Harriet, our Therapy Wonderbird

Umbrella Cockatoo Enhances Lives Across San Diego

Have you met Harriet, our Umbrella Cockatoo Therapy Bird?

Animals often bring out the best in people. They can calm hyperactive children or stimulate movement and interaction in those with physical disabilities. During Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) visits, our PET staff and volunteers have seen movement from unresponsive patients or heard words spoken for the first time – all to the amazement of fellow residents and staff members.

One such PET “staff member” is a very special Umbrella Cockatoo named Harriet. Harriet was recently featured in an article on Petside.com. Harriet’s expertise is working with clients that have paralysis from the neck down, “Patients with paralysis can still feel sensation on their face. When Harriet presses up against them, they can feel the softness of her feathers, her breath on their cheek and hear her beak clicking, which is similar to a cat purring or a dog wagging its tail.”

She has a way of cuddling up under your chin… which is the perfect behavior for her most important therapy work – working with clients that have paralysis from the neck down.

Harriet also received this very special thank you letter from the mother of past PET client, who was inspired to help high risk youth who struggle with PTSD:

“I just wanted to take a moment to tell you my story and give you thanks.  I just signed up to sponsor Harriet.  You see, back in 2000 Harriet changed my life.  My daughter Holly came to San Diego for her Make-A-Wish wish.  She had asked to be a zookeeper for a day and Make-A-Wish made it happen.  The entire family got to see the San Diego Zoo, the Wildlife Park, Sea World and on our last day, The Helen Woodward Animal Center.  We had never heard of your Center but it was the highlight of our week.

Holly, her twin sister Amy, and younger brother were all wish kids.  They have a rare condition which we now know is called AOA1.  At the time of her wish Holly was only in 5th grade and we didn’t know exactly what was going on.  As time has passed she has physically deteriorated but is still going strong.

While at the Helen Woodward Center we were privileged to meet Harriet.  I had a bird as a teen and fell instantly in love with her.  She was a balm in a time of major turmoil.  My husband was not a bird guy but fell for her as well.

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Holly and I spent our two years all over the zoo but our primary job was with the bird crew specifically with the parrots and South African Black Footed Penguins.  That time led to where I am now.  I got my first bird, as an adult, from a friend whose dad couldn’t care for him any longer.  That bird is Bubba, my cockatiel.  One thing led to another and I now have 10 birds in my flock.  Among them are four cockatoos; two M2’s, one Goffin, and my very own umbrella.  All but two have been rescues.  I was a chaplain at a facility for teens with mental health issues and remembered how Harriet helped me so I started bringing my birds to work with me.  They did wonders for the youth in my care.

Last year the facility I worked at shut down. I am now working for a Christian Ministry which uses animals to help at risk youth as well as adults with issues ranging from depression to PTSD.  It is very rewarding.  And I still take my birds out to visit the kids or seniors in the homes, possibly going into hospice work soon.  And it all started with Harriet!

I was happy to see her picture on your site and glad she is still working her magic on all she meets.  She definitely changed my life.  I couldn’t imagine life without my birds.

I have one request to ask, if I may.  Since I can’t be there, could you please tell my dear friend Harriet I said “hi” and maybe give her an almond or her favorite treat for me?  Thank you so very much for all you do!

– Anne

P.S.  Holly is doing well and even has her own bird herself.”

We are honored to give your message to Harriet, Anne! We are blessed beyond words to have a bird like Harriet. Her nickname around the Center… “Superchicken!”


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