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Meet The Glencoe Cop With 50 Parrots

Refuge for Saving the Wildlife has been rescuing and adopting out birds from a house near Northbrook since 1996.

Tucked away in west Northbrook, in a small pocket of unincorporated Cook County, is a very loud room with 35 large cockatoos. The sound can be startling, but sometimes you might hear a "hello" over the symphony of squawks. 

The room is part of a bird rescue called Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, run out of Richard and Karen Weiner's home, operated by the couple and some volunteers. 

Richard, a lieutenant with the Glencoe Police Department, started the rescue around 1996. He met Karen about five years later when she adopted a bird from him. Eventually, the couple got married and included a "bird chuppah" at the wedding so two of their birds could join the ceremony.

The rescue runs a tight operation of boarding birds, caring for ill ones and adopting some out to new families. Adoption includes interviews and home inspections meant to pair birds with the right families. In some cases, interested adopters won't be paired with a bird at all.

"We're very particular about taking birds in and adopting them out," Richard said. "All our birds are adoptable if you find the right person." 

"I can go months without adopting a bird out because the right family hasn't come out," Karen said. 

When I first met Karen, she couldn't shake my right hand because a bird bit her finger and it was bleeding. The couple says bird bites are a sign of stress, anger, or just a misunderstanding. In this case, Karen had been feeding a bird almonds when she was bit, which may have only occurred because her finger was mistook for a nut.

"I've been bit maybe four to five thousand times and it still hurts," Richard said. "A bite from them could break your finger."

"There's never a time that a bird owner hasn't been bit," he added.

Karen says running the rescue usually costs them about $50,000 per year. However, the rescue cost them twice that in 2013 because a neighbor filed a complaint against the Weiners.

Over the course of last year, a neighbor had presented a formal complaint against the rescue to Cook County. As a result, the couple had their operation inspected by county officials, and earned a permit to continue running the rescue for up to 80 birds. Currently, they have just over 50.

That was the first complaint they had received in 18 years. Karen says most of the neighbors didn't even know they were running the rescue. If not for a few bird-themed decorations outside their home, it looks like any other house on the block. The birds can't even be heard from outside.  

In the house are two rooms full of occupied bird cages. The big room, which hold 50 large birds, erupted with squawks and whistles when I walked in. 

"They're sounding a warning. What they're saying is, 'We don't know who you are,'" Richard said. "To them, everything is a predator until proven otherwise."

"Birds are a relationship you have to work on every day," Karen said. "There's research that says birds are as smart as a four-year-old child."

Richard said the birds can be incredibly affectionate. I saw that first hand when Karen introduced me to Prince, an African Grey parrot and Richard's first bird. He immediately jumped on my arm and climbed up to my shoulder.

"You can learn to read their body language to know what they're feeling," Richard said. "If you can fit it in your lifestyle, it's one of the most rewarding pets you can have."

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Wendy Grabell January 11, 2014 at 08:18 AM
These people cannot be trusted. They conned me out of my 20 year old Cockatoo, by the name of Snoopy, who I have had since he was a baby. Warning to people that have an amazing, unique parrot, DO NOT BOARD THERE! Please note: a verbal agreement means NOTHING to them! They lie!
Sharon D. Greenspan January 11, 2014 at 10:30 PM
Well when I wrote my blog on Deerfield patch . Com last Monday about my hearing going to the birds-- little did I know how much art imitates life. So there is a parrot sanctuary in west northbrook. Hehe. I guess I'm just bird sensitive. Enjoy the laughs on my blog-- no insults intended to the local parrots.
Wendy Grabell January 12, 2014 at 08:13 PM
I
Ric Warchol January 13, 2014 at 03:55 PM
Clarification, There was NO one neighbor complaining about this operation. The operation had been operating illegally for many years and had become a neighborhood nuisance. What they do is a wonderful thing. But don't do it in the middle of a residential subdivision of single family homes where there is 20 feet or less between homes. Cook County inspectors went out at the request of the Homeowners Association and surrounding neighbors and issued 5 citations for the illegal operation in the zoned residential neighborhood. The certification that the the rescue tauts in all of its materials is from an organization that closed in 2002. It was not until the County issued the citations that the owners Richard and Karen Weiner, filed to become a legal operation. There were 4 immediate neighbors, the Northbrook West Homeowners Association and over 130 subdivision homeowners that protested this operation, as well as some residents of Northbrook proper. There was ONLY one homeowner from that section of Northbrook that was in favor of the operation receiving a Special Use Permit from Cook County and Commissioner Gregg Goslin. Interestingly enough it was that neighbors husband that was the first to complain about the rodent situation from this establishment, to the President of the Homeowners Association years back. This was over a two year process. Boarding, grooming and other services for hire, are NOT approved functions of this Special Use permit. President, Northbrook West Homeowners Association
forest barbieri January 13, 2014 at 06:08 PM
50 Parrots in a residential area. Why?
Lucy2006 January 23, 2014 at 10:21 AM
As a longtime supporter of all animal rescue, with a specific interest in this particular case, if you can't see, hear, smell, etc., the birds, why is it a problem for the rescue to be where it is? Many, many dog rescues are in residential areas....
Ric Warchol January 23, 2014 at 03:35 PM
Lucy2006, zoning ordinances exist for reasons. Why did this operator choose to operate illegally for 20 years. Being a Officer of the Law, he had knowledge of this. During this time Million Dollar homes were built around him relying on the R5 zoning to protect their property values. Even now that a Special Use permit was approved, with restrictive conditions by Cook County, the operator of this Rescue is continually violating the approval conditions. This is the attitude that brought the neighbors out against a operation of this type in the residential neighborhood. Also had you been at the hearing, you would have heard neighbors testify that they not only hear but also smell the facility. Add to that commercial operation traffic, dumpsters, etc and you would understand why the Neighborhood Homeowners Association took a stand with its member property owners. The stand against had nothing to do with the good work of the Weiners or the humane efforts to save parrots. It simply was that the operation belongs in a properly zoned area and that could even enhance the success and contiued longevity of the operation, and not in the middle of a R5 residential subdivision.
Lori February 01, 2014 at 08:45 PM
There is a huge need for rescue of all types. These birds don't go outside, don't wander onto property like dogs or cats. I have never been there but applaud rescue efforts. It is financially prohibitive for most groups and individuals. Unlike dog rescue groups where dogs are fostered into homes throughout a region, many people are not able to handle these birds. I am glad a place exists to take them in.
S.Foi February 14, 2014 at 07:24 PM
I personally know of one case where Mr.Weiner adopted out an African Grey that he knew had a fungal infection in its respiratory system. This can be fatal if not treated. It can also shorten a bird's long life expectancy. He lied when he said such an infection is not contagious.....it certainly is!!! Such hypocracy has no place in a so-called elitist, highly selective adoption program. All we can say is BIRD BUYER BEWARE.........sheisters everywhere!!
S.Foi February 14, 2014 at 07:38 PM
P.S. this guy's wildlife rescue operation is neither registered in the State nor Federal Registry of wildlife Rehabbers. His operation is nowhere to be found in any bird or wildlife association, totally under the radar, barely there on the Internet. Doing the right thing the wrong way, and a cop to boot!!

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