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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Parrot bill flies through house

A bill that would allow more than 1,000 New Hampshire residents, currently living here illegally in cages, to remain in their homes is headed to the desk of Gov. John Lynch for his signature, after House Bill 651 passed unanimously by the Senate Wednesday.

Not looking to ruffle any feathers, Lynch is not making his intentions regarding the bill known.

“The governor will review the bill when it reaches his desk,” said Lynch spokesman Colin Manning.

House Bill 651, which will allow an estimated 1,000 bird owners to retain their pets, was written after Nashua resident Suzanne Burke inquired about the status of her birds in January. After being told by an acquaintance that it was illegal in New Hampshire to own these creatures, she contacted Fish and Game officials. Soon after, she was visited by a field officer who notified her that her birds were living here illegally. She was given 30 days to find them a new home, or they would be seized, and possibly euthanized.

Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack, became outraged after reading about Burke’s story in the New Hampshire Union Leader, and immediately crafted HB 651. It was passed in the House earlier this year, then sailed through the Senate on Wednesday.

“I am thrilled,” said Notter, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We didn’t cure cancer, but it’s an important issue to pet owners.”

Notter said she got into character while testifying about her bill before the Senate.

“I talked like a monk parakeet,” said Notter. “They are very intelligent birds. I dressed in quaker colors and I told the senators that after learning about these birds in January, if my new feathered friends could talk to them now, this is what they would sound like ... Sen. Jeb Bradley put his head back and laughed, and said it was the best testimony he’s heard.”

Word of the bill’s passage flew quickly around the birding community.

“There has been a large fear factor among bird owners since this started,” said Concetta Ferragamo, owner of Parrot Safari in Londonderry. “A lot of customers have been following the story, but are afraid to talk about it, because they don’t want someone coming to their door to take away a family pet and possibly gas it. I think there’s a lot of relief today, but they still won’t talk until it’s signed.”

Ferragamo said quaker parakeets should never have ended up on the state’s banned list.

“They never did their homework,” said Ferragamo, referring to the move to label the birds an invasive species 13 years ago. “They would never survive a winter (in the wild) in New Hampshire. There has never been a single sighting of a monk parakeet during a winter count in this state, ever.”

Suzanne Burke could not be reached for comment, but Notter said the bill’s passage comes too late to help her retain all of her 20 pets.

“The state told her she had to relocate them,” said Notter. “The last I heard, she had four of them left, and Fish and Game officials told her they wouldn’t come after her for those, because the bill looked likely to pass.”

The new law would take effect 60 days after passage.