Parrots form friendships with long-term care residents in Lethbridge

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Parrots forming friendships with long-term care residents in Lethbridge
WATCH ABOVE: Long-term care residents at St. Michael's Health Centre in Lethbridge have been getting some unusual visitors for the past few years. A Lethbridge man and his two parrots have been volunteering and forming friendships. Katelyn Wilson reports – May 2, 2017

A spoonful of peanut butter and a visit from her feathered friends is all it takes to put a smile on Elma Koenig’s face.

The long-term care resident at St. Michael’s Health Centre is one of many who gets frequent visits from Brian Shields and his two parrots Baby and Taz.

The centre welcomes volunteers and their pets to visit residents as a way of providing socialization.

READ MORE: Lethbridge woman credits pig with saving her life: ‘Either I get a pig or I’m going to die’ 

“A lot of them don’t get out or go home, or have families who visit,” recreational therapist Cheryl Bodell said. “It’s a chance also for that one-to-one visiting, or in a group, just interacting with the animals and the different owners.”

Shields started making trips to St. Michael’s three years ago with a Cockatoo named Abby.

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“Abby was the star of the show because she was so social and could go to anybody,” he said.

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But when Abby escaped from her home and passed away about a year ago, he wasn’t sure if the visits would continue.

READ MORE: More than just hugs: Therapy animals require training, the right temperament 

His other bird, Baby, was left on her own and wasn’t used to being in the spotlight.

“Over the summer, we did a lot of treat training and other things to try and get Baby a little more adjusted to being the star of the show,” Shields said.

Now Baby, along with her new flock mate Taz, are frequent visitors and make their rounds on a regular basis.

READ MORE: Animal therapy offers hope for veterans struggling with PTSD 

Bodell says for Sandy Johansen, another long-term care resident, the parrots make great companions.

“She doesn’t do a lot outside of her room so to have animals come in and a chance to socialize and interact is really a special treat for her,” Bodell said.

It’s also a treat for the parrots, Shields said.

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“Unfortunately a lot of people think that a bird is a cage animal and the parrots, especially the bigger and smarter ones, they need entertainment and they need to go out,” he said.

“A busy parrot is a happy parrot.”

Although Taz and Baby are the only parrots that visit, St. Michael’s has had dogs in the past.

They’re encouraging anyone with people-friendly pets to contact them and get involved.

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