When I read about the American Inspired contest it only took a moment for me to think of the one person who really deserves this award. Richard Weiner. I wrote this story because I felt he deserved to win. Unfortunately today I discovered that he didn't make it into the finalist category. So- in honor of Rich- I want to tell his story once again.
Rich works as a firefighter and policeman. Yes, he is a brave public servant, but he's much more than that.
About twelve years ago, Rich opened the door to his Northbrook home and took in some innocent pets that were in need. They were Birds-mostly the large breeds.
It all started when Rich realized that there were so many of these highly intelligent birds that desperately needed life-long, loving homes. One might not give it a second thought, when you think of birds and their intelligence. But once you spend some time with these birds, you realize that not only are they incredibly smart, but they are extremely loving and affectionate. In fact, they nick-named the Cockatoo breed as "Velcro Birds" because they love nothing more than cuddling up and getting some love.
But there is also a flip side to this. Because they are so intelligent and sensitive, when they are ignored; not given enough attention and love, they develop some negative defense mechanisms. Like humans, they can start self-mutilating. Some birds continually pull out all their feathers, others actually peck at their skin until they have open wounds that will not/can not heal. It's very sad. Sometimes these birds have been damaged beyond repair. Rich makes sure they have a safe and happy home for the rest of their lives.
Rich began as a parrot parent, with an African Grey, Prince, who was followed by an Umbrella Cockatoo, Ninja. Before long, he began taking in other homeless birds, from friends, business associates and from local veterinarians. Soon, Rich had a house full of birds. I mean wall to wall bird cages creating a symphony of cheerful chirping, talking and squawking in every room.
This is how 'Rescue the birds.' came to be. According to Rich, "A Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, Inc. is a rescue, retirement, and adoption facility for exotic birds. We offer birds a stable and loving home for the duration of their natural lives. We do not sell or breed birds. Some of the birds at the Refuge have "special needs," including a range of physical handicaps or other challenges requiring unique living or feeding arrangements. Others have been bounced from home to home, often being physically and/or emotionally abused and have simply become too fearful of people to be "pets" any longer. We now have eight permanent Psittacine residents and a red-tailed hawk.
A Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, Inc. also is home to a number of loving, healthy and contented birds whose owners brought them here when life changes precluded the continuation of their caring for their beloved pets. These owners believe that the stability and ongoing responsible care provided by our facility, along with the with companionship of both people and other birds, is preferable to the possibility of their former companions being shuffled from home to home with no guarantees of responsible care or proper conditions."
It's expensive to run the refuge. The birds are very well cared for. Everything from Vet visits to the right healthy diet. The balanced diet provided for the birds includes pelleted bird food, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables in season, frozen mixed vegetables, beans, pastas. The cost of running the refuge is over $5000 per year. Plus there is a lot of work involved in cleaning, grooming, cleaning... There are no paid employees here. There is a small group of dedicated volunteers and of course, Karen Weiner, Rich's lovely wife. Here's a video of the refuge.
Rich relies on donations and does a few fundraising events every year. In this economy animal rescue organizations have been hit particularly hard. Donations are down, and more and more people are forced to give up their pets. One has to wonder how much Rich donates from his own pocket. He won't tell. He's just that kind of guy. A real hero.