From Ron Johnson CEO:
Back in the mid 1960’s, I owned two imported parrots. As things progressed, I had to make a decision to be drafted or join our military. With that being said, I knew at that point I had to find homes for my two birds. As parrots were not that well known back then, it was a task trying to find people willing to take them that could and would provide a great place to live.
Having found them homes, I made a promise that someday I would return the favor by providing persons who had to go overseas, for job or duty, a safe haven for their birds while deployed. Over the years, I expanded on that idea to provide a home for neglected, abused and abandoned birds as well.
Late in 1998, Tammy and I had a total of 5 birds of our own. Then it started with, “Gee, we have a problem with our bird, will you take it?”
It was then that I knew I was about to make good on my promise. Soon we grew to around 16 birds. At that time we lived north of Atlanta. We then moved to south of Atlanta, always moving to larger facilities. It didn’t take long before we outgrew that place either. We then moved to Appling, GA, on about 3.5 acres, with around 288 birds and were still growing.
Around that time, we started looking again for an even bigger place. We found a great deal on almost ten acres just outside of Harlem, GA. Not long after, we became the dumping ground for every parrot that people didn’t want anymore. I never learned to say “no” to people bringing in birds. As our numbers continued to grow, so did the Rescue. As fast as we built housing, it became full. We had to then set fees for incoming birds. Our food usage was well over 1,000 lbs. a month and rising. That gave rise to having to start placing adoption fees on outgoing birds. Then we got the old line, “you want me to pay to adopt a bird that you got for free?”
The fact is, we did get them for free, but the first time we had to feed them, they were no longer “free.”
As we continued to grow, I had to find a way to house birds in a manner that was as close to their natural habitat as possible and still protect them from predators. I started creating flight areas that would house enough birds to provide that setting. We started using carport type enclosures with 2 inch round powdered coated frame work. We assumed that the poles were galvanized under the powder coating, but after several years, the poles all started to rust at the seams. This is when we figured out we had some major issues with them rusting off in the ground. We had to start looking for another method of flight construction. We then began looking into the real square tubing car ports – complete with a 20 year warranty. The only problem was the galvanized coating, but we discovered a way to properly treat the metal to remove the excess zinc, making it safe for bird use.
At that time, it was taking several people all day just to feed and water the birds. That’s when I started getting creative. I designed automatic feeding and watering systems. It worked!
We have now evolved to state of the art flight areas, complete with infrared thermostat controlled heaters to keep the birds warm in the winter, misting systems to keep them cooler in the summer heat, and in flight ponds for bathing and drinking. We now have a flock of over birds and all can be watered and fed in less than 90 minutes.
As we continue to grow, we continue to upgrade each new flight area with changes to provide better living conditions.
After ten years at our new location, things started needing updating. Time to start over again.
We had an influx of mice. I mean eating walls, around doors – any place they could chew their way into. We found out at that time that we were not alone. Several other smaller rescues had the exact same problem. It took nearly 16 months, several thousands of dollars and a complete building renovation that included metal plates in the walls to combat the issue, but we did it. But we didn’t stop there. It was time to renovate the entire rescue.
With help from family, friends and some great volunteers, we started working on giving the rescue a fresh, new look. Throw in some great fundraising projects from an author and we are now about 2 years from completion. The new Special Needs Pavilion is still under construction as well as the new flights and educational center for the endangered species area.
As age has begun to catch up, I have finally slowed down from 16 hour days to around 8 hour days. With the help of some great long-term volunteers, my wife Tammy, and my brother and his family, we still continue to grow and provide the best possible conditions we can for captive birds. There are always new changes for people to see and enjoy at the rescue. New things to see, new construction, updated benefits for the birds and the greatest living conditions for them.
These birds were never meant to be show things in captivity. They are exotic animals and that part of their nature can never be removed.
Welcome to our world, all 20 years of it and still learning. That part will never end.
Feathered Friends Forever Rescue/Refuge, Inc. is a State-of-Georgia licensed animal shelter and 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization located in Harlem, Georgia. Feathered Friends works diligently to improve the lives of companion birds by providing them with an intermittent or permanent safe haven as it endeavors to further advance avian welfare through public education and awareness efforts.
Hours of operation:
Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 4pm
Other times are available by appointment.