AVIAN WELFARE CORNER Cuddles' Story, a Rescue


T he intercom at my desk buzzed, and I heard "You have to take this call - it's Rocky, and it's an emergency." It was the middle of the afternoon on a work day, and I was in between appointments. I picked up the phone, and Rocky said "Hi Genny - can you help? I'm at Bob's house [Bob is not his real name]. There's a cockatoo we just found that has been ripped apart by its mate - Bob found her on the ground, all bloody - her face is all broken, and her beak is hanging off, and she's in pretty bad shape. Bob said he thinks she is injured too badly, and he is going to have to put her down. I asked him if I could call you first." "Of course," I said. "We have to get her to Dr. Weldy right now."

And so began Cuddles' story.

I phoned Scott Weldy, our incredible avian vet with whom I have worked for almost 20 years, and told him that Cuddles was on her way to his hospital. After he examined her, he cautioned me that Cuddles was in very grave condition. Her injuries were extensive - her lower mandible was completely mangled, and it was hanging by only a small piece of tissue. She had lost a lot of blood and was in shock. IF they could stabilize her, and IF she lived, I would have to gavage feed her for quite some time. IF she survived, we would see if her beak would regrow, and if it didn't he might be able to fashion a prosthetic beak for her. We were looking at a very serious injury, with no guarantee of a good outcome, and a very long rehabilitation time IF she survived. Was I prepared to do this? I laughed and said "You have to ask?"

The reason I could laugh at such a serious time was because Dr. Weldy does the same thing I do, except that he does it with raptors - he operates the Orange County Bird of Prey Center in California, which receives, treats, rehabilitates, and (if all goes well) ultimately releases injured and orphaned birds of prey. He also works with other injured wildlife and exotic animals. He is available at a moment's notice for this work, he gets no pay for his work with these animals, and he does not seek publicity because of this work - he understands this labor of love called "rescue."

Despite her sweet name, Cuddles was a fighter and she had a strong will to live. Dr. Weldy was able to stabilize her that evening. I picked her up the following day, and, armed with her medications and Dr. Weldy's very detailed care instructions, I took Cuddles home with me for her recovery. Her face was swollen and her lower mandible was completely gone. She was unable to eat. But she lived up to her name, and just wanted to be cuddled and cared for. She was uncomfortable with the gavage tube the first time, but after she figured out that I wasn't going to hurt her, and once she realized that strange thing sticking in her throat instantly brought warm food to her tummy, she became calm and completely accepting of me and her treatments and feedings.

In a few weeks her soft tissue injuries healed, and Dr. Weldy fashioned a prosthetic beak for her, attaching it with wire to the tiny bits of lower mandible that had started to


regrow. Unfortunately, the prosthesis did not stay attached, and we finally gave up on that approach.

I gavage fed Cuddles for several months, until her lower mandible partially regrew and she began to try to eat on her own. Since the two sides of her lower mandible were very short, and were not joined in the center, she was unable to crack seeds or eat hard foods. We provided soft foods at first, which she happily ate, and she thrived. After a few more months she was able to eat all of her normal foods again, including seeds, pellets, and small cracked nuts. Eventually both sides of her lower mandible regrew, but they still don't join in the middle. She has two pieces of lower mandible, which move independently of each other. She is able to manipulate them to eat normally. If you look at her from the left side she looks completely normal, but when you turn her around to look at the right, more damaged, side you see that her lower mandible on that side is pretty much gone - you can see right into her mouth and watch her wiggle her tongue. Since she isn't able to beak-grind in the way a parrot with a complete beak can, I trim her beak for her from time to time.

It has been several years since Cuddles came to us, and her recovery is now complete. Although she is missing part of her beak, she eats and acts just like any other cockatoo. Well, she's not like every other cockatoo - she doesn't scream or bite like some cockatoos. She lives up to her name and she is a real cuddler. She has chosen me as her special person, and she has made friends with the people at our sanctuary, but she is terrified of most other birds. I can't say that I blame her. I hope that someday she will again be comfortable with others of her own species, and we are working on that.

Cuddles is a Lesser Sulphurcrested Cockatoo. She is caged near other smaller female cockatoos of various species, and she now accepts their presence without fear.