Culture

Parrots and Veterans Heal Each Other in Los Angeles

Not far from the busy 405 Freeway on the Westside of Los Angeles, tucked behind a baseball field on the Veterans Administration grounds, broken wings and broken spirits are both being healed.

Founded in 2005 by clinical psychologist Dr. Lorin Lindner, Serenity Park is a sanctuary for parrots that have been injured, abused or abandoned by owners no longer able to care for them.

Instead, veterans dealing with such issues as substance abuse and PTSD care for the birds and restore them to health.

The director of operations is Matthew Simmons, a veteran himself, who served in the Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Storm, and later in Iraq, with Operation Desert Shield.

In a Nov. 11 article in Los Angeles magazine, Simmons discusses helping two parrots, Maggie and Ruby, which had been attacked by a raccoon:

For four weeks I held them down and put medication on them and force-fed them, and they would bite at me and be angry. After four weeks, they started to physically heal. After four months, they started to emotionally heal. Then I would go into the enclosure and they would land on my shoulder and say, ‘Matt, I love you. Matt, hold me.’ And they would lie in my hands and I would tell them everything was going to be OK.
I was this veteran who carried this big bag of guilt. I’ve seen things I can’t unsee and I’ve done things that I can’t undo. And just because you do it for God or Country doesn’t make it better, doesn’t help you sleep at night. But the birds taught me that you can let go. Because Maggie and Ruby let go when for the first month I was the worst thing they ever met, because I would hold them down. They learned that it was all for their own good. After that, I dove back into therapy with the idea that it was all for my own good. Living that [experience] with a sentient being made me more open to sharing with my doctors.

Click here to learn more about the park and how to visit it. Below is an interview conducted with Dr. Lindner and Simmons: