Therapy animals: Emotional support from a parrot!?

therapy animal
Affectionate therapy parrot, Ollie

Guest blog by Jay Milne

About a month ago, my mother (Dr Rachel Hannam, Director of North Brisbane Psychologists), my grandparents and I went to a local pet and produce store. I was having a bad day, and they knew seeing animals would cheer me up. (Being a 15 year-old with Aspergers and anxiety isn’t always easy!) And although we didn’t intend to, we left with a beautiful, affectionate parrot named Ollie.

Ollie bonded with me instantly. He gravitated to me as soon as we saw each other. After showing his affection by nibbling my face, my mum knew we had to take Ollie home.

For weeks I’d been asking for an emotional support dog, but Ollie the bird filled that role instead. He is a sun conure (pronounced con-yar), a breed of parakeet that bonds mainly with one other creature, and I came to the conclusion that conures can be just as good emotional support animals as dogs. Research shows that therapy birds can lower anxiety, depression, loneliness, and aid sufferers of chronic illnesses and PTSD.

Conures make great therapy pets. They are very loving and affectionate and require lots of attention, so they make great companions. If you spend a lot of time home by yourself, a conure can keep you company all day by sitting on your shoulder or a nearby perch. If you keep their flying feathers short, as we do, they can accompany you to the local café, farmers markets, or on your daily walk, as Ollie does with me. Conures can be great for people with Asperger’s, because unlike human friends, birds are easy to understand, will never get mad with you, and you’ll never risk losing their friendship.

Parrots have an innate awareness of human emotion, and know when their owner is sad, distressed or angry. What’s particularly adorable is that conures will drink your tears if you start crying! It’s such an affectionate and funny act that you’ll cheer up, at least a little bit.

Most endearing is how conures bond with humans. They have selective, unconditional love for one person, creating the same bond they have with their best friend or mother in the wild. Every time you get home from work, school or an outing, they will squawk with happiness knowing their best friend is home. Most dogs seem to be fond of all humans no matter what, but conures have a special love they reserve for you. If you’re lucky enough to have a conure who bonds with you, you’ll have a long friendship, since they live up to 25 years.

Like any pet, there are drawbacks. They are messy eaters and quite loud, which could become a nuisance to you or your neighbours. They require attention every day and get lonely if you’re at work for hours on end and there’s no-one home.  Leaving the radio or TV on can help.  If left alone for too long, parrots will become depressed and start plucking their feathers out. Their long lifespan makes them a big commitment, but if you’re still willing to get a conure, these remarkable birds will brighten up your life.