Interview with Anna Wallen Sloan

by Emily September 1, 2013

944623_528041890594866_368229719_nWhen we tour facilities and gather data, I am able to get a lot of fascinating information from the facility owner that may not make it into the database, simply because of the nature of the data we are collecting. I want to allow readers and fans to follow our experience and get some more personal information about each facility, so we will be conducting short interviews with each facility we visit. I hope this will give you better insight to each facility.

 

 

Emily: You are a state licensed non profit – can you tell readers the difference between state and federal non profits?

Anna: It is very important for folks to understand that the term “non-profit” is a type of organization or business and “tax-exempt” (sometimes misrepresented as a “federal non profit”) often refers to organization’s status.  A non profit can have a tax exempt status but it does not have to in order to be a valid non profit.  A non-profit is a category of business, primarily applied for and granted on the state level.  Just as any business would file a valid business under a specific category, we have filed with the state of New Mexico as a “not for profit corporation.”  You may notice the abbreviations LLC (limited liability corporation) or INC (Incorporated) following the name of a specific business.  Like these, all valid businesses must file under a category that best describes it within the state that it is operating in, including those who wish to operate as any non profit organization. Filing for the status of state “not for profit corporation” is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a business that has filed with the state that it resides in as an organization that does not have an objective to make profit from it’s work and (in some cases) cannot claim any employees on a payroll.

If there is no profit being made and none of the employees are paid, as is the case with our organization, it often ends up that state or federal taxes are not owed even if the organization is not really “tax exempt” simply because the business spent more than it was able to make in a year, which is often the case with small, privately funded not for profit organizations.  The organization must still file taxes as any other profitable business might do and if profit is made, the business must a) put those funds directly back into the organization and b) could then owe taxes on the earnings of the business.  The major difference between a non profit (which happens on a state level and is the first step to seeking federal tax exempt status that is granted through the IRS, not the federal government) and having a valid federally tax exempt status (such as the infamous 501(c)3 tax exemption) is that a non profit without tax exempt status cannot write receipts to give to generous donors who wish to enjoy filing a tax write off on their personal taxes. An organization with tax exempt status may function almost identically to it’s non tax exempt brother, but it has the advantage to advertise as being tax exempt.

There are some other advantages and disadvantages to holding each status, such as less stringent rules regarding the way in which a ”regular” non profit is allowed to raise funds vs. the appeal a federally tax exempt organization may have on those who are looking to donate a particularly large sum of money in order to receive their federal tax write off.  What folks may not know, and may be shocked to know is that “non profits” are first born on a state level.  A tax exempt status is not it’s own unique non profit organization.  It is simply a non profit organization with an extra tool to help it along. Those seeking to achieve a federal tax exempt status or a federal Charity status must establish their business as a state non profit organization first, before they can benefit from those other statuses on a federal level.  So when you ask what the difference is between a state and federal non profit, the answer is that non profit organizations are born at a state level and are given tools at a federal level that can further their success.

Emily:  While you are a rescue based from the home, your birds are housed in their own area on your property. Can you tell readers a bit about that and the benefits it offers?

Anna: I have always tried to encourage others and have been encouraged myself by the concept that we must do the very best we can with what we have.  For many years, my passion has been rescuing parrots of all sizes, inviting them into my home, loving them like they were my own, and tearfully but confidently sending them back out into the world when they were ready and the time was right.  Our journey with the parrots has been a wonderful one, though keeping our dreams alive has not always been easy and rescuing has presented us with many challenges as well as joys.  As the rescue grew in popularity, so it grew in numbers and so space in our home became limited.  At times, we were not prepared for the numbers of birds that needed our help, but in order to save lives, we would take them in and share our personal space with them if there was not enough room in designated bird areas, practicing quarantine in a bedroom or with our vet, or having outside families keep new arrivals until we could ensure good health.

This worked for a time, but sharing your own space with not one or two or even twenty, but more like forty to fifty chattering feathered friends, with no place left for quiet time to be inside your own head, certainly takes it’s toll on the most well meaning of people after so many years.  We love our birds and the crucial work that we do, but could not help rising tensions in the Sloan household with two frazzled parents and two young children.  We realized that the rescue would either have to stretch it’s wings or we would have to think about helping fewer birds for the sake of our own sanity and the health of our family. Without a significant increase of financial support, building a facility seemed a far stretch.  Still, I was determined to find a way and was elated when I came out of the bank one afternoon with a personal loan that would make the dream a reality for us and the rescue within a few short months.

Our birds were able to move in to their brand new 400sq foot, heated, cooled, insulated, painted, tiled facility (which is located on our property, behind the house) this past February and it was a celebration for all.  We found ourselves wanting to spend more time out with the birds, laughing and singing, passing out toys and treats, encouraging out of cage flight time, etc. instead of wanting to run away from the noise we had previously been so overwhelmed by.  The birds noticed a huge difference too!  There is no pressure for them to be quiet during certain hours and they have the ability to mingle with other species that are similar to them, freely, with supervision.  They are far less crowded and seem to have a real sense of ownership over the place.  It is easy to keep clean and the air is cleaner.  With the construction of the building, we have been able to completely separate new world and old world species, with macaws, amazons, and conures enjoying their new bird “house” while the cockatoo species remain in the old dedicated aviary that is private and soundproofed, but still attached by double sets of doors to our home.

I would have to say that the greatest benefits are that we are able to now have a quarantine room that is truly on a separate air system from all of the other healthy birds, that the birds can be free to be birds, no matter where their cages are located here at the rescue, without affecting family activities, and that we can still hear the birds softly from inside the house and can still check on them any time, day or night.  We have really combined the benefits of having a dedicated facility with having an in home rescue where the birds will never be locked up and left after business hours are over.  Volunteers can spend hours out with the birds without feeling like they are imposing on our family time and everyone wins!  We will likely continue to pay our new facility off, small amounts at a time, month by month but in our minds, the decision has already paid off!

Emily: Does being based in New Mexico offer any unique challenges? I’m not sure if the general public is aware there is a population of bird owners in the state.

Anna: Something that many people may not realize is that Albuquerque, New Mexico is one of the largest growing cities in the United States.  On top of that, New Mexico is a bordering state of Mexico, where legally and illegally smuggled parrots were (and still are) brought over the border for years and years.  New Mexico has a very small, and somewhat disjointed number of bird enthusiasts who are mostly older folks who have an outdated way of caring for pet and breeding birds.  Several clubs have come, struggled and gone as politics always seem to get in the way of the goals to educate.  In this regard, although many people in the state have pet birds, a much smaller number of residents seems to have an adequate grasp on proper avian care, compared to other states, and those that do mostly keep to themselves for fear of offending someone who may disagree with their ideas.

There are a staggering number of families who own birds and nothing ties them together.  They are completely on their own with only a few resources in their community, if they are lucky enough to find them.  By the time many families realize that we are here and an active resource for them, they have lived with their bird’s frustrating behavior with no solution for so many years, they just feel burnt out.  New Mexico is not well known as a breeding state for parrots and in fact, there are very few serious breeders here but there were a number of larger breeders (mostly of cockatoos) residing here one or two decades ago and because birds live so long, their stock is still prolific in the state.  Hobbyist breeders seem to pop up here and there and many of the local pet stores do carry various species of birds, but what we have seen more frequently as a rescue, is that these birds are absolutely saturating the state from families who have moved here from other states and now can no longer care for their bird.

Additionally, the state seems unusually saturated with elderly wild caught birds in their 30′s and 40′s and that makes our job of placing birds with new families much more difficult. At the moment, approximately half of our adoptable birds are seniors, many with health complaints or special needs.  They will not be easy to place.  New Mexico is my homeland and I am proud to live here, but certainly the state has some exceptional challenges to offer an avian enthusiast.  Did you know that the state of New Mexico is the 3rd most impoverished state in the nation? Furthermore it has proven year after year to be one of the weakest states as far as education of it’s children.  These may just be statistics for some, but they are statistics that we see and feel every day when working with the people in our state.  Drumming up donations can be difficult when well meaning supporters or potential adopters just don’t have the money to help, when volunteers must learn from scratch, and when applying families don’t want to learn new things about avian care.

On the flip side of the coin, this makes us extra grateful and extra proud of those successes we have.  When we are able to secure good, knowledgeable, loving homes for our birds, or educate a stranger, or when we meet a stranger who is already well versed and enthusiastic about avian care, when we see our volunteers advancing into wonderfully well educated advocates for the birds, we are very, very proud.  We often solicit the majority of donations from out of state and this helps to keep us afloat.  We are dreaming of a day when there are enough well educated enthusiasts here to really give us a boost with the critical work we do but for now, we are trying in whatever ways we can to be that voice for our feathered friends AND their families.

Emily:  If you could do one thing differently in regards to bird rescue, what would it be?<

Anna: There is one thing that I often think about and would love to change as a rescuer, if only I found the right resource. As it is now, I am the director of the rescue.  As the director, it is my job to to do any job that is not filled in by a volunteer that day or that week or that month.  I feed, I water, I vet, I chop and pass out fresh food, I bathe, I clean and scrub, I sweep, I mop, I sing, I play games, I medicate, I am an expert pin feather crumbling device.

These are all the things one might think of when they think of managing a parrot rescue, however, there is a completely opposite side to that coin which includes screening families, giving tours, soliciting public donations, meeting with the media, record keeping, tax filing, filling out and signing forms, balancing bank accounts and allocating funds, paying bills and ordering supplies, education, behavioral consults, grooming, answering e-mails and facebook posts, returning phone calls, responding to emergencies, and the list goes on and on.  I am often embarrassed and ashamed that I can only do so much before I burn out or before the day is done!  I have a wonderful team of volunteers who help with socializing, cleaning, changing waters, etc. but it would be a dream come true to find someone with a passion for administrative work so that I could put a more focused effort into educating the families that come to tour the rescue, who want to adopt, and the general public. If I could have started with someone on our team to help with these things a decade ago, I believe we could have accomplished even more than what we have done.

My heart always goes out to those “home based” rescue groups who are primarily a family run organization.  We have been very blessed with an increasing number of folks who want to help support us by volunteering, but the moment I find someone really good to help me take over the administrative side of things, who has a heart for volunteer work, life as a rescuer will seem much more complete!

Emily:  Any final thoughts or words of advice or encouragement to readers?

Anna: So often in my line of work I come across families and individuals who are discouraged and frustrated.  Bird keeping is not what they expected it to be at times and it is difficult to understand.  Perhaps their bird is doing something unhealthy and they are afraid they have let their feathered friend down.  Perhaps they are not good enough to keep a bird happy and healthy?  Many of the most wonderful people I have met in this world are bird people, and every single one of them have one significant thing in common.  No one is perfect and we are all learning! Working with these delightfully intelligent, thoroughly complex wild animals in the confines of our homes is a challenge for every one of us, whether rescuer, breeder, enthusiast, empty-nester, single individual, expert or new beginner.

Be creative with how you approach your bird and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things to entertain your bird, to reduce repetitive screaming, to ensure that your bond stays strong with your bird for years to come.  Always foster an attitude of curiosity and let your bird teach you what he wants and needs!  Let him tell you what he needs instead of giving him what you think he needs and don’t forget to make sure your needs are being met also!  Focus on all of the many positive things you have been able to do for your bird and he has been able to do for you, instead of the one or two things that aren’t going the way you planned.  A huge thank you to every single person out there who has ever considered giving new hope to a second hand bird!

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