According to a survey by the Humane Society, 73 percent of U.S. households own pets. That’s a lot of dogs and cats. The survey didn’t cover other pets like birds, fish, rabbits, ferrets, iguanas, boa constrictors, tarantulas, pot-bellied pigs — you get the picture.
Jeff Schmehl’s bird sanctuary: Gizmo, Maggie and Cody.
Another study, by the Gay and Lesbian Consumer Online Census, says that nearly four out of five gay and lesbian respondents own a pet. Lesbians were more likely than gay men to have a pet (87 percent vs. 71 percent); gay men were slightly more likely to own dogs than cats (41 percent vs. 38 percent), and lesbians were more likely to own cats than dogs (60 percent vs. 53 percent).
In past issues of Q-Notes’ special People and their Pets section, we’ve interviewed gays and lesbians that have dogs, cats, a turtle, rabbits and even a pot-bellied pig.
In our latest installation of the series, we talk with Jeff Schmehl, an internet technology specialist who also serves as the entertainment coordinator for the annual Pride Charlotte festival.
Schmehl shares his Park Rd. area home in Charlotte with three exotic birds.
The smallest of the three (about six inches long) is a six-year-old Senegal Parrot named Maggie. Also the most colorful of the three, Maggie is a mixture of dark and brightly colored feathers: green, orange, brown and black.
At 16, Gizmo, a 10-inch white Cockatiel, is the patriarch of the family.
The largest of the avian trio is an eight-year-old Indian Ringneck Parakeet named Cody. Covered in bright green feathers, the foot-long bird has a brilliant red beak.
“They all have very distinct personalities,” says Schmehl. “Maggie and Cody hate each other, but they both get along with Gizmo. He’s the only male and he prefers to stay alone in his cage.”
Schmehl confirms that birds require attention much like more traditional pets.
“They’re like most animals,” he says. “They like to get attention and they like to play. I take them out of their cages pretty frequently. They enjoy having the tops of their heads rubbed because they can’t reach there, and they like to talk and whistle.”
Schmehl confesses a love for dogs, but says he can’t have one because of allergy problems.
His love affair with birds began when he was just a child.
“I was five years old when I bought my first pet store parakeet,” he recalls. “From there I moved up to a Cockatiel and then later to a Ringneck. We just always had them around the house.”
So what kind of quality time does Schmehl share with his bird family?
“I teach them tricks and teach them words,” he explains. “They love to cuddle. Cody parks herself underneath my chin, and Gizmo likes to sit on my shoulder. For some reason, Maggie seems to want to be right in front of my nose.”
According to Schmehl, Maggie has been known to take a peck or two at his proboscis. “But it never hurts,” he laughs. “She’s just trying to be affectionate.