January 5, 2017
In November a local SPCA reached out to Green Chimneys to see if we would be able to take in a 20-year-old Conure parrot recently rescued and in need of a home. Understood to be well-socialized and friendly, our excited and experienced farm science teacher, Julia Colaccio, welcomed Otto with more than open arms. In the weeks that followed, it was her open mind and determined heart that gave Otto a true second chance.
Soon after Otto’s arrival, he presented behaviors that weren’t matching up to the initial description. He was untrusting, shying away from hands and hesitant to acclimate. That’s when Julia knew it was time to get strategic with Otto’s introduction to life at Green Chimneys.
Julia enlisted the help of farm intern Fred and developed Otto’s care plan. “Typically parrots only bond with one person, maybe two. Because they’re highly intelligent and can recognize faces, we needed to give Otto ample time and opportunity to connect with Fred and me, his primary caregivers.”
An individualized plan. Time to acclimate and connect. Sounds familiar, right? Green Chimneys School students go through a similar process when they first arrive too. Julia began drawing parallels in the classroom, especially as a bumpy few weeks with Otto followed. The Conure was having difficulty adjusting to the hustle and bustle of a small but active classroom. Students got turned off by Otto’s screeches which Julia explained were a sign of overstimulation. Many of our students who struggle with social, emotional and behavioral challenges, can experience sensory sensitivities or have difficulty coping with change. Julia posed questions to students, “Do you remember how you felt when you were new here?”
Julia and Fred persisted with Otto’s integration. To help foster relationships, they found ways for Otto to become familiar with their voices. Julia would spend time working with Otto on commands like “step up” and utlizised with a gloved hand for Otto's comfort. And believe it or not, Fred often sang Usher tunes to Otto!
By week 4, just as Julia started questioning the fit and even began researching possible new homes for Otto, he came around! Otto began perching on their shoulders, nestling into their necks and hoodie sweatshirts. Otto showed greater signs of comfort in his environment and eventually was spending an entire school day out of his cage, safely perched and enjoying the view of the farm science classroom from a bookshelf.
Otto’s journey to trust and connect with his new caregivers was the biggest obstacle, and fortunately, with Julia and Fred's support and patience, he opened up to them and to life at Green Chimneys. Otto has been the subject of several lessons with students. “Otto’s the ultimate pet advocate,” explains Julia. “He reminds us that each type of pet requires specific care. That each pet is an individual, with a history. And that responsible pet ownership means understanding the needs of the pet and committing to its proper care.”
Today, Otto’s screeches are a sign of the past. He’s willingly learning to step up onto students’ gloved hands. He’s teaching us all lessons in resilience, in overcoming obstacles and welcoming new friendships. And we now know Green Chimneys is Otto’s forever home. We’re thankful for Julia and Fred’s commitment to giving Otto a true second chance, and we’re committed to providing him great care and enrichment for the remainder of his days.
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Green Chimneys | 400 Doansburg Road, Brewster, NY 10509 | 845.279.2995 | firstname.lastname@example.org