EVERETT, Wash. — He’s 57 and a hairy house painter with a boozy past.
She’s 27 and a feathered fowl with a sassy attitude.
Man and macaw have been a couple for 17 years.
What’s up with that?
Rod Shafer and Sally, a rescue parrot, are seldom apart.
She stays clawed to his shoulder much of the time, almost as if they are conjoined. He talks to her. She squawks back.
“I take her to Walgreens with me. She rides on the shopping cart,” Shafer said. “I had her on the lawnmower yesterday. People stopped and were going, ‘What the heck? Look at that bird mowing the lawn.’”
They make quite a pair, he with his long grayish-brown mane and she with bright blue and yellow plumage.
Sally sits on the handlebars of the chopper-style bicycle he pedals around town. It replaced the Harley motorcycle he rode before the two DUIs in four months he got three years ago.
“The whole time I was in jail I was thinking of nothing but my bird: How was she? Was she OK? I didn’t want to lose her,” he said.
She’s the key to his sobriety.
“She straightened me up. I don’t drink anymore so we’re good to go.”
Their favorite place is the park. Kids gather around, and he puts Sally on their arms — and asks that they please not put their little fingers near her mighty beak. So far, so good.
Shafer was a house painter until he retired seven years ago on disability because of back and knee issues. So he has a lot of free time to spend, alone, if not for Sally.
“Many nights we kick back in this chair,” he said. “She’s my comfort. She gets me out of my down moods. She treats me good. Nobody could ask for a better companion.”
The two weren’t always lovebirds.
“It took me four years to get used to Sally,” he said. “She bit me hard every day for four years. She took my right ear off.”
Not the whole thing, just the top. He pulls back his hair to reveal his jagged ear.
He’d never had a bird before Sally, who was abandoned by a neighbor of an ex-girlfriend.
“She was pretty wild,” he said of the long-tailed bird.
Sally entered his life as Sal.
“I thought she was a boy and called her Sal for almost 10 years,” he said. “The bird store lady said she was a girl. So I started calling her Sally. She started acting better.”
That was proof enough for him. The way she acted around his female company confirmed it. Sally doesn’t like to be the other woman.
“She’s jealous. She wants all the attention,” he said. “I haven’t had a girlfriend in a couple years because of her. She chases them out of here. She nibbles at their feet.”
Sally keeps him entertained. And vice versa.
“She likes to play catch a lot,” he said. “When she’s hungry she’ll grab my hand and try to pull me in the kitchen. She wants me to pet her all the time. She follows me around like a little dog. She loves her daddy so much.”
He blows her a kiss. She steadies her beady eyes on him.
Sometimes he goes places without her. If he’s gone too long, she seeks revenge by going through his dresser and tossing out his clothes. The drawers are pockmarked by peck marks.
Jaydyn Harn, 11, who lives in the apartment downstairs, likes to join them on outings.
“Everybody crowds around,” Jaydyn said.
Around the parrot, that is. “I’m not pretty enough,” the boy said.
He knows when Sally is home alone.
“When he leaves, oh boy, does she squawk,” he said. “She’s loud. She squawks ‘Rod, Rod, Rod.’”
Seems Sally has quite the vocabulary.
“She has kind of a potty mouth,” Shafer said. “She goes, ‘Hey baby, step up.’ ‘Hey baby, show your girls.’ Or she’ll sit there and say the f-word. Last night I got up about 3 o’clock to go to the restroom and she goes, ‘Good night, Sal.’”
She sleeps in her cage. They don’t share a bed. A chair, yes.
He often includes Sally in the conversation. She responds with a squawk as if she understands what he is saying. Maybe she does.
“She loves strawberry ice cream,” he said, then turns to her. “Like that strawberry, huh, Sally? You’re a spoiled little girl, yes you are, huh?”
He credits her with finding happiness without getting plastered.
“I didn’t think I could do that every day after drinking for years and years,” he said. “I still had the urge so I started going to bars and drinking root beer and seeing everyone with sober eyes and was like, ‘Was I like that?’”
Of course, he takes Sally to the bar with him. She enjoys a shot of pineapple juice and chews the ice he gives her from his root beer.
He turns to Sally.
“Are you happy that your daddy isn’t drinking anymore?”
“You know what they say, ‘If you love a bird, set it free. If it wants to be with you, it will come back,’” he said. “If she wants to take off, she can. She chooses to hang out with me. It’s unconditional love.”