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After being targeted online with hate mail and inaccurate accounts of what was going on at the World Parrot Refuge a year ago, Wendy Huntbatch said her donations dropped off drastically, and she has only recently started to recover.
“I had hate mail, I had so many people telling me how disgusting I was, and it just destroyed my donor base,” said Huntbatch, the owner and operator of the World Parrot Refuge in Coombs. “We call it anti-social media, because it seriously can destroy you.”
The World Parrot Refuge operates as a non-profit organization giving more than 800 previously-owned pet parrots a home for life in 23,000 square feet of heated, indoor free-flight aviaries.
Huntbatch said a couple of the people who began targeting her organization are disgruntled ex-employees, but mostly it is a group of Internet users in Alberta. Just over a year ago, people started posting pictures on the Parrot Refuge’s Facebook site and their own Facebook sites with captions stating the birds weren’t being cared for properly.
Huntbatch said the pictures weren’t damning at all. For instance, one showed what appeared to be a bird hanging by its beak, with a caption that said this bird hung here for half an hour without anyone coming to help. But the bird had bone cancer and had to have a leg removed a number of years ago by a vet in Vancouver. Because it only has one leg, it holds on to things with its beak for balance Huntbatch said.
“She’s lived here for four and a half years, she can fly, she has a boyfriend and they are the happiest birds in the world,” said Huntbatch.
The manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, Sean Eccles, said the association does hear concerns about the refuge, like they do with many other organizations, and have been to the site.
“They haven’t been charged with any offense,” said Eccles. “Certainly if we receive a complaint we’re attending and we are communicating regularly with Wendy Huntbatch.”
Eccles said the SPCA has never run into issues at the property and the association has been welcomed back at any time.
Huntbatch said she was advised not to respond to the attacks but she felt people needed to know what was really happening at the refuge. She ended up dismantling her website because she couldn’t take it anymore, she said.