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Rebecca Shilling was a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. She? also a breast cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy. Both come with their own physical and emotional struggles. As Shilling told Oregon Live, “It’s real easy to get totally down.”

For Shilling, a 20-year-old white umbrella cockatoo called Snow is what helps her stay positive. While she cannot interact with Snow directly while recovering from surgery, she does bring purpose to her life by cleaning out the bird? cage. She told Oregon Live that “birds can help break through the depression and isolation many veterans may experience. The Parrots for Patriots program, which is how Shilling obtained Snow, believes the same.

The program, which was launched by the Northwest Bird Rescue in Vancouver, Washington, officially began on June 1, 2015 and matches veterans with parrots, bringing much-needed companionship to both bird and soldier. The idea for the Parrots for Patriots program came from Northwest Bird Rescue founder and president, Christopher Driggins. Knowing the plight of homeless birds, Driggins was also aware of the emotional and physical battles veterans face when they return home, given that he is an army veteran.

“We have enough veterans that need a companion,” he told Oregon Live. “We can help each other out.”

This seems to be the case for Shilling, as well as Paul Thomas, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. Thomas has been paired with Sabrina, a 21-year-old African grey parrot.

“Especially with veterans, it’s hard to continuously say goodbye to friends,” Thomas told Oregon Live. “The ongoing traumatic experience can carry a weight. The concept of having an animal that’s going to be with you literally your entire life is a good, positive thing.”

For Thomas, Sabrina serves as a therapy bird who helps him control his emotional state. “They’re incredibly smart animals,” Thomas noted. “They read us like we read books. If you’re nervous, they’re nervous. If you’re afraid, they’re afraid. You really have to be in control of your emotional state before interacting with them.”

Shilling and Thomas already seem to be success stories in the Parrots for Patriots program. Could there be more? Veterans who wish to be part of the program must meet 12 criteria, which include the willingness to allow the program to conduct home visits, reliable transportation and the completion of a course on bird husbandry.

Even though there are criteria to be met, the program does not exclude veterans who have never owned a bird before, nor does it exclude those who have been dishonorably discharged or injured. If you?e a veteran and meet the criteria, you?e eligible to apply.

For more information on the Parrots for Patriots program, visit their website.

Do you think a program like this should be available to veterans nationwide? Worldwide?

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