Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Keets: The Scourge of the Border

"Nothing succeeds like a budgie without teeth." -- Monte Python

The common pet parakeet, a.k.a budgerigar -- budgie for short (say the quote above out loud if you don't "get it") is what you will find if you enter your neighborhood pet store, pass by the doggie treats, the cat scratch posts, and the flashy neon tetras and Plecostomus in aquariums along the back wall. Keep going until you reach the aviary. Here you might see cockatoos, African Grey Parrots, cockatiels and love birds. You MIGHT see all these bird species, but you WILL see budgies, huge numbers of them in large enclosures, priced at about $15 each and probably on sale.

And each of them is, apparently, a threat to the security of North America.

We have four of them, Ivy, Candy, Baja, and Newfie. They share a cage, usually in peace and harmony. They squawk, they tweet, and they trill. They don't say human words, so secrets are safe. They fly the length of the coach a few times a day for exercise, but most of the time they are content with each other's company inside their cage-home.

Here they are, dressed up in their 'shopped pirate hats for last year's Talk Like A Pirate Day (they call it Squawk Like A Pirate Day, of course!):

We are now slowly moving north from California on our summer Alaska Adventure. Going from the U.S. mainland to Alaska requires, at a minimum, 2 border crossings into Canada, and 2 into the United States. Taking a pet such as a dog, or a cat, or probably even a housemate pig is not a big deal, provided the pet has an up-to-date shot record. But this is not a story about traveling dogs, cats or pigs. It is about budgies.

We began the quest to learn what we would need to cross these borders as any sane person would do -- we googled it. From our readings, it seemed, at least in those early, naive days, that the biggest problem would be our return to the U.S. But each website we visited became more confusing than the last -- in one place, we learned domestic budgies were exempt from the rules for other birds -- rules that could require us to come through a border crossing with a vet on duty (the only three are in New York, LA, or Miami, nowhere near our planned route to Alaska), pay for a vet's exam, and pay for 30 days quarantine. Then we learned they were not exempt, and the customs official COULD require it, or not, for cause or "just because." Our $15 parakeets could easily wind up costing $500. Each.

So we started to look for someone who would keep them for the summer. No one volunteered. We thought about putting them on a plane and shipping them off to bird-loving friends. We thought about just crossing our fingers and taking them, and telling any customs agents who wanted us to drive to NY to cross into the U.S. that he/she just became the proud owner of four keets.

Then John decided to talk to a vet to find out the real story. The vet told us that all we needed was a certificate of health for each bird, and she would be happy to give them an exam and issue the certificate. The only catch was that the certificate was only good for 30 days, so we'd have to take them in just before we left for Alaska, and then take them in again somewhere in Alaska just before we returned. A solution! We were so happy! You have probably figured out that it wasn't to last.

A few days before we were leaving, we crammed the cage into Mr. Toad (our tow car) and drove "the kids" into the vet's for their checkups. We lugged them into the office where we shared the waiting room with a woman who had a parrot in a cardboard box (the parrot's favorite "word" was an eerily human laugh) and a very cute little boy with a small dog that looked for all the world like a long-eared rat.

When we got into the exam room, the vet told us that she had done some research for us, and discovered that going into Canada was also a potential problem. A family could only take two parakeets. They might not enforce it, or we could try to convince them we were two families. We would have to take our chances.

The exam was uneventful -- the lights were lowered while an assistant grabbed each bird with a paper towel. The vet listened to their hearts (that was amusing all in itself), felt their bellies, and weighed them by putting them in a white paper lunch bag and then on the scale.

She filled out the health certificates, and we were on our way. Not quite... the vet's bill for all this was $66 ($45 for the exam, $31.50 for the certificate, minus a $10 website examination coupon which we really didn't have, but they must have taken pity on us). That price is PER BIRD. We paid her $266 for these exams that we were probably not going to be able to use -- since we could only legally take two into Canada, we were rapidly going back into "where-can-we-leave-them mode."

Luckily, after we got back and were telling our tale of woe, a wonderful couple named Sam and Alice (at Jojoba Hills) volunteered to keep them for us. Another woman, named Brenda, who works in the office also volunteered. Thanks to all of them, our keets have a summer home and won't be an issue for our border crossings.

Just when we started to think we were all done with vets, we started to get the emails. We've gotten two so far -- birthday wishes for Candy and Ivy from the vet, including a link to an online e-card for them. The card shows various birds and animals in party hats. I guess everything comes full circle once you start putting hats on budgies -- either pirate or party.


Judy and Luke Rinehimer said...

Yep, we go in for our dog's "30 Day Certificate" on Monday before we leave for AK on Tuesday. Didn't think about the return trip.
When we traveled to BC, Alberta, and Ontario Provinces a few years ago we just presented "Star's" Rabies & License paperwork along with our passports. Nothing mentioned back then about the 30-day paperwork.

Sharon Del Rosario said...

So glad you found a good summer home for the Keets. You'll miss them, but at least they won't be a source of worry for you. Hope to see you soon!