Written by Sue Randall of Johannesburg, South Africa
Chubby was a really happy and friendly little bird. She did not seem to be in any pain from her legs. We believed that she wanted to live and that she had come into our lives for a reason, but she would never be able to walk properly, or to grip a branch. I knew she needed shoes or prostheses. The Grey Lourie (also known as the Grey Go-away Bird) is quite a large bird, and fitting shoes to Chubby’s legs would be possible in a way that it would not be with a smaller species.
Johann and I were not living in a good situation. We did not own the land we lived on and we would have to borrow the money to build an aviary, but my main concern—which soon became an obsession—was making shoes for Chubby. If I could not find a way to do that, then euthanasia would indeed be the only option. I tried making shoes out of denim, neoprene, rubber. Nothing worked. I could not attach the shoes firmly enough that they did not fall off or twist around the legs. We seemed to be losing the battle.
We Couldn’t Give Up on Her
Yet Chubby was playful and she was learning to fly. She seemed blissfully unaware that her feet did not work and that we might not be able to save her life. I thought of all the people in the world who have disabilities in every imaginable body part, all the prostheses and adaptations that have ever been designed for humans. This was just a little bird! Her needs were so much simpler. And yet I could not find the way forward.
My sister had broken a finger a few months earlier and suddenly she had an idea. She suggested that I contact her hand therapist and ask for some offcuts of finger-splinting material. I called her therapist and she said she would be delighted to help. The next day Johann collected the splinting material from her rooms in the city. As soon as he got home, we started experimenting. Within an hour, we had made Chubby’s first pair of shoes! For the first time ever she was able to walk, run, and balance without difficulty. She became even more playful and happy, and trundled around in her little shoes as if they had always been part of her.
A friend donated some money to help us build an aviary, and Johann and a neighbor put it together. It had to be specially adapted because of Chubby’s disability. She would never have feet that gripped, so we built a network of little ladder ramps and put up flat planks instead of branches. Now Chubby was able to fly, feed, bathe, preen, run around and sun herself independently.