A mother-daughter duo has teamed up to bring winged companions to sick children. Isabella’s Aviary Alliance was inspired by Isabella’s love and connection with her own bird after being diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease. Together, Isabella and mom Trisha breed birds and train them to interact with children with disabilities. The Global Genes Project was able to speak with Trisha about the program and what their hopes are for it’s future impact on the rare disease community.
Global Genes Project: What inspired you and your daughter to start this program?
Trisha Gaddis: Isabella has been raised around birds, and has always shared a special connection with them. Her sensory issues make cats and dogs difficult for her, but it has never been an issue with parrots. When she was diagnosed with neurodegenerative disease at the beginning of the year we realized that we needed to create a life that really embraced the passion and interests of Isabella.
Isabella wanted to raise baby birds more than anything. With some help from our friends in CA, we were able to get 2 pairs of birds that were ready to breed. Driving home with the parent pairs from the airport we decided to raise our future chicks for other special needs children.
GGP: How is a companion bird different from one you’d normally purchase at a pet store?
TG: A bird in a pet store hasn’t been raised around kids, let alone sensitive kids that might have sensory and behavioral issues, medical equipment, or physical impairments. Our birds are raised from day one in a house with 5 kids, 2 with disabilities. The chicks get used to the unexpected, such things like tantrums, seizures and medical treatments don’t even faze them.
GGP: Who is eligible to receive one of these birds?
TG: We use the ADA guidelines to determine if an individual has a qualifying disability for our program. If your child has one or more physical or mental impairments that substantially impact their quality of life they qualify for our program! A few examples of qualifying disabilities are might be epilepsy, cognitive delays, mitochondrial or genetic diseases, cerebral palsy, etc.
GGP: Can companion birds visit children in the hospital?
TG: No. That is a great question, and really hits at the heart of the change that IAA hopes to create, under Isabella’s Action Alliance. IAA2 represents a further reaching, more impactful and lasting future for Isabella’s dreams. We will soon be announcing our goals to pursue legislation under the name, Isabella’s Service Animal Options Act.
Unbeknownst to many, the ADA Service Animal Act was amended to remove certification for any animal outside of dogs (and miniature horses, not sure how that fit in), in March of 2011. It is our firm and heartfelt stance that service animal decisions should be made between a patient and their doctor. It is well established that the disabled community is at greater risk for discrimination without strong advocating for the protection of their rights. This wide sweeping rejection of service animal options is a prime example of such discrimination, by the very organization put in place to protect vulnerable disabled individuals.
Within my own home I have been alerted to Isabella’s seizures by my eclectus parrot. I have seen Isabella pull herself together for her cockatiel in times that she would have otherwise required dangerous medical sedation. I have seen my child cognitively and emotionally improve as a result of her relationship with her parrots. In sharing our experience with others, we have heard the similar service stories about companion animals time and again. From this the next chapter of our dream was born.
GGP: What kind of birds do you raise?
TG: Small parrots only. We hand-raise cockatiels, parakeets, and green cheek conures.
Isabella’s Aviary Alliance is currently supported by a great group of business sponsors. They have provided cages, food, educational training DVD’s, toys, and even DNA tests for the birds! Our sponsors have signed on to provide our adoptive families with all the supplies they need when they bring home our babies. When setting up IAA, one of the core missions of our board was to make adoption based on need and not financial abilities. It gives me great joy that we’ve been able to do that!
Learn more about Isabella, mom Trisha, and all of their birds on their website.