Cass Got His Wings - African Grey Story
by Jan M. Smith
(Winston Salem, NC)
My love, Cass
As a great lover of birds, I was excited when two African Greys were dropped at my home in January of 2009. I was involved with Parrot Rescue and these two needed a home, but I knew nothing about them. I was left with a partially plucked girl named Malaika with a personality to fill my home, who immediately allowed me to hold her and a guy named Cass, with a broken heart, spirit and who only had one wing.
Cass had lost half of his left wing to abuse when he went to his first home in 1967 after suffering all the pain of being wild caught in Africa. He became injured at his first home, which was a mechanics garage, was not taken for care and this resulted in 6 surgeries and a deep distrust of all humans. Cass had spent the past 42 years in many different rescues, only allowing the occasional beak rub through the bars.
As I peered at Cass, he looked back with the great fear and pain that I had no idea existed. I knew nothing of his former life, and so in my ignorance we tried to hold him that night. He viciously attacked my husband, biting him repeatedly, but only after slowly coming out of the cage onto his arm, like he wanted to hang out. He ended up on the floor and then flew at my husbands chest in attack as we crouched there coaxing him to us, while Malaika called to him, saying "Come on Casserole". That was the first time we heard that name and endearment, but he soon became my Casserole.
Once he was safely back in his cage, which took a towel, I began the remarkable journey to learn about him and to win his trust. I am glad now that I did not know anything about him. I sort of allowed him to set the pace. Malaika immediately decided she had found the love of her life in my spouse, and I am her playmate, but Cass stood back.
I moved the cage to the arm of the couch, and allowed him to set the pace. Much to my surprise, he slowly came out of the cage onto the arm. In my pictures of him as I look back, I realize how much he really wanted to be loved. By March he was not only out but coming to me and crawling under my chin on the couch. We did this for several weeks. His favorite thing to say was "My Gawd" if you disturbed him late at night, or if you took Malaika from the room, he would call her name over and over. Also, he soon had his own whistle call for me, and if my husband kissed me, or touched me in his presence, he would go off, having a fit. I was his woman.
I searched and found the perfect cage for him, aluminum, and it was large enough for him to hang from the top and flap his wings. He lived on the bottom, though, soon deciding that his place in this world was to make me a nest. As long as he had the wooden blocks and balled up white paper towels, he worked all day long, tapping tapping, and then pushing the finished product through to the bottom of the cage on one end.
He kissed me on the lips, loving to tap my teeth with his beak. The way the birds came to me, and I also had 6 or so others, was not very well done. A person who at best is shady did all the moving around but soon I found the owner of both birds and we made contact. She had run a rescue for years and Malaika was her special bird that she had from the day she picked her egg. Cass had been with them for 9 years, so these two were a team. I was told, in error I found out later, that they would not cage together. So I did not put them together. However I later found out they were together all those years and while it hurts me now to think that they may have been happier together, it may be part of the process that got Cass to come to me.
Within 6 months, he began pulling on my shirt as he was on the arm of the couch. He wanted to be on my body, for me to hold him. So, cautiously, he was a BIG grey with a BIG beak, I gradually manuveured him to my arms. I decided to use a baby blanket to hold him, as he wanted something to hold onto. If he kissed me, he had to look away fast and bite a rope. It was like he was so full of emotion. He loved for me to tell him stories and sing to him. He would just stare at me with his beautiful black eyes and hum along. And we had our special song about Casserole. That made him dance.
When I had him for 3 or 4 months, the owner of them came to check me out. She was going to sign adoption papers to me and give me the chip information on them if she felt they were ok. She tried to hold Cass and he flipped out and went to the floor. I stooped down and called to him with my arms out. He came from under the furniture, dancing and laughing and fluffed out and crawled onto my lap. She started crying. She knew this bird, she said, "this bird is finally home" and had to leave. She signed them over. Another lady who had him for a year before this woman told me she tried everything. She would put him in the floor, to do the "I am higher up that you" thing to establish dominance and all that did was allow him to chase her down the hall, biting her feet. He was hard core.
I can never tell anyone what Cass has meant to my life and my soul. He was by far the happiest bird ever, so long as I did some things for him. I had to go to him first every morning. Always. I had to kiss him first. I had to clean his cage every day. NOT one drop of poop was allowed. He would give me a deadpan stare, bite at the poop, then look at me again. I don't know if this was due to his time elsewhere and he had some bad hygiene experiences, but he did live on the bottom of the cage all day, building my nest. He needed me to whistle back and forth to him if I left the room, and he wanted to dance. Two steps forward one back, bobbing his head and fluffy as could be. My love, Cass.
On Oct 18, 2012, I had him in my arms, and in case I have not been clear, how he wanted to be held was like an infant, on his back. His little feet balled up. Total trust. And, I would take him forward and kiss him on the back of the neck and he would making kissing noises, then laugh. On this day, as I was taking him back, he cried out, and he looked me in the eye, and his eyes began to drift off, as if looking behind me and to go out of focus. I cannot ever tell anyone how this has been for me. He was having a stroke. At this time, as far as we could document, he was 45 or 46 and that was coming here as an adult grey. So, he could have been much older. But, I cried to him, kissed his face and begged him not to die, performing CPR. A friend from the rescue came immediately and we worked on him, but he was gone.
The silence since he has gone is deafening. He brought so much joy to my life and home. I always got him out if I had a late night, wrapped him in his blanket and rocked him. He slept like a baby in my arms, his little gray face so peaceful. He is the reason for rescue. When ppl think of rehoming or trying to make life better for a bird that has struggled with pain and a bad past, remember Cass. He was on his way to heaven to get his wings. God allowed me to have him for those 3.5 years. At first I was so destroyed, how could God take him? But I soon did get that he did not take him, he gave him to me. He allowed Cass to experience human love before he left this world, and me to have this bond with this angel that I will forever cherish. I had some past pains and heartaches that he helped me with as well.
I have 8 parrots that I adore now, and a double yellow headed amazon coming here soon. That is my limit, but to each of them, I clean their cage every day, and I take each one out every day and share my life with them. I am lucky that I can stay home. It is a joy and a lot of work. Well worth it. I could not reuse Cass's cage for a long time, but finally did. And when I clean it everyday, I speak to him. He came to me once in a dream, flying. Thank you Cass. I cannot wait to see him again one day.
I am writing a book about him, titled "The Cass Chronicles". All proceeds to go to rescue. To all of you out there who take the time, patience and love to provide a home to these awesome creatures, thank you. You may just get a Cass one day, if you are lucky.