been contacted by several Internet friends who had told me about birds that had been misdiagnosed and they advised me to ask for some more tests.

On Saturday morning I entered the vet's office. To the right was a girl with a beautiful cockatoo ... She saw me crying (I was crying a lot back then) and asked what was wrong with my bird. I looked at her, backing away from her ... "Believe me, you DON'T want to know!" It was tough for me to speak, but I had to ... I didn't want her bird to get sick. She must have thought that I was strange indeed.  I was in a terrible state.

At last, the avian vet was ready to see me. I was surprised to hear that he already had the biopsy results. "I got them on Thursday. I called Our Feathered Friends [name of birdstore where I bought Xena] ... I wanted to call you too, but didn't get around to it." At that time, all I heard was that Xena was indeed positive for PDD.  The rest kinda went past me.  I heard it, but didn't really think.  All my thoughts were concentrated on Xena.  There are very few times in my lives when I felt as much pain as I felt then -- my heart felt like it was breaking into many pieces at this very moment.  Even though I already had known ... deep inside I'd hoped that I was wrong. While I was looking at Xena, weeping, the vet kept on talking about many things. Possible ways of transmittal, sanitation, quarantine, etc.. He pointed out that there was no treatment and no hope for Xena. Something that I already knew. He mentioned quarantine ... etc.  Finally,  he told us that Dr. Ritchie is already working on a test and a vaccine, and that he may have them out sometimes in 1998 ... In my wildest dreams, I would never have known how important the activities of one researcher could be to my life ...

When I got home I remembered the vet telling me that he had called the bird store upon hearing the test results (instead of us!). I was so angry! It was OUR bird! WE paid for the biopsy! He'd KNOWN how anxious we were to know! But all he did was call the bird store!!!! And then I remembered how that bird store always recommended this particular vet to their clients, and I realized that his loyalty was with that store ... As if I cared to get a refund for Xena! What this disease did to Xena and the emotional havoc it caused in my family could never be "refunded."

Anyway, I decided to give Xena a chance -- despite the vet's hopeless diagnosis.   Xena did quite well with her liquid, soy-based baby food. I mixed the baby food with Pedialyte to prevent dehydration. I found that Xena did so much better on it than the bird baby formula. She didn't vomit as much as she did before and gained some weight. I spend as much time with her as possible. During the daytime she stayed with me in the office, and the evenings she would spend sitting on the loveseat in our bedroom. She liked to sit in front of the fireplace, and we spent hours cuddling on our favorite spot, and glazing into the fire. These were my special times with her.

In her last weeks she grew increasingly dependent on me. She started crying whenever I left the room, and she tried to follow me, and in doing so kept falling (and missing the pads around her cage). One day she fell quite hard against the table.  ... I treated her wound and tried to find a way to better protect her. Then I remembered an Internet friend who told me that he had taken a sock and cut off the foot part of it, so that there was just a "tunnel" and pulled it over her and then cut slits for the wings. I chose a thick sports sock, and it worked fine. Xena accepted it, and the wound started to heal.   In the evening Xena and I would cuddle in front of the fireplace which was in our bedroom suite.  Her favorite place was the fireplace, while I was watching TV.   Every evening before falling asleep I would wrap her in a towel and then cuddle with her a while in bed, until I got sleepy when I would put her back into her cage that was right next to my bed.  Then on a Friday, I woke up in the morning and saw that she had eaten through the sock and right through her skin. She had started to mutilate herself, feverishly picking at the wound that she had created. It was so painful to witness.  My sister looked at me and said: "This poor bird.  You know she is not going to get any better.  Isn't it time? 

It was a hard decision to make.  We bought a bottle of wine in the evening and my sister and I drank a glass in front of the fireplace while Xena looked on.  Then Xena began begging for some of the wine.  I offered her water, but "No, Sir!" she wanted wine.  I told her no, "It's not GOOD for you!" ... At that moment my sister said -- with this dry sense of humor that is so typical of her: "Why not?  Are you worried that it's going to KILL her?"  At that point we both started crying and laughing at the same time.  I suppose it was our way of dealing with this tragedy.  It was a very very difficult evening for us.

The next day didn't get any easier ...I had to take several strong tranquilizers to enable me to do what had to be done ... My sister and I took her to my vet. 

I wore huge sunglasses to cover up my red eyes. Still, the tears kept running.   The vet technician looked at Xena. They all knew Xena by now and the vet technician called the vet with tears in her eyes. The vet came in with a pink blanket ... it was so comforting for me to see that she wasn't crying when he wrapped her in this fluffy blanket. She never made a sound, which surprised me since she always had been a little "screamer" ... I was and still am so comforted to know that she passed over quietly ...

Sibylle Faye

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~The Heart Must Go On~