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Make Way for Winged Companions

They are extremely smart and loyal animals. They love to play and need to be stimulated, but they can be stubborn and they need to be trained. They don’t bark, but they do fly. Parrots, according to Jody Rosengarten, are exceptionally intelligent companions to humans.

“Parrots study things,” says Rosengarten. “They scrutinize strategies and rehearse speech privately until they're ‘ready for prime time.’”

A dog lover, trainer and behavior therapist, Rosengarten , has made dogs her life's work since 1980, when she opened her practice, The Bark Stops Her e in Connecticut. (She works with clients in Westchester County as well.) Rosengarten, who grew up in New Jersey, has lived in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island – and Tanzania – has always loved animals.

“I was always the ‘animal nut,’” she says. In addition to the many dogs that were always a part of her family, she would collect lady bugs, turtles, garter snakes, baby birds with broken wings, toads and Peruvian guinea pigs, to name a few.

Rosengarten has helped many thousands of dogs and “their people” – as she refers to them – to better understand each other. She has also studied wild wolves, monkeys and chimpanzees and as a result, she says, has recognized “the same principles govern all behaviors, including our own.”

Over the course of the past 43 years, in addition to the constant company of her multiple rescue dogs, she has lived with 21 parrots. And recently she decided to spread her professional wings to incorporate her love for and understanding of these smart and sensitive creatures.  In addition to offering canine training and behavior therapy, she now offers the same service, which she calls For the Birds , to parrot parents.

The tools she employs for her For the Birds clients fuse lessons Rosengarten learned studying wildlife in the field as well as those learned at home with her own parrots. Startlingly intelligent, companion parrots “retain all their feral drives and must traverse two cultures to survive,” she says.

Not all parrots are equally smart, says Rosengarten, but she says the consensus is that African Greys “are feathered Einsteins.” This particular breed of parrot, she maintains, would make “masterful detectives and psychoanalysts.” One of her own parrots – a Mealy Amazon named Bugsy, is cheeky as well. When Rosengarten dozed off at night recently, she awoke with a start to Bugsy crooning, “Nighty-night” to her. And her Yellow-naped Amazon, Murray, used to scurry out of his cage in the morning, squat and shout, “Good one!” when his excrement landed on the floor.

Rosengarten says parrots typically live in five homes during their lifetime. Longevity, plus behaviors such as excessive screaming, contributes to these highly intelligent birds being bounced about so often. Most of her own parrots were rescued.

Biting, she says, can be another problem.“Even the gentlest of parrots, when hormonal or threatened, might bite.”

She adds that “clean freaks often complain about parrots' messiness,” but as a longtime parrot parent, it’s something she says she barely notices. But Rosengarten says, “If feathers or toy and food remnants being strewn about would make you nuts, perhaps a companion parrot is not for you.”

Like any good mother, Rosengarten remains mum, as it were, on the topic of which of her “kids” – dogs or parrots – is the smartest. But it’s clear she is surrounded by a brainy brood of feathers and fur.

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