By: Nancy Ellis-Bell
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Publication Date: July 2009 (paperback)
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 2009
As the owner of several parrots, I was excited to get a copy of The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog, after all, it isn’t every day that a book is written about the adventure of a parrot. I was expecting a humorous look at the life of a fun-loving parrot. Unfortunately, this book has serious problems that negate the good points.
The author, Ellis-Bell, recounts her adventures with a wild caught blue and gold macaw. Originally named Peg Leg because of the leg she lost while being captured, the young female macaw was vicious and deemed a difficult, if not impossible, rescue case. Would the love of Ellis-Bell be enough to bring this frightened animal out of its shell and enjoy a worthwhile life as a captive pet?
At first the author seems to be doing everything right. She attends a three-day parrot “experience” with lectures given by breeders and veterinarians. She studies all she can to learn more about parrots and is eventually given Peg Leg by the woman who ran the parrot experience. Once in her new home, the parrot is renamed Sarah and all seems to be going well until the author decides that the bird must be let out of her cage – permanently. Sarah is given free-range of the house and soon wrecks havoc on the small dwelling, terrorizing the dogs and cats, destroying much of the furniture and pooping wherever/whenever she feels the need to let loose. The author shrugs these problems off as part of life with a parrot but I can’t imagine any responsible parrot owner allowing a bird to have free-range of his/her house. With a home the size of a trailer house, I also got the sense that the owners kept far too many pets in a very cluttered space.
There are some sweet and yes, funny points in the story, such as the first time Sarah says “I love you” to the author, as well as the time a neighbor called the sheriff’s department to file a report of a suspected domestic abuse situation (it was just Sarah screaming). But these events are overshadowed by the irresponsible care the bird received. Convinced the bird needed “free-flight” (yes, that means flying outside) to be truly happy, Ellis-Bell, against the advice of others, allows Sarah to accompany her outside. The first time Sarah takes flight, the author is exuberant while the reader is likely thinking, “it’s only a matter of time before the bird flies away.”
Adding to her defense of free-flight, the author uses the argument that without using their wings, parrots are susceptible to “wasting macaw disease,” something I’d never heard of. Researching the condition, I discovered that it is correctly known as Proventricular Dilatation Disease (PDD) and is caused by contact with infected birds and/or a contaminated environment; it is viral and does not come from disuse of wings. There is other misinformation in this book, such as the lifespan of a domestic versus a wild macaw, that Winston Churchill’s macaw is still alive (the general feeling is that Churchill never even owned a macaw), and that allowing a parrot to share your gin and tonic, although not a great idea, can’t be too bad once in a while. The author’s poor judgment and her tendency to anthropomorphize her birds’ feelings led to the death of not one, but two parrots. While those not familiar with parrots may not catch on to the misinformation and bad care Sarah received, any responsible bird owner will cringe while reading this book.
Quill says: A cute premise but this book is a disappointment.