Alex is the proof: Parrots deserve protection

THE NEWS TRIBUNE
September 14th, 2007

Pierce County Council members who’ve balked at giving parrots the same protections as dogs and cats ought to review the career of Alex, the brainy bird.

Alex – an African grey parrot – died unexpectedly in the night last week at the age of 31. His last words to his longtime trainer, animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg, were, “You be good. See you tomorrow. I love you.”

Years ago, those phrases would have been dismissed as mere mimicry, random “parroting” of the sounds humans make. But in this case, Alex may have meant – in his avian way – that he indeed was attached to Pepperberg and expected to see her the next day.

Pepperberg’s work with Alex has cast a whole new light on the intelligence of birds, learning and rudimentary language. She bought him 30 years ago at a Chicago pet shop to find out how much African grey parrots can be taught. In the decades since, she learned the answer: more than anyone had imagined.

Under carefully observed demonstrations, Alex displayed mastery of roughly 150 words – using them correctly to communicate with Pepperberg and other humans. He was able to distinguish multiple shapes and colors, as well as the concepts of “same” and different,” and “bigger” and “smaller.”

Pepperberg reported that, shown a tray of mixed-up red and blue balls and blocks, Alex could say how many blue blocks there were – distinguishing them from the red blocks and all the balls. After rubbing his beak on an object, he could correctly name what it was made of – “wool,” for example. When he tired of an experiment, he’d say, “Wanna go back” (to his cage). When he sensed that Pepperberg was losing patience with him, he’d say, “I’m sorry.”

When Alex asked for a treat – say, a grape – that’s exactly what he wanted; he’d reject anything else offered him until he got the grape. Said Pepperberg in a 2003 interview, “If he says that he wants a grape and you give him a banana, you are going to end up wearing the banana.”

When Pepperberg bought Alex, she insisted that he be picked out at random. There’s no reason to believe he is smarter than others of his species, she said.

Alex’s extraordinary intelligence should be kept in mind when the subject of regulating squalid “parrot mills” comes up – with the Pierce County Council or any other public body charged with ensuring the humane treatment of animals. These birds aren’t cats and dogs, but they deserve more protection than mosquitoes.

Alex, at least, would have been able to figure out that distinction.

[our commentary»]

Reader's Reactions

great job to the Council Members
Submitted by JULIECORWIN on September 20, 2007 - 10:50pm.

I would like to say that I think the Pierce County Council Members have done a great job of listening to both sides of the story on this one.

They admitted they needed to know more about birds in the very beginning.
They have listened to public comment from all types of bird people, including
pet owners, breeders, show bird people, pigeon racers, and more.

I highly commend them for using caution with dealing with this issue.
The pro-regulation group has tried to force their opinion on to the council members, with out giving them the full benefit of making hard decisions as to how to define who should be regulated and how.

The people who raise birds have tried to help educate the council about the differences in specific care for different birds and situations.

I sincerely wish that all of the law making organization, would pay attention to how Pierce County Council has listened to everyone involved. Council Member Muri has been particularly interested in getting to know the bird people, because the aviary under attack was in his jurisdiction. It make sense that he would listen to all of the people who raise birds, and try to learn as much as he can about what is happening in his district. Many of the Council members are willing to listen to what can help educate them about the different species of birds and their specific care required. Who would know more about specific birds, than the people who successfully raise them.

Thanks again to all of the Pierce County Council Members for listening.

----Julie----

There is a huge difference between pet birds and breeding birds and congratulate the council members for trying to understand the difference.

I think the council members deserve our thanks and respect for taking the time and effort to consider these matters seriously and attempt something that is
fair and balanced or all concerned. The birds as well as the people involved.

The disrespect here for Council Member Muri is ridiculous. The entire council have listened to what people have to say. That is their job, and they have done a great job with regard to this highly charged issue. Many other accusations are ridiculous as well, here is a prime example.

The so called prepared printed speeches all on the same paper, did not come from anyone in the council. Each person had very short notice to prepare, but did write their own individual letters, The printed copies came from my printer !

Once again, the facts are twisted. just like they always are.

Please note that I am not afraid to sign my name, I don't need some fake sign in to hide behind.

----Julie----

Great Job? I don't think so...but thanks for clarifying.....
Submitted by MiRapp on September 25, 2007 - 11:27am.

Julie....thanks SO much for clarifying the issue regarding the prepared talking points that were used in an attempt to undermine Executive Ladenburg's selections for the Aviculture Advisory Commission. If there was any twisting of facts, however, look in the mirror before making accusations. Let's set the records straight, using the direct quotes from the responses below, shall we?
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Grandmabirdie did NOT say that it was specifically Mr. Muri that leaked the private information of who Executive Ladenburg had selected to serve on the AAC, although in my opinion, because of the alleged friendship between Muri and Bob Vincent, I would think this is a distinct possibility. This information had not been made public before the meeting; you and "each person" you mentioned, the anti-regulation folks who obtained these names illegitimately, had absolutely no right to this information. This was a serious breech of ethics and I personally hope some or all of the candidates will pursue ethics investigations.
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Back to setting the record straight, since you seem to want to do so. In actuality, what Grandmabirdie stated in her response was this:
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"The question remains; WHY was this private information even given out before the meeting on the 21st? Only members of the Pierce County staff would have been privy to this information before that date, yet the anti regulation folks came to the meeting prepared with identical sheets of paper printed up with their talking points in an attempt to undermine the Executive’s selections."
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As you can see, she did not say that it was specifically Mr. Muri that leaked the information, but as the candidates names had not been publicized, logic dictates that the information was obtained from a member or members of Pierce County staff. Obviously, though, the information was leaked, and I want to thank you, Julie, for confirming that fact. Although the candidates Executive Landenburg selected to serve on the AAC only had two business days to rearrange their schedules just to attend the meeting, your own words verify that you and your cohorts prepared for the meeting in advance. You stated:
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"The so called prepared printed speeches all on the same paper, did not come from anyone in the council. Each person had very short notice to prepare, but did write their own individual letters, The printed copies came from my printer !"
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How very sad that you, the candidates not selected, and your anti-regulation supporters....those of you with commercial interests and continually fighting reform for aviculture in Pierce County, would stoop so low as to dig into the personal lives of these upstanding citizens and their supporters. Cast not the first stone, Ms. Corwin. Think back on your own personal conduct and business dealings; do you REALLY want some of these issues announced at the next public meeting? Who then will lose all credibility?
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Mr. Muri during the meeting on Aug 21 attempted to give the impression that the selected candidates' qualifications and backgrounds had not been sufficiently scrutinized for a decision to be made as to their ability to serve on the AAC. Pardon me, but what utter bunk. Mr. Muri and Ms. Gelman PERSONALLY reviewed the list of candidates during the several months between March 31 that ended the application process and the date of the meeting. It was Mr. Ladenburg's decision as Executive to select the candidates he felt most qualified to serve after the vetting process, and he did so. Apparently not satisfied that his hand-picked candidates had not been selected, Mr. Muri found a rather, in my opinion, unethical way around the problem, the results of which were clearly seen during the meeting on Aug 21st.
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Just one last thing, Julie, while we're addressing your inaccuracies....again, know your facts before putting them in writing. You accuse my friend, "Miss Renee", I suppose of having written one of these responses. Not so; we've spoken daily and she's still working on her response, and having been involved in this situation from the beginning, if she does post, I imagine it will cover quite a bit. It was my dear friend Renee that convinced me seven years ago to move to Pierce County when my husband's job took us to the West Coast. She told me there was no better place to live, of the beauty of the area. She was right about the beauty, and I love my rural home after so many years of dealing with big city life. However, I have the misfortune of living in Mr. Muri's district...that's my opinion and I'm entitled to it. This entire county is in need of reform, but Mr. Muri fights it as if his very life depends on it, comfortable in the old ways, happy with the good ol' boys while thinking he's sophisticated. Mr. Muri needs to be held accountable for his demonstrated lack of ethics with this deplorable handling of the entire aviculture situation in Pierce County. I hope it happens, but I don't know that my husband and I will be here to see the outcome. One thing not lacking in Pierce County is apathy, and if there is ever going to be change for the better, the constituents MUST demand it of their leaders. I'm finding it easier to move before accidentally drinking the water and finding I've joined the masses.
-
Miranda Rapp

Where is the Truth
Submitted by JULIECORWIN on September 20, 2007 - 9:48pm.

Using the Death of a Famous Parrot for your own agenda
SHAME ON YOU !

Miss Renee

if you want to talk about protection, why don't you use the truth
1. The main people who started this battled were not from Pierce County, they lived in King County, although you live in Pierce County.

2. The issue at hand with birds in Pierce County is a personal battle against one aviary,always had been, and should have never ended up at the county government.

3. Who is wasting tax payers money to pursue a personal agenda ?

4. Tax information was not brought up at the meeting, however voters interest in their community is important information.

5. The aviary under attack has been inspected, and tested for disease and passed.

6. please define commercial aviary ( is it 6 birds, 24, 30 or what and what kind of birds.)
7. If you want to protect the birds, why only go after the breeders ?
More birds are passed around, abandoned, traded, neglected,abused and etc by pet owners than have ever happened with people who breed birds. These are the people who are filling the rescues with unwanted birds. Not people who spend their lives raising birds.
8. If it truly protection for the birds, the breeders have said they are not against regulation, as long as it is reasonable. If the advisory commission had been a balanced group of all involved, it would not have been an issue.
10. What is good for one, is good for all--breeders, Rescues, Sanctuaries, Pet Caregivers, and more.

The people of Pierce County do need to wake up and see what you and your group are trying to do to the pet industry.

----Julie----

What Are They Afraid Of
Submitted by Rockinseattle on September 20, 2007 - 7:13pm.

Thank you so much for bringing this story to everyone’s attention. Dr. Pepperberg's work has gone a long way in the scientific community towards proving avian intelligence. The long held belief that birds were less intelligent than mammals has allowed people to ignore and mistreat these birds for far too long.
The real question is simple. If parrot mills and breeders as a whole are not mistreating these birds, then why are they afraid of laws that simply require a minimum standard of care for these birds? The law already requires dog breeders to be licensed, are parrots worth so much less that we cannot conceive of a similar law to protect them.
Some people claim their only reservation to licensing is increased cost. The cost has not affected dog breeder’s ability to remain profitable. Some people claim licensing would involve infringements of their constitutional rights. I would like to point out that the same argument was made when child abuse laws were first proposed. Criminals do not deserve rights, and animal abuse is a crime. Again if a breeder has nothing to hide what are they afraid of?
I think the citizens of Washington State are tired of being embarrassed by our government’s inability to effectively end the abuse of these highly intelligent creatures.

WAKE UP PIERCE COUNTY COUNCIL MEMBERS!
Submitted by Grandmabirdie on September 19, 2007 - 5:27pm.

Open your eyes and ears....Listen to us, your constituents, who are pleading with you. You don't hear the Public crying out on behalf of the Breeder Birds kept in captivity for the purpose of making money for the owners who run "Birdie Mills."

Pierce County has the opportunity to set an example for all surrounding counties by taking the initiative in the field of aviculture. Initially it made no sense why this council would so stubbornly resist reform when a simple addition to existing laws would provide protection for breeder birds and the entire avicultural community. As time went on, the picture became clear…just review the past tapes of the aviary licensing meetings, the obvious alliance of Mr. Muri with Bob Vincent and the entire breeder contingent, and the picture becomes crystal clear.

Surely there are at least four council members that aren’t beholden to Mr. Muri; It's very apparent he runs the roost, at least in matters regarding aviculture. Mr Muri had the audacity to literally spit in the face of Mr John Laudenburg, Executive for Pierce County, by rejecting those whom he had appointed for the Aviculture Advisory Commission, at the meeting held on August 21, 2007. Mr. Muri deliberately over-looked the fact that Mr Laudenburg called for submission of applications for the positions established by this council, and scrutinized them according to their abilities and experience and education to fill these positions.

Mr. Muri and those Council members he has cajoled into taking his side on this issue have under-estimated those of us who have been fighting for regulations in Pierce County. The deck has been stacked against “our side” from the very start, from the first meeting when a notorious anti-legislation activist was invited by a Pierce County Council Representative to be the keynote speaker. The other main speaker and presenter? The re-seller/broker for the bird mill which was the initial reason so much attention was brought on poor conditions at commercial aviaries in the first place. Neither of these speakers was Pierce County resident. Hardly objective viewpoints by anyone’s standpoint. In contrast, often when Pierce County residents spoke in favor of licensing, their time was cut short.

The original Opinion piece to which I’m responding, as are others, talks of the amazing African Grey Alex and his relationship with Dr. Pepperberg. Dr. Irene Pepperberg stated that when she went into the pet store to purchase a bird, she made It clear that the bird was to be picked at random, not according to any outstanding capabilities. Dr. Pepperberg and Alex were an awesome combination, and a prime example of a loving relationship between human and parrot. Dr. Pepperberg’s studies proved without question the intelligence of these amazing animals, and Alex clearly displayed that parrots learn…and love…when taught with patience and love in return. These animals flourish with proper nutrition, mental stimulation, sunlight, attention, exercise, and proper hygiene. They do not do well without these things, and certainly do not learn by being beaten into submission, a technique used by Martha Scudder, who has often been witnessed “swatting” or hitting her birds. ( for an example, see: www.parrotprotection.org/en/Projects/ParrotDepot/Documents/file-2002-12-19_StephanieBeecroft.htm )

It doesn’t seem that Mr. Muri is interested in what experienced and qualified candidates have to offer to the as yet formed Aviculture Advisory Commision. According to the stated purpose of the ordinance which Mr. Muri sponsored which resulted in the creation of this commission, section 2.47.010 states: “The Aviculture Avdisory Commission shall serve in a policy and technical advisory capacity to the County Council and Executive on public health issues related to aviculture. (emphasis mine) Public health, so why is Mr. Muri so obviously fighting the objectives of his own ordinance in favor of protecting commercial interests? Why, indeed. Again, one needs only to review the tapes of the aviary licensing meetings to observe the alliance of Mr. Muri with Bob Vincent of Scudder Parrot Depot. Arriving at Aug 21st’s meeting a bit early witnesses watched Mr. Muri happily chatting with the anti-regulation group, coaching them on how to speak, and posing for pictures. Now are we getting the picture?

Not yet? There’s more. Before the Aug 21 meeting which was to have been for the council members to vote to approve Mr. Laudenburg’s chosen candidates for the Aviculture Advisory Committee, the candidates were given only two business days’ notice of the meeting’s existence. None of the selected candidates were informed of who their “competition” was for these positions. Those that managed to re-arrange their schedules and attend the meeting were in for a shock; the anti-regulation contingent had been provided with the names of these candidates well in advance of the Aug 21 meeting. Their “mission” apparently was to attempt to dig up dirt on these candidates and discredit them. Finding none, they used pitiful substitutes such as voting records. The question remains; WHY was this private information even given out before the meeting on the 21st? Only members of the Pierce County staff would have been privy to this information before that date, yet the anti regulation folks came to the meeting prepared with identical sheets of paper printed up with their talking points in an attempt to undermine the Executive’s selections. Ironically, all of this preparation and under-handed snooping into the lives of the selected candidates was unnecessary as only four council members deigned to show up for the meeting. With three members absent, a unanimous vote would have been necessary to approve the candidates the Executive had selected and approved after having taken several months to cull out the candidate pool and choose those most qualified and suited to serve. It seems there are several issues with ethics that need to be addressed within the Pierce County council, conflict of interest only being one of them.

Mr. Muri seems to think that if he keeps dragging this issue out indefinitely, people will forget that birds are being neglected and abused in his county. That’s not going to happen. Many Pierce County residents are tired of the old ways, are ready for reform, and a public poll would surely show that PC constituents want their health and safety protected in every way possible. If council members would only listen to more impartial constituents rather than those with primarily financial interests, I believe you would be surprised with the simple and workable program that’s possible.

Mr Muri, as long as you continue to work with, for and believe in, what Martha Scudder and Bob Vincent have convinced you of, you risk losing all credibility with more and more constituents as they understand the situation. Must I remind you of Wally Hall from the Pierce County Humane Society? He covered up for Martha Scudder on complaints filed against her and warned her of impending inspections. His actions cost him his position in Pierce County; perhaps others should take heed of the consequences of favoring politics over fact.

Mr Muri, you said at one of the meetings that you had been to Martha Scudders farm several times and now know enough about birds to make qualified decisions. Sir, these are the words of an ignorant person. I have been caring for birds a good portion of my life, and I can tell you Mr Muri, that I still do not know it all. I do know enough to say you, sir, do not know what you are talking about.

Again I say..."WAKE UP" Pierce County Council and hear these poor little feathered creatures crying silently.

Grandmabirdie

Birds
Submitted by martsmarm on September 20, 2007 - 10:16pm.

It is clear that Muri expected Ladenburg to help him stack the commission with people who would vote Muri's way. When Ladenburg sent in a list of qualified people who were never asked their position on issues, only their qualifications, Muri was stuck with rejecting them all. Muri is a devious coniving fool, but he will have to get up a lot earlier to outthink our former Prosecutor.... Now Muri and the Council should be called on the carpet to explain how these citizens are not qualified... He can't do it.

Birds
Submitted by dncjohnson on September 21, 2007 - 10:53am.

I simply can't understand how the truth can be so twisted . The list of candidates for the commission was stacked all right but not by Mr. Muri. I know I want to be represented on that commission by some one who actually fits the description of the position they are representing. I think it is in every ones best interest to get it right this time.
Thank you Mr. Muri for recognizing a stacked deck when you see one and taking steps to fix it.

Please keep in mind....
Submitted by Petticlew on September 18, 2007 - 3:04pm.

Somebody has to fight for those who cannot help themselves....whether it be helpless (human) abused children & elders, polar bears, dogs, cats, or yes, even those pitiful parrots that Mr. Dick Muri has spent so much time and effort protecting. Mr. Garcia, people spend as much time abusing their expensive parrots as they do their expensive horses and powerless wives. It happens across the board.

Somebody has to fight for and protect them. Why do you suppose so many abused/battered shelters for women and children exist? I'll take a wild guess. They tried to get help and somebody listened. Who will speak for the parrots if we don't?

Who will speak for the parrots, and who has been.......
Submitted by Sturgalve on September 19, 2007 - 3:11am.

Thank you Petticlew, your comments were insightful and kind and speak to the heart of the matter. I must, however, point out one important innaccuracy. Mr. Dick Muri has clearly shown through his actions that he is alligned with those that line their pockets off of the backs and lives of parrots, he's done absolutely nothing for the parrots themselves. He has, in fact, been the one council member that has more than any other stood in the way of reform, fighting aviary licensing at every turn. Three long years after aviary licensing was first proposed in Pierce County, Mr. Muri sponsored his ordinance for a citizen's advisory counsel, adamant that this was the way to go instead of voting in aviary licensing. Why? Because, in his words, "that's the way we do it here." Just days before hearing that comment I had read those exact words in a business article talking about the "good old boys syndrome." Absolutely. This, Mr. Muri has in spades as he has solidified his good ol' boy network with the proprietor of the largest commercial aviary in Pierce County, the two of them effectively fighting reform for the avicultural community for the entire region.

No, Mr. Muri has done nothing for parrots. Just for their keepers.

Who'll speak for the parrots?
Submitted by jerrygarcia on September 21, 2007 - 4:15pm.

That's a silly question. I thought parrots could talk.

Once again the council failed!!
Submitted by Animallover on September 18, 2007 - 1:05pm.

`````````````
First, I want to thank the reporter who did this story. Then I want to take a walk down memory lane. In 2003, Shawn Bunney was approached by Larry Gallawa, Dr. Stewart Metz and Renee Ward. It was to be a short meeting but lasted an hour with Bunney strongly agreeing that something had to be done to help the Psitticines that make money for aviaries. There are existing laws for animals but they do NOT do anything to protect a valuable, and in some cases, endangered parrot population. Bunney gave his word. A meeting was held with out of state and out of county people taking up most of the time. They all make their living from the selling of birds so of course were against any laws of any kind. Nothing was done after that. Then Bunney passed it off to Barbara Gelman. Now she said that she thought that the laws should be changed to ensure the parrot population would be protected-proper food, housing, water, etc. More meetings. Still nothing. The last, and fifth, meeting was chaired by Terry Lee. Three people still not doing a thing about protecting the aviaries. The only thing that came from these meetings was Dick Muri showing that it was HE behind the push to keep proper care away from these beautiful creatures. There was name calling, blatant lies told, the facts were skirted completely; even 4H kids and pigeon racers were drawn into this farce. Muri's 'side' even went so far as to snoop to see who had paid taxes and who hadn't. Wow. Now that really is important when it comes to ensuring the welfare of animals, isn't it? And for the past 4 years, the laws have not been changed to help psitticines; they continue to be bred in the same conditions that first brought this to the public. The word of a public official who admittedly knows nothing about parrots was taken over that of a Board Certified Avian Veterinarian and many breeders who have been in this business for 10, 15, 20 years and more. What has happened is gross negligence on the part of the Pierce County Council. Tax payer dollars have been wasted. Birds continue to die from neglect and why? Some of these very council members are going to be running for bigger offices. I for one, will do my best to show their ineptness, their bias. These are NOT the kind of people we want making our laws, raising our taxes, etc. They WERE the ones we asked to help by adding two words to existing laws...small words. AVIARY and BIRDS. If they couldn't do that, what else can't they do? www.parrotprotection.org tells the whole story. Factual. Truth.

It is indeed, much ado...
Submitted by Sturgalve on September 17, 2007 - 2:32pm.

…..about so very much. It is individuals uninformed and ignorant of the existing laws and situations (and, of course, those protecting their commercial interests with little care for the welfare of parrots....or any animals) that make these broad...and inaccurate statements such as that made by Mr. Garcia. The truth of the matter is the laws "on the books" are woefully inadequate to protect breeder birds, or any birds housed in facilities that oversee care of large numbers of birds. Proposed regulations were geared toward commercial businesses, not pet owners; those comments have nothing to do with the editorial.

Having made them, however, once again Mr. Garcia struggles with reality in commenting that birds that sell for $1000 or more are not likely to suffer abuse from their owners. Although the proposed Pierce County aviary licensing has absolutely nothing to do with this separate situation, it is a desperate one that is a product of over-breeding to meet the demands of the pet industry. The prior comments imply that because a bird comes with a hefty price tag it then goes on to live a life of luxury. Parrots are not domestic animals that were ever meant to live their lives in a cage; we humans revere them for their beauty and intelligence, but are ill-equipped to handle the demands of dealing with that intelligence or to compensate for their lack of freedoms once we confine their lives behind bars. They try to love us, but in reaching adolescence confusion sets in. They bite. They scream. They’re always messy and demanding. They require fresh foods prepared daily, constant attention, vigorous cleaning of cages and play areas, physical and mental stimulation; bottom line, they require a huge investment of time, money, patience and love. Yes, a well-prepared owner can live in harmony with their parrot(s), but sadly a large number of purchases are impulse buys made by prospective owners that have no idea what is involved in the care of their new charge. So yes, Mr. Garcia….these magnificent animals are abused….by the thousands. Abuse comes in many forms; some are merely ignored and left for long periods in their own filth where they develop self-mutilation (feather-plucking) trauma, others are relegated to basements or garages to spend literally years of their lives to scream for attention that will never come. The lucky ones are packed off to already over-crowded sanctuaries to live out their lives with other abandoned birds.

Returning to the beginning of Mr. Garcia's comments, he would have the readers believe that over three years of effort to have the Pierce County Council recognize the importance of providing protection for breeder ( and other ) parrots through aviary licensing is simply to deal with a "situation" in Roy. He calls that situation "alleged", ignoring years of documented evidence and sworn court testimony detailing the years of sub-standard care at this parrot mill which has been at the center of much of the controversy. That said, this particular commercial breeding operation with its long-standing record for sub-standard care was indeed the impetus for bringing to light the very real need for regulations at the county level in Pierce County, but by no means is the need for aviary licensing proposed to deal with one operation. Logically, tying up all of those resources to deal with one parrot mill would not be financially expedient and the suggestion is ludicrous. A need was identified to protect both the welfare of breeder birds and vouchsafe public safety by ensuring safety and health protocols are observed through inspections by the appropriate local governing agencies. Currently, without this local ordinance in effect, these facilities do not allow inspections and the laws on the books do NOT cover this flaw in the system. Know of what you speak before putting it in writing, Mr. Garcia.

Very quickly, as this hardly merits comment; no one is suggesting that any other animals…such as reptiles, the example provided, do not deserve equal proposed protection. It is just not the issue on the table right now. The Pierce County Council hasn’t managed to resolve this issue in over three years, so good luck with that.

Lastly, that tiresome comment that "We, collectively, have much more important things to worry about..." Oh, sure, I know. World peace. Hunger. Terrorists. Alien invasions…what have you. Almost every time the issue of protection for birds comes up (or any animal), someone states that there are so many more important issues in the world. I would say it’s a safe bet that these same people that sanctimoniously lament that we waste our time on “mere” birds are glued to their televisions come Super Bowl Sunday. We as a nation spend many millions of dollars for our entertainment, paying athletes exorbitant salaries to handle throwing, kicking, dribbling balls of different shapes…..money that could well be spent on medical research. Again, a matter of priority, so kindly don’t speak of “more important matters.” Conservation of endangered species, protecting birds, and all animals, speaks to the very nature of us as human beings. The welfare of the birds is at stake, but so is the welfare of the heart of Pierce County. It is long past time this council stops fighting reform and finally moves forward to take action to protect these sentient creatures.

All due respect...
Submitted by jerrygarcia on September 21, 2007 - 4:21pm.

Go save a whale. I'm a taxpayer. This council has much more important things on its agenda--land use, transportation, criminal justice--than birds. Check the law books: It's already illegal to abuse animals in Washington. I mentioned reptiles because I own a few. What goes on in the reptile trade is scandalous, indefensible, perfectly awful--at least as bad, or likely way worse, I suspect, than what goes on in the bird business. But that, sorry to say, is life. Get over it, and get some perspective. One more law aimed at birds isn't going to amount to the proverbial hill of beans.

jerrygarcia has a good point
Submitted by wildcelticrose on September 21, 2007 - 4:41pm.

New laws aren't what we need. (in this or most other circumstances)
.
We need the staffing and funding to enforce the laws already on the books.

Much ado...
Submitted by jerrygarcia on September 14, 2007 - 5:38am.

About nothing. Animal cruelty laws already on the books are more than enough to deal with the alleged situation near Roy (notice the word "alleged" as well as the fact the editorial writer didn't mention it) that got all of this going. We, collectively, have much more important things to worry about than creating more laws to ensure parrots, which often cost $1,000 or more, aren't abused. Think about it: Anyone with the money to buy a parrot isn't going to knowingly abuse it. And is the newspaper suggesting that animals that aren't as smart as parrots, reptiles for example, don't deserve special protection? Basing laws on emotions and the perceived IQs of animals is a slippery slope, can of worms--pick a cliche.

snapshot of comments as of September 28, 2007 9:10 PDT

Commentary

This new addition to our news area which you’ve just read is obviously not the latest national or international newsflash written by an investigative reporter. It is, however, a respectful and important homage to Alex, the African Grey parrot known by thousands for his remarkable achievements through “The Alex Studies.”

Sadly, Alex is gone, but Dr. Pepperberg’s important work with parrots continues. Anyone interested in reading more about Alex, the Studies, the Foundation, or would like to make a donation to help further this cause can visit the website: www.alexfoundation.org.

There is no question of the extraordinary intelligence of parrots; these are sentient creatures, not amoebas or plankton, the point it would seem the author of the OpEd piece was trying to convey. In arguing that regulations are necessary to ensure their protection, never would anyone deny that protection to another living being. Currently in Pierce County, however, the issue of aviary licensing has been argued for over three years with no resolution. We believe that the author had some frail hope that the Pierce County Council members might actually think of Alex and his remarkable accomplishments when deciding on the fate of hundreds of parrots in their county. The intelligence of parrots is well documented and there is no doubt they feel pain; the unlucky ones that do suffer most likely do not understand why. It is our responsibility as the
”higher species” to afford them the protections they deserve.

Not surprisingly, this Opinion piece brought on a maelstrom of comments from readers arguing for and against regulations and about events in Pierce County. The comments are extensive enough, so we will make a brief explanation of the events and copy the comments in their entirety, below. We will make this comment lest there be any doubt regarding the events of the council meeting on August 21; seeing is believing. Anyone interested in viewing the meeting can do so by going to this site:

http://www.bottech.net/Meetings.htm, select August 21, 2007
This is a very large file which will take a long time to download even with a fast connection; it is the most expedient way to view the meeting, but, for a fee, those that don’t wish to download this large file can request a copy of the tape from the deputy clerk in the PC Council’s office.

It was on the agenda during this meeting for the council members to vote on the candidates Executive Ladenburg had selected for the Aviculture Advisory Commission. According to Pierce County Charter, other than some district specific ordinance exceptions, for advisory boards the Executive appoints members. The last step in the process, however, is that the council must vote to approve the selected members. On August 21, there was (essentially) no vote. Only four council members bothered to show up for this meeting, which would have necessitated a unanimous vote to pass the candidates for the commission. Dick Muri quickly took control of this part of the meeting, and with his vote of “No”, the proceedings were postponed, just as the issue of aviary licensing has been for almost four years.

As with any council meeting, it was open to the public, and the public was given the opportunity to speak, which they did before the “vote.” Leading the pack was Mr. Muri’s own assistant, Leslie Swalley, who in her prepared speech claimed that “Many Pierce County and District 6 citizens have called this District Office with serious concerns about this application process followed in creating the Aviculture Commission.”

Did they? This statement was baffling to us. How could “many Pierce County and District 6 citizens” even have had any concerns about the application process or the candidates selected, when neither the process nor the list of candidates was ever made available to the public?

Mr. Muri’s assistant through her comments made it abjectly clear that issues of ethics had been seriously breached in Pierce County. How often and exactly by whom we may not yet know, but we thought we would give Ms. Swalley the opportunity to respond to her actions of August 21 before writing this article. The editors enlisted the aid of a consultant who called Ms. Swalley and conducted an interview under the guise of researching how WA State county governments work with their constituents. The consultant praised Pierce County’s extensive use of advisory boards and the interview went swimmingly…..until the subject changed to the meeting of Aug 21st and specifically Ms. Swalley’s comments.

Following is how this interview concluded, from the consultant’s transcript of the interview:

Consultant: “Reviewing recent tapes of the Pierce County meetings, I’ll take you back to Aug 21. On the agenda that day was voting for candidates for the Aviculture Advisory Commission, do you recall that?”

Leslie Swalley: (laughs derisively) “You’re going to have to talk to our legal representative.”

Consultant: “Will you confirm or deny the comments you made the day of that meeting and the veracity of those comments?”

Leslie Swalley: “You’re going to have to talk to our legal department.”

Consultant: “You are refusing to make any comment about what you said at that meeting?”

Leslie Swalley: (either laughs or snorts, consultant wasn’t sure) “I told you, you’re going to have to talk to the legal department.”

Consultant: “So, to confirm, I’ll write that you refused comment and referred me to your legal department, correct?.”

Leslie Swalley: “Yes”

Consultant: “Thank you.”

Admittedly, this interview tactic may have been a bit sneaky on our part, but considering the complete lack of integrity displayed by so many of the players determined to stand in the way of reform in the avicultural community in Pierce County, we don’t feel guilty. You will note that the mere mention of the August 21st meeting provoked a you’ll have to talk to our lawyers response—not one question about it had yet been asked of Ms. Swalley. Those that should feel that guilt, but no doubt feel none, are the remaining anti-regulation, anti-reform, anti-welfare, anti-anything that may affect their bottom line profit parade of characters that read their prepared speeches on Aug 21 attempting to cast doubt on the qualifications and even the character of the Executive’s selected candidates for the Aviculture Advisory Commission. For more details, we’ll refer readers to the comment section, below. Obviously the editors do not endorse Ms. Corwin’s (and one or two other respondent’s) position or statements.

Regarding the comments, or at least one of Pierce County’s citizen’s remarks, we offer some observations about comments where a woman and her husband feel they must leave their home of seven years as they feel they can no longer tolerate living in Mr. Muri’s district. This individual states that, in her opinion, there is no shortage of apathy in Pierce County. Scanning TNT’s reader comments on a variety of topics, however, this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Pierce County citizens do very much appear to care about what happens in their county and how decisions affect them. The perception of apathy then, for this individual, and likely for many others, stems from the lack of public support or even interest in the aviary licensing issue. To be fair, most members of the public have absolutely no idea of the importance of this issue, or exactly what the issue is.  Those with commercial aviary interests spread the propaganda that only a handful of animal rights’ activists are pushing for regulations and licensing because these “crazed Animal Rights types” feel breeder birds should receive the same coddling as pets. This is not the issue, nor are the individuals leading efforts to help Pierce County finally move into the new millennium and provide just basic protections for birds affiliated with any animal right’s organizations. What this issue is, and has always been, is simply putting laws on the books to afford basic protections to birds in Pierce County, by allowing inspections—just as is currently done with cats and dogs. The State laws are inadequate to provide the protections needed, the Federal laws are not yet on the books and when are, it is doubtful that USDA inspections will fulfill the required needs which can be filled by a county ordinance. This issue is indeed important to the entire citizenry of Pierce County as having regulations in place will assist in vouchsafing public safety in addition to assuring the welfare of hundreds of sentient creatures. Parrots are susceptible to several diseases that can be passed on to people, some of them fatal.  Perhaps because the issue is about birds, still a great unknown to much of the public, rather than cute little puppy dogs, people don’t line up in force to support these efforts. We won’t be critical of that. The public should, however, be aware of the actions of (some of) their council members in the handling of the aviary licensing issue.

It is our opinion, which documentation clearly supports, that there have been ethics violations, a serious conflict of interest, and an appalling lack of integrity amongst (some) Pierce County council members. If the general populace of Pierce County can not be convinced of the importance of supporting regulations for commercial breeding operations, at the very least they should be aware of the behavior of their elected leaders. The council members are accountable to their constituency, and as such, we would challenge those of you reading this that live in Pierce County to challenge the status quo. Watch the tapes of past meetings, attend future ones if you can, and ask direct questions of your council members. One can not ride the fence when the issues are those of ethics and integrity, both of which have clearly been breached in at least one council member’s handling of the Aviculture Advisory Committee proceedings. When there is a clear delineation between right and wrong—and the reader should by now understand that the handling of these events was very, very wrong—one simply can not hide behind a non partisan position of neutrality. The good people of Pierce County need to take an active roll in their own destinies rather than allowing a few corrupt, in our opinion, people decide their fates. It is far past time that these Pierce County residents understand how (some of) their council members manipulate events to serve their own interests over those of the majority of their constituency.

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