|We have access to a wealth of information regarding the nutritional and emotional needs of African Greys, as well as how smart they are; however, I’ve never read anything, nor have I ever thought of them as having mental health needs. Although I did have a small inkling of this when Holly would say, "I’m aggry" (angry), when she didn’t get her way. I would like to tell you about an experience we had recently with Holly, which is still having repercussions.
That night, as we were leaving, even though we were heavy hearted, I still remembered to tell my African Grey Holly "good-bye, we’ll be back," not even thinking one of us would NOT be back. She did not respond with her usual "Bye, I’ll be, we’ll be back." When we returned home, she did not say, "Hi, how are you?" as she usually does. After sitting and observing her for a while, I thought, "Does she realize that we just took our dog, Chippy, to be put to sleep?" I know that Greys are very intelligent, but are they intelligent enough to grieve over the loss of one of our family members? Over the next several weeks she proved to me that Greys are indeed intelligent enough to go through the mental process of grieving. She even went through the same stages of grief as humans.
I think her first reaction was of APPREHENSION and ANXIETY. She called to Chippy saying "come here Chippy, go outside," while making a clapping sound (we used to call him and clap our hands when we wanted him). When he didn’t respond, she called "Chipppee, Chippee," in a frantic voice. Over the next few days, she would ask, "Mommy, where’s Chippy?" I told her he was with his mommy in heaven with Jesus. This is a question she repeated over and over. During this time, when I had to leave for a while, I would hold her and look into her eyes, emphatically saying "I WILL be back."
She showed INSECURITY by asking, "Mommy, am I a good girl?" And "Where’s Paul? Where’s Mark? Where’s Michele?" Whenever they were out of the house. When I was out of her sight, she would call "Mommy, I love you!" More often than usual, she found reasons to get me to come to her, "Mommy, I want my very good apple," "Hey, Mommy, wake up!" She called our names individually, and if we didn’t respond, she asked where we were.
She didn’t eat for several days, except for her hand feeding. I even made some of her favorite foods which she refused. When I picked her up to hold her, she would press against my chest and put her head on my shoulder. She was more quiet than usual, and didn’t play as often, and I knew she was going through a period of DEPRESSION. To comfort her, I spent a lot of time with her. I carried her around the house, talked to her and explained everything I was doing.
She used to throw her food to the floor, and call Chippy, as this was a game they loved to play. Specifically in the game, she used to call Chippy over and throw food on his head. Then one day recently, she called him and when he didn’t answer, she said "Chippy, you are a very, very, very, very, bad, bad, bad boy." She acted this way for about a week. I could see that she was feeling ANGER. I took it as a sign that she was healing and able to feel anger again.
When I thought things were finally getting back to normal, she had a slight set-back, caused by my daughter and her fiancee going away for the weekend. All weekend, she asked "Where’s Mark? Where’s Michele? We’ll be back. Hey wake up! Michele’s a good, good girl. Where’s Chippy?" Was she trying to reassure herself that they would indeed be back? It seemed so to me. I think that Holly will, from time-to-time, show that she still thinks of Chippy by reacting as she did that weekend.
One of the things she started saying during this time was "I love Waddles, I do." Waddles is our Blue and Gold Macaw.
I think the thing that tore the most at my heart was when she said, "Can I wake him? Wake up. I feel very, I’m sorry." This is what she said, and I think we can all fill in the blanks.
Do I think that Greys are capable of and intelligent enough to have mental health problems that we have to deal with from time-to-time? Absolutely!!!
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The above article is owned and copyrighted by Dolores Mangione ©1999. It was published in the Summer 1995 issue of The Grey Play Round Table Magazine.