This incredible tale is one of those stories that is so impossible that is is hard to believe, but in the season of miracles I thought our own "Black Beauty" Story would be appropriate.
Our own "Black Beauty" Story just in time for the Holidays
A Heartfelt African Gray Parrot Rescue Story
A little back story is necessary... Val and I spent a little under 2 years before we were married in Montana photographing Horses for sale for our dear friends The Mantles of MontanaHorses.com. At that time, we traveled back and forth from Montana to California monthly to Photograph our wonderful Orange County Clients. While in Montana, we were so blessed by the graciousness of a friend to stay in the most incredible Montana Home on a 10 acre gentleman's ranch. Gorgeous views of the valley, daily sounding of the train following the infamous Missouri river, all of our beloved animals and horses in the backyard, I was in complete heaven! The 2 day 24 plus hour commute to California once a month seemed like a small price to pay to live in our dream home.
Monty the border collie, The famous Finley (lost in the oc canyon for 30 days and recovered on fathers day of 2016) the shetland sheepdog, Spider the most lovable "Bug" (Boston terrier + pug mix), George the coolest tomcat on the planet and our menagerie of parrots, Max the African grey, Charlie our clown of an Umbrella cockatoo, Bella our gorgeous coral Moluccan cockatoo, Kiwi our disabled zombie walking Solomon eclectus, Nigel our kitty cat copying-meowing Sun conure and our little dear Flick our cockatiel rescued from the dog pound all under one roof playing nicely......All but one, Max.
Max is the miracle parrot that started it all, he was the beginning of our parrot collection. My mom was a longtime beloved pre-school teacher in Laguna Niguel CA, and one morning as she was preparing to open the doors for children to come in she spied a parrot sitting on a chained link fence whistling for her.
Not realizing that she could have lost a finger she bravely reached out and he stepped up onto her hand and seemed thankful for being rescued... My mom quickly brought him inside and placed him in a cage that she already had in her classroom and gave him some water which he gobbled up... the poor guy! She immediately called me and I in turned called Val my partner in crime to pick up the rescued parrot.
We placed "Found Parrot" flyers all over the Laguna Niguel area, Veterinary Hospitals, Pet shops & Omars exotic birds shop hoping that the owner would rush to pick up their lost parrot. In the meantime, I was secretly hoping that no one would claim him because he was wonderful and had the most extensive vocabulary .... with statements ranging from "Living the good life in Laguna Niguel", "I can talk can you fly", "Whatcha looking at stupid", Hearty male voiced chuckles and exact mimics of my children calling for me.... "Mom?" I was falling in love with this talented creature that could actually speak to me and request water, apples, oranges and say his own name... Max. After months of posting flyers with no one claiming Max, I was overjoyed to keep him. As life ebbed and flowed for the next few years, I kept Max close by at all times listening as he collected even more words, sounds and phrases.
Shortly after Max entering my life, Val was given the birthday gift of Charlie the Umbrella cockatooo... which started the parrot ball rolling.... once people hear that you have a parrot they think what would hurt if you had one more? Would you please take my parrot, I can't keep him/her anymore, Our apartment doesn't take parrots, and so on. Both Val and I started accumulating random parrots and that's how we came about our final menagerie in Montana.
Little would I know that we would have one animal that did not want to be a "Team Player", when you have as many animals as we did you realize they all need to play nicely, at least that is our requirement if you are a part of our family. We do not accept "Bad Behavior" from our children and definitely not from our furry/feathered friends.
It didn't happen overnight but Max slowly started to dislike Val.
I think the word "Dislike" is putting it lightly.... Hate, loathe and detest are more likely descriptions. Malice is what came to Max's mind when Val walked into the room, a behavior that was not there before we moved to Montana. I lamented over Max's new reaction to Val, If Max was on the floor he walked a bee-line directly to Val all puffed up like a grey bowling ball poised for attack! And if Val tried to feed and water him he would fly our of the cage ready to remove anything he could get ahold of on Val.
Val did his best to stay out of Max's way and I ended up being his only handler, which Max was quite fine with that situation. I realized that I was rewarding bad behavior but couldn't figure out a solution.
Shortly after Val proposed to me we decided to move back to California, closer to Family, Friends and our awesome clients. My heart was aching over the prospect of leaving our horses (even though they are living their dream life on 500 acres on the Mantle Ranch) and our beautiful home and secretly I did not know how we could take Max with us since he was not happy with Val.
As we were packing and preparing to leave our gorgeous ranch home and new found friends, we were visited by many neighbors to say good byes... One of our visitors (All of them fairly colorful personalities) a Grumpy/Cranky weathered ex marine and text book "End-of-the-roader" who lived on a tremendous compound with every animal imaginable, Horses, ponies, llamas, chickens, ducks, turkeys, pigs, Chihuahua's... We didn't know that he also collected parrots and had a gift when it came to handling them. After coming in to say good bye, he looked over to the mud-room, walked directly over to Max's cage and without asking permission reached in and started cuddling with my Val-hating-vicious bird.... I honestly thought Max would hurt him badly but I was wrong! Our cantankerous neighbor and Max were acting like long-lost friends.... he then asked if we were taking all of them with us back to California and if not he would like to have them all!! Of course we said absolutely not, thanked him for his interest, said good bye and he was on his way back down the road.
That evening Val and I revisited our neighbors offer and after some tear filled debating, came to the decision the taking all the parrots to California was not reasonable and that finding good homes for them would be the best for all with the exception of Charlie the Umbrella Cockatoo who was a "Team Player" and often helped Val with comedy relief for children at his photo sessions. We found "Forever" homes for Bella and Nigel and our Ex-marine friend would take Max, Kiwi and Flick.
Dropping off Max, Kiwi and Flick would be one of the hardest things I would ever do in my life... how could I part with my dear friends and beloved Max... I almost went back on the deal 3 times while we were there and cried all the way home. Leaving Montana would now be harder than ever.
Looking forward to California and life with my best friend & husband to be Val, I decided that being positive of the future rather than crying over the past would be best.
We moved back to California reuniting with our CA Family, friends and clients and renewing our business and beginning our new life together.
After 3 years of working and traveling and finally looking to purchase a home I asked Val if we could possibly look into a property that had enough room to build an aviary...for Charlie...I didn't let Val know that I was hoping we could try to get Max, Kiwi and Flick back. I started to get a weird sick feeling about the birds we left in Montana and shrugged the feelings off as guilt. Finally I broke down and asked Val if he would check on the birds to see how they were doing, little did I know that he had already started reaching out and making calls at my initial suggestion of an aviary as a surprise for me.
Val tried to contact our ex-marine friend through social media (FB) and then after about a week of no response, put in a call to one of our MT neighbors who was a mutual friend. Val mentioned to our to our friend that we had given our birds to the ex-marine and wanted to contact him to see how they all were doing but for some reason was not able to connect with him on the internet. In disbelief our friend had no idea that he had our parrots and quickly told Val that he needed to act fast and get a hold of the ex-marine's girlfriend because he passed away 2 months prior and the entire property and ANIMALS (our parrots included) were being liquidated!
Val immediately called the ex-marine's girlfriend and after expressing his most sincere condolences explained our story and parrot connection with her now-deceased boyfriend. She explained that she never knew that the parrots were not originally her boyfriend's property..but Val quickly described the parrots beyond a shadow of a doubt and explained that our arrangement included the agreement that if he was not able to care for our parrots or did not want them that we would take them back no questions asked. She then told Val that just recently four parrots had died with no explanation. Val took a deep breath and asked what parrots were lost and she said she thinks one of them may have belonged to us and that was our disabled Solomon eclectus "Kiwi". Val asked about the health of Max & Flick and she said they were fine. Val was relieved about the two remaining birds despite the tragic news about our very sweet & lovable "Kiwi" whose comical noises and antics would be sorely missed.
Since the ex-marine's girlfriend was in charge of liquidating all of his property for his estate, all the birds needed to go or be sold as soon as possible. Val was now beset with the challenge of telling me about "Kiwi" and getting to the other birds post-haste to rescue them from being given away or sold.....Liquidated!
As fate would have it we were scheduled to make a trip to Salt Lake City for a full week of photo sessions and another week of visiting our family & children. Val had a small window of opportunity to quickly go up to Montana to conduct his rescue mission, which now was definitely NOT a secret!
I was terribly shocked about the news of our neighbors passing and heartbroken and guilt ridden over the death of my little Kiwi-bird. I quickly made some phone calls of my own and arranged for my "Super Hero" friend Renee Mantle of Montana Horses to make sure that she had a cabin open for Val to stay in and help with any other arrangements that Val would need to be successful. If I could have teleported him there I would have!! Val left me and our dogs in Salt Lake City to keep business going and took off to scoop up Max and Flick in Montana.
Val couldn't get there quick enough! He raced straight to our neighbors compound and was greeted by his girlfriend. She welcomed Val into the mudd-room/aviary and showed Val where he could find Max and Flick. She had found some old cages in the shed that Val could have for transport and packed some homemade birdseed and water for the road as well. Val placed the little cockatiel "Flick" in her cage first and then braced himself for the impending battle of getting Max into his travel cage. Remembering their violent past, Val donned some heavy-duty work gloves and spent 5 minutes trying to catch the weirdly skittish Max from his large parrot cage. Val realized that Max probably had not been handled the entire 3 years attributing to his unlikely behavior... as in the past he would fly straight out of the cage to attack Val, not runaway from him. Max looked to be in good shape and after a moment of chasing him about the cage, he finally allowed himself to be caught and quickly bit Val which was more true to character. As Val was placing Max in the cage he looked over to a dark corner of the room and spied a cage with another African Grey sitting quietly watching all of the shenanigans. Val asked the girlfriend about that bird and she said "Oh, him...that's just Dude, he's old and doesn't talk at all. You've definitely got Max there in your hand."
Val quickly said his thank you's and goodbyes and walked with the girlfriend and the 2 caged parrots out through the yard to the gate where Val's truck was parked. Just as Val was about to go through the gate he heard calls, rings, beeps, whistles, "Hi Max" & "I love you's" from inside the aviary.....Val stopped dead in his tracks and turned to the girlfriend and said "I thought you said the the other Grey "Dude" didn't talk?" She then explained that Val for sure had Max and that Max had taught "Dude" everything he knows. Realizing that Val couldn't come home with he wrong parrot, he turned around and went back into the house, asking for the gloves again so that he could take a look at the little I.D. Bracelet around both birds ankles to make sure who was who. Val should have done this initially but trusted the girlfriends knowledge. The bracelet on the "Max" parrot revealed the letters MT and before going any further, Val knew that meant the bird was born in Montana and couldn't possible be "Our" Max.
Val went straight to "Dude's" cage and sure enough the moment he opened the cage the parrot flew out of the door and attacked Val! To remove all doubt Val took a quick peek at the bracelet while struggling with the vicious bird trying to kill him. The bracelet was worn and scuffed and the only intelligible mark were the numbers '97, ad Val knew as the only identifier that he remembered. Val took his gloved hand to do a fist-bump with the parrots beak and like he always would do when I reached in for a kiss... Max made a very loud, distinct juicy kissing imitation. Hands-down our max!
Val put the real Max in the travel cage and quickly said his goodbyes and left going straight to the Mantle ranch to tell this incredible tale.... If Max hadn't called out to Val, this story would have a completely different end.
Val couldn't wait to call me and tell me the story as well... I cried so hard at the joy of Val having my Max with him and also for the near tragedy of taking home the wrong parrott leaving Max in the corner of the aviary.
This definitely feels like our very own "Black Beauty" story where the once beautiful, now old and downtrodden horse is passed by without a second look from his old groom, only to call out to him in his familiar whinny to say.... "I'm HERE!!! Don't leave without me!!!!"
Thank you Val for rescuing my dear friend Max and little Flick too, you are my Hero. What a "Gift" you have given me.
Ohhhh! And as a side note... On the drive back from Montana to Utah, Val face-timed me so that I could say hello to Max myself.... Val said that the change in Max was instant! The moment he realized Val was taking him home to me.... he became the most contrite, sweet, grateful creature you have ever seen. Val and Max are now close friends....Val being Max's hero as well.