An Ethical and Safe Bird Store Policy, Part Three

January 20, 2012 § 3 Comments

This entry is the third and final installation in a short series on what it means to have an ethical and safe bird store policy.  To read the introduction and part one on materials used and types of products sold, click here.  To read part two on the prevention of the spread of avian disease, click here.

The third aspect of my policy is ethics in terms of integrity and business practicesTo be honest, I’m a little bit surprised and disappointed that I even have to write about this topic.  A year or two ago, it probably wouldn’t have gotten its own entry.  But more and more I see unscrupulous business practices happening, and there are many types.

But what is integrity?  It can be defined as a firm adherence to a code of moral or artistic values.  I think that both moral and artistic play a role when it comes to being a bird store owner.  There are things that should be done simply on a moral ground and there are things that should be done out of respect for another’s artistic license and intellectual property.

I’ll begin with the moral side.  A lot of what I discussed in parts one and two, in fact, fall under this moral category.  A store that has a sense of moral integrity is a store that makes a commitment to selling only safe products and selling them in a bird-safe way, minimizing the risk of spreading avian diseases.

Since I’ve already discussed those ideas in full, I will move on to the artistic side of integrity.  One of the most common violations I see lately is in terms of intellectual property and copycat products and toys.  If you read this blog, you know that I (and so many other bird owners) really prize original, unique, and innovative products, especially in a market where so many toy designs are just more of the same.  I love vendors that take pride in their work and dedicate themselves to creating very unique and personal products, inspired by their own flocks, their job or life experiences, or even their own natural surroundings and geographic location.  Thus, it is so disappointing to me when I see vendors deliberately copying each other’s toys.

With a lot of bird toys, there is only so much that you can call your “own,” and I understand that.  Can you really claim that you came up with the idea of stringing certain toy parts on a certain type of rope?  Probably not.  It’s easy to think of several toys from several vendors that all look quite similar.  But I think that there can be very clear violations.  If a vendor has a particular “style” or a particular toy that is extremely unique on the market, and it is something hand made, that’s when it saddens me to see that vendors do not have the integrity not to steal another person’s designs.  So many wonderful vendors are hobby-based toymakers who really pour themselves into making bird toys not for profit, but rather for a genuine love of birds.  And to me, it is easy to tell which vendors these are based on the wonderfully unique and innovative designs they create: there is so much joy and livelihood and personality in each and every single toy.  To steal or to copy another’s unique toy creation is to steal the very joy, livelihood, and personality that is imbued in each design.

Personally, I always choose to support the original creators of each toy design out of respect for their intellectual property and creativity, and out of a sense of integrity.  I hope that others will support creativity and innovation, and choose to do the same as well.

An Ethical and Safe Bird Store Policy, Part Two

December 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

This entry is the second installation in a short series on what it means to have an ethical and safe bird store policy.  To read the introduction and part one, click here.

The second aspect of my policy is safety in terms of spreading avian diseases.  While this sounds harmless enough, it actually limits the market quite a bit, far more than part one.  When people ask me why I do not shop with a certain vendor, this is usually the most common reason, and most people always say that they hadn’t even thought to ask.  There are so, so many vendors that are not bird-free.  This one is always such an interesting one to me because so many people seem hyper-cognizant of disease– to the point where they won’t even take their parrots to the vet for fear of it– yet they are reckless in terms of where they shop and the risk of exposure to other parrots.  We should never forget that a ton of bird store owners are also bird owners.  They love and own birds, and that’s what inspired them to open their own stores.  That’s okay.  In fact, like I said in the last installment, if you don’t know anything about parrots, you shouldn’t be in the parrot product business.  I love knowing that the person who designed and made a product for my parrots is a fellow parrot lover.

But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.  If you are a parrot lover, you know that the spread of avian disease is a huge risk and problem.  I personally believe that it is the responsibility of a parrot lover to ensure that she does all that she can to protect not only her own parrots but also the parrots of others.  This means creating bird products in a separate air space from your own birds and doing all that you can to make sure that there is no cross contamination between your products and your own birds.

Is this system perfect?  Unless you’re changing your clothes and showering every time you go to and from work as well, of course not.  But this is definitely the safer and more prudent thing to do.  The likelihood of bird germs or feather dust remaining on your clothing is far less after you’ve traveled from your home to a different place than it is if you just move from one room to another in your own home (or worse yet, the same room!).  I am always surprised when I see just how many bird store owners don’t even think about this.  I’ve emailed vendors before about where they make their toys and having a bird-free space, and have gotten responses back that these owners not only make them in the same room as their birds, but even let their birds test out the products and play on them prior to sending them out.  It’s really quite scary to me.

Are there any home-based stores that I support?  Yes, actually.  There are a select few that you might have noticed.  But aside from the fact that I am incredibly careful about the products I receive from them– in fact, I actually quarantine a lot of them, and of course do a full disinfection– the home-based stores I choose to support are also incredibly careful themselves.  These are not the kind of people who have a bird on their arm while they’re wielding a saw to make your bird toy (unsafe in two ways!).  But they have their bird toy rooms in a separate part of the home, with carefully closed doors, heavy duty air purifiers, and everything covered in plastic bins.  They are careful to change their own clothes and very aware of the risk of cross contamination.  There is still a level of risk, but it is minimized through certain measures.

Some bird store owners don’t even bother to do that, and that really bothers me.  Like I said, if you are in parrots, you know that the risk of spreading disease is huge, and I feel that it is each parrot owner’s responsibility to decrease this risk.  To knowingly propagate the spread of avian disease is irresponsible, unsafe, and unethical.  Some owners might say that they know that their own birds are healthy– but how can we know really?  No matter what we do to avoid it– great diet, healthy habits, air purifiers, vet checks– our birds can still get sick, and because they are so good at hiding it, we might not notice it right away.  Are you as a shop owner going to cancel all of your recent orders because you just realized your parrot got sick, disappoint all of your customers, and return a lot of cash flow?  Probably not.  Would you even tell your customers if one of your birds was sick and risk hurting the reputation of your business?  Probably not.

I so strongly urge all of us as parrot owners to be more cognizant of where we shop and where the products we purchase are made.  I know that there is a lot of trust on forums or of public figures in the bird industry, but remember, even the “best” bird owner’s birds can get sick from time to time.  Always ask first before you buy, assess the level of risk that you are personally comfortable with, and save yourself potential regret in the future.

An Ethical and Safe Bird Store Policy, Part One

December 4, 2011 § 6 Comments

Having an ethical and safe bird store policy has been on my mind quite a bit lately.  This is something that is ever-present on my mind, and is one of the most important things to me as a bird owner.  I’m sure that if you own a parrot, you’ve at one point or another lamented some of the terrible products on the market: sandpaper perch covers, obviously unsafe toys, zinc-plated metals, pellets or foods loaded with sugar and other artificial ingredients.  Why do these products still exist?  Well, one aspect of it is definitely ignorance, because there are plenty of people who simply don’t know that these can be unsafe and harmful.  But a second reason is because we as consumers so often allow companies to get away with producing and selling these, and even indirectly support these practices by buying other products that they sell.

That’s where the ethical and safe bird store policy comes into play.  If you’re a regular reader, you might have noticed that there seem to be a select few stores that I support, and a heck of a lot of stores that I do not.  You might wonder why: well, there’s a good reason.  Every once in a rare while it might be simply that they don’t carry anything I’m interested in, but more often than not, it’s because they break one of my rules of having an ethical and safe bird store policy.  I get a ton of emails and messages regularly from people asking me if I know anything about X company or if there is a reason why I haven’t shopped there, and the answers are always very easy for me when I think about the three aspects of my policy: first, safety and ethics in terms of materials used and types of products; second, safety in terms of spreading avian diseases; and third, ethics in terms of business practices.  I’ll elaborate on each one in a short, three part series, this being the first part.

The first one, which is probably the one that most people think of and probably already are aware of, is safety and ethics in terms of materials used and types of products.  This one’s a no-brainer: if a store sells an unsafe product, I won’t shop there.  Your first reaction might be, “But Coco, you have a different idea of unsafe than the rest of us; yours is pretty extreme!”  Sure, that’s true– I don’t even use nickel-plated metals with my birds– but I don’t expect every store to do that.  I’m aware that there is a difference between what is generally considered safe v. what I feel comfortable offering my flock in particular.  Rather, I’m looking for stores that are at least aware of the fact that zinc-plated metals are poisonous to birds, and go out of their way to find toys or hardware that use nickel, chrome, or stainless steel.

Similarly, I won’t shop at a store that sells sandpaper perch covers, period.  I’ve written to stores that do before, expressing my disappointment.  The responses are always a bit of a shock.  One of them said, basically, that they were well aware that these were dangerous products, but that they made them a lot of money and therefore they wouldn’t stop selling them.  Despicable.  Immediately crossed that store off my list.  Another response I’ve gotten (and have gotten in relation to other items too, such as a budgie cage being marketed for a large macaw) was that they simply had no idea that they were dangerous because they didn’t know anything about parrots.  Well, if you don’t know anything about parrots, what in the world are you doing in the parrot product business?

Some people have the attitude that it’s okay to shop at stores that carry unsafe products, as long as they are not purchasing those products in particular.  I’m definitely on the more extreme side, but for me, this isn’t acceptable either.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we vote with our dollars.  Every dollar that we spend sends out a message: “Great store!  I support you!  Keep doing what you are doing!”  You might not be purchasing the unsafe products in particular, but you are still supporting a company that sells unsafe products.  This is one of the many reasons why cage shopping is such a nightmare for me.  Even though there are some companies who do actually make pretty decent cages design-wise that I would purchase, some of their other models on their product lines are downright unsafe, and I won’t support that.

You might say that it’s easy for me to say that we vote with our dollars because I don’t have a shortage of them.  To that, I have a few responses.  First, I’m a private school teacher, meaning that I make less than the average public school teacher, who most people agree are already severely underpaid.  So no, I don’t have money coming out of the wazoo, but I am simply very frugal with what I spend and try to make my dollars count.  Second, buying better products doesn’t always have to mean more expensive products.  There are a ton of great products out there that are also very inexpensive.  Sure, there are a lot of really expensive ones too, but those are luxuries and not necessities.  Perhaps the one great exception to this is caging, but the nice thing about cages is that if you buy them right, the should last forever.  Third, spending a little bit more for a better product now is an investment in your bird’s health and future.  Yes, that toy with the galvanized wire is probably much less expensive than the one with stainless steel, but the vet appointment and treatment you’ll have to pay for when your bird gets heavy metal poisoning will far outweigh the cost of the stainless steel toy, I promise you that.

I hope that this entry and the next few in the series get people thinking about where they shop and the safety of those products– all of the products, not only the ones that they purchase.  In the next installation, I will write about safety in terms of spreading avian diseases.

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