Harriet, a Feathered Vessel of Healing

Helen Woodward Animal Center Therapy Bird Remembered

Harriet - Helen Woodward Animal Center

Twenty years of healing and laughter

Hrriet - Helen Woodward Animal Center

One day, over twenty years ago, Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program changed forever. That day, an unforgettable new staff member entered our lives: a snow-white umbrella cockatoo who went by the name, Harriet. PET Manager, Robin Cohen, remembers the that first day, “The first time I met Harriet she ran out from behind a desk with her crest feathers in full salute! She had been rescued from a neglectful owner in Dallas, Texas, and came to the Center after a proper owner could not be found for her.”

Harriet Blog (1)Since that day, Harriet joyfully worked in the PET program and touched the lives of thousands of children and adults. Her specialty was reaching out to those individuals that couldn’t reach out to her. Many of Harriet’s “favorites” were people who were paralyzed from the neck, down, and couldn’t use their hands to feel her feathers. She would softly walk up their chest and cuddle against their cheeks, kissing their nose and playing with their ears. They could feel her soft feathers against their skin and delight in her clicking sounds that told them she was happy.

It is with incredible sadness to share that Harriet, our close friend, has passed away. Staff and volunteers surrounded her with love as her spirit was set free.

Harriet’s Healing Impact on Others

Harriet - Helen Woodward Animal CenterOver the years our PET staff and volunteers heard people speak their first words to Harriet after having a stroke. After experiencing Harriet’s healing, feathery touch, we witnessed true and deep healing in people who felt broken after what they witnessed in War.

We remember one patient who had recently become a quadriplegic and was deeply depressed. The nurse brought PET staff and volunteers into his room and asked if he would like to see Harriet. Harriet immediately went up to his cheek and cuddled against his neck. At first he laughed and whispered to her, but then he started to cry, wiping his tears into her feathers. She stayed next to him and just listened until he was all cried out. Harriet just wanted to make everyone feel loved.

Harriet also taught many of our Education classes about how to love and respect a bird and how birds could help our world. Our Critter Campers considered her one of the best teachers!

She was also presented with the CVMA Animal Hall of Fame Award.

Watch Harriet interact with Critter Campers

We Remember Harriet

It is hard to share the breadth of Harriet’s healing impact in this blog. She was a true ambassador of our mission, “animals helping people and people helping animals.” In the effort of sharing Harriet’s legacy of healing and laughter, staff and volunteers wanted to share their favorite memories of Harriet with you.

Liz and Harriet - Helen Woodward Animal Center

Robin Cohen – “Harriet loved to demand attention, liked to watch her Disney movies (never black and white movies!), and felt that ‘stay on her perch’ was more of a guideline rather than a rule. She loved to run across the floor with big hops and crest fully extended, going from person to person for a cuddle. Harriet loved her spaghetti and garlic bread, kiwi, broccoli and grapes. But most of all she loved her family at the Center. She had the best care and the best friends a bird could hope to have. I could spend the next several days telling you all stories about this amazing bird, but mostly I just want to say thank you for loving her and for making her feel treasured every day of her life. We will love her until the day after forever! You will be missed more than I can say my sweet Harriet…”

Harriet - Helen Woodward Animal Center

Harriet, lovingly nicknamed “Super Chicken”

Haylee – “Harriet immediately stole my heart with her fantastic personality and charisma. Over time as we got to know each other better I learned that, compared to other birds, she really enjoyed moving quickly. I would hold her in my hand and lift her up as high as she could go and say, ‘Harriet up hiiiiiiiiiiigh!’ then I’d lower my arm and we’d crouch by the floor and in a deep voice I’d say, ‘Harriet down loooooow.’ She always really enjoyed it and would lean into the rise or the drop and then throw her crest feathers up. We’d sometimes run down a hallway, her in my hand, to go as fast as possible and she’d always lean into the run and spread her wings a tiny bit as if she were a plane preparing for take off!

There were so many enjoyable moments with Harriet, basically every day was a pleasure to work with her, that it’s been so hard to pick and choose my favorites. Her absence has left a significant emptiness and although it’s a bit more quiet now, I much prefer the fun of being Harriet’s co-worker. She had a way of brightening anyone’s day and touching your heart within a matter of seconds.”

Mary – “I miss her so much, I can’t even believe it! Harriet knew how to cuddle and she seemed to love it. I am so happy that she was my friend and that we were both nice to each other and enjoyed our cuddles. I loved being with her and I think she liked being with me.”

Heather – “I remember the first time I was a “practice” patient for Harriet my first summer as an instructor. Robin told me to lay down on the couch with my hands at my side. Without much warning, Harriet was set down on me and immediately ran up to my face, crest feathers in air, and beak to my nose. What I thought was a small beak before, looked a whole lot bigger when it was just inches from my eyeball! Before I had much time to be concerned for my life, Harriet began clicking her beak (a sign on affection) and slowly nestled up to my neck with her silk like feathers, giving me goose bumps from head to toe.”

LaBeth – “I remember when Harriet would cuddle inside my sweatshirt and I would walk around with just her little head peeking out. I also remember all her tricks, she could do a helicopter and that was always the neatest thing!”

Thank you, Harriet, for your love, your antics, for making us laugh, for allowing us to witness your incredible healing presence. We will never forget you.

Harriet Hiding - Helen Woodward Animal Center


2 responses to “Harriet, a Feathered Vessel of Healing

  1. The world has lost a very special animal ambassador and I have lost a dear friend. It was a visit to the center and a meeting with Harriet thirteen years ago for my daughter’s Make-A-Wish trip that got me back into birds after years without them. I now have a few “Harriets” of my own continuing her work here in Omaha. Thank you Harriet for your years of love. You will be missed my friend.

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