Can Suffering be a Good thing?.. Yes
I would like to introduce you to Bumble; he was a Mynah bird estimated to be around 16 years old and had spent at least the prior 8 years in a cage of dimensions 120cm x 60cm.
He was the first, and for me- the most important.
I transferred within my job facility to become the animal collection manager where I met with a cage of birds containing Bumble, a cockatiel named Melon and a huge green wing macaw, named Rainbow.
Rainbow had the most wonderful house- she was the latest ‘designer item.’ She was fashionable, as is the mentality of the UAE where I am based.
Bumble the talking Mynah, who was once quite the party piece was relegated in a tiny cage in the shadows of Rainbows giant aviary, no sun, no interaction and a terrible diet of chicken crumbs.
Two things I swore never to work with, primates and birds- both terrifying! Yet a week after beginning my work with Rainbow for handling and interaction training for the VIP family I worked for- I saw the forgotten Mynah was not looking so good.
Knowing he was aggressive to the staff with a penchant for attacking hands, I gingerly placed my hand in the cage to test his reaction. He half jumped, half fell off his perch on to my hand, turned to face me and didn’t break his gaze for what seemed like a lifetime. In that instant I fell in love with birds, I no longer saw them as crazy, violent, pooping machines- I saw clearly that Bumble asked for my help.
I took him to the local vet where he spent 3 days in an oxygen tent with a severe case of psittacosis, the diagnosis was poor and guarded, however the vet understood the need to try.
4 days later a very sick and week Bumble came to be quarantined in my house.
Over the next few weeks it became apparent Bumble also had the complication of Iron Storage Disease.
He was never able to return to his ‘home’ and would lose drastic amounts of weight overnight. Having taught me so much about his needs and how much love such a little guy had to offer, he heartbreakingly died after 6 months of living comfortably in my home. He spent the entire time in freedom without a cage, and as he was such a wonderful house guest, I could at least make up a tiny fraction of that 8 years in his bare prison.
During my time with Bumble, he opened my eyes to the needs of the other birds in the facility.
Percy the Cockatoo was locked in a dark cupboard for consistent screaming before finally being relegated to a dark shed filled with other animals in the garden with no natural sunlight.
I learned for the first time the need to fly and exercise regularly is paramount for birds to be happy, so I released him in the shed daily where he would spend hours going back and forth. The bird became visibly happier and stopped screaming.
From there I adopted a myriad of other ‘broken’ animals for rehabilitating from the property, always trying to improve their conditions:
The one consistent I found across them all was just a simple need for understanding and knowledge of their species was enough to have prevented ALL of these problems.
This made me open my mind to the area around me, where was this problem coming from- through my research on these species; I had come across the same problems all over the world. One thing I did know, was that exact country I was living in as an expat, the UAE, was a very large contributor to that problem.
- Staff are hired for low salaries with little to no experience of animals.
- Staff are not interested to gain knowledge or improve the situation due to low salaries and rotation is pretty high between jobs so there is no consistency.
- The general mentality towards animal welfare is low; they are considered an ‘item.’
Following a year of consistent rehabilitation of around 50 animals, I took leave of the company and took a 6 month vacation where my heart felt pain in a way I have never been able to describe.
I sought many ways of how to set up a sanctuary, how to fix these problems, how to stop suffering on the large scale I had seen in the UAE, knowing that all of those cases were only in one place and there were thousands more like it in the UAE alone.
With Bumble at the forefront of my mind, I rejected a very comfortable position in Italy to return to the UAE to a place that I knew had similar problems but huge potential of changing the mindset of the wider community.
I joined a public zoo with a poor history of animal treatment with the intention of changing its image publicly with the guests and most importantly, internally with the staff that cared for these animals daily.
Within a month of my arrival, I spent large amounts of time building relationship with 3 umbrella cockatoos and a sulphur crested cockatoo who shared an enclosure with a poor condition African Grey.
Azizi had again been purchased in the name of fashion and status, but again became unwanted when the level of care exceeded the owners ability or willingness.
Sadly Azizi died after 8 months of liver failure from an unknown source.
Rain is another fine example of the mistrust humans can inflict when they tire from their pets and rehome them without consideration. He was donated to the zoo long before I joined and had been selected for training due to his young age. Rain however, had other ideas and was openly aggressive to anyone and for no consistent reason with rash attacks on their faces, ears and unluckily for men, groins!
Following an intense period of relationship building, introduction to humans in a controlled manner and consistency- Rain is now a wonderful interaction bird for people of all ages.
As I sat in my house surrounded by broken budgies, naked parakeets and a one legged cockatiel- all of which were rescued recently from a local animal market where they were destined for slaughter, they all have homes waiting for them when they are healthy, the market had given up on them for small imperfections.
I often become a source of interest for people questioning how I can do what I do in such a dedicated manner and where exactly is the joy in being surrounded by so much suffering?
My favorite phrase is always the same:
‘I changed the world- It seems much better to them now’
Whether it is a rescue animal, an adopted animal, a home bred animal, a new purchase or a lifelong pet- their world should be kept in an optimal way and to provide we must educate ourselves and others.
So back to the original question; can suffering be a good thing? I think it can. It prompted me to open my mind to working with a new species, to learn and improve myself to offer better standards of care. Suffering is good if some improvement comes from it. Don’t witness suffering and turn your back on it or that animal has suffered in vain.
No person knows everything, so read, study, learn more about your animals- get really in depth. Give them everything you possibly can, then spread this knowledge to another person and ask them to do the same.
One day, your message will reach a person that did not consider such a thought, and you will change the world little by little ....
Guest Blogger Jennifer Beasley's Bio
Jennifer Beasley is the Head of Animal Welfare in a regenerating zoo. She has 15 years experience working closely with animals of many species but most enjoys birds. Jen has 4 diplomas in animal psychology & behaviour alongside a further 4 in animal care, she currently works in the UAE.
Diplomas, Certificates & Courses
Exotic animal management- UK open studies
Marine zoology- oxford college
Zoology- oxford college
Animal behavior basic- institute animal care and education
Animal behavior advanced- institute animal care and education
Animal psychology - stonebridge assoc university
Animal psychology advanced- stonebdrige assoc university