Amid pandemic, group comes to rescue of exotic birds in Las Vegas


Wade Vandervort

Madeleine Franco, founding president of Southern Nevada Parrot Education, Rescue & Rehoming Society, holds a 19-year-old Bare-eyed Cockatoo named Molly, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.

Thu, Feb 4, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Parrots are Madeleine Franco’s world, a lifelong fascination that led to a deep knowledge of bird husbandry that she’s put into formal meaningful action as a rescuer in Las Vegas since 2005.

Starting around September, activity has picked up for her all-volunteer nonprofit organization, the Southern Nevada Parrot Education, Rescue & Rehoming Society. The economic stresses of the pandemic have made pet ownership hard, especially high-maintenance exotic animals that may require more finances and aptitude than common cat and dog companions.

“I guess people are just reevaluating where they need to live, how they should live, how they can live. There have been a lot of people who’ve been out of work,” said Franco, the rescue’s founding president who has loved birds since she could walk. “Sometimes if they downsize or move or if they’re sharing a wall for the first time in their lives, a bird doesn’t always work out as a bonus.”

The Southern Nevada Parrot Education, Rescue & Rehoming Society currently has about 10 to 15 birds in the program, some in Franco’s home, others scattered among her cadre of about a dozen committed foster homes. Some are adoptable, others may stay with their fosters permanently.

They’re macaws, cockatoos, conures, African greys — large and small, young and seasoned, but all clever and emotionally intelligent to boot. While some come to the rescue now out of economic hardship, many are rehomed after decades with one person who has died or become too old or infirm for their demanding care; larger species like the macaw can live up to 70 years in captivity. 

In Overton, Janice Ridondo has about 30 potbellied pigs, about half of them adoptable, among barnyard animals at her Windy’s Ranch and Rescue. She said her pig rescue of 12 years is full but hasn’t seen any intake spike directly related to the pandemic — but she notes that animal rescues are suffering from a drop in donations. She plans to help one of her frequent local partners, the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary, with an upcoming fundraiser.

Ridondo is a straight shooter. She’d really rather not people get pet pigs, which can be trendy and misunderstood, and she will carefully vet those who do seriously inquire.

“All I can do is constantly try and educate folks,” she said.

Adult potbellied pigs are small by hog standards, but a healthy adult still weighs 120 to 200 pounds — there is no such thing as a “teacup” pig, only a very young piglet, she said. And while they’re legally considered household pets and not farm animals in Clark County, they have some restrictions. They can only live in single-family detached homes, and in the city of Las Vegas, must be licensed like a dog would be.

Franco knows about the lingering effects of trends, too. An explosion in parrot fancy in the 1970s and '80s is now showing itself in elderly owners being outlived by their still-robust birds, she said. 

Dee Fedde is one of the parrot fosters who is what animal rescuers fondly call a foster fail. Her most recent addition, an African grey named Taboo, joined her well-appointed aviary in the den of her Spring Valley home a couple of months ago after coming in as a rescued temporary guest.

A well-adjusted and characteristically eloquent bird, Taboo ­­— whose housemates include a cockatoo, a caique and another African grey — is cheeky. His name is Taboo, not Polly, but he does want a cracker, as long as it’s a Ritz and not a saltine. He also cheerfully says several words that would be censored on network television, learned in his previous home, out of his vocabulary of about 200 words. He says “see you later” to people as they leave the aviary, and one of his songs sounds like a smoke detector.

“Incredible. Taboo’s incredible, huh?” Fedde asks him. 

He whistles deeply in response.

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