It’s no secret that adopting a pet is very similar to having a child. Sure, they can usually be left on their own for an hour or two here or there, but they’re dependant on you and they’re certainly part of the family.
But, as many pet owners know, our furry or feathered friends can often become a little too reliant on us, which is when issues such as separation anxiety start to creep in.
One woman has learned this the hard way, after adopting her adorable pet toucan, Touki, two years ago – and she’s never been able to leave him since.
Janelle Tsao hasn’t been on a single holiday or trip away in the two years since she adopted the exotic bird because he doesn’t want to be without his human – and she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“It sounds ridiculous but his livelihood has taken over my life. I don’t travel, I don’t leave my home overnight or without an adult around him 24/7, I don’t have a life apart from Touki now,” the 35-year-old, from Los Angeles, California, explained.
“It’s a lot to ask; ‘Can you watch my flying two-year-old?’ It’s like having a child, he’s beautiful, intuitive and always curious. These birds are like flying toddlers or monkeys – they will get into everything.”
And, if she ever did ask anyone to step in and take her of her winged child, it would be an awful lot of work, as Touki can be mischievous and he often does large and rather messy poos around the house.
“Yesterday, I was chopping tomatoes and placed them in a bowl with a lid, which he isn’t allowed to have, they’re too acidic,” Janelle recalled.
“He flies down to the counter and lifted the lid and stole a tomato, then he flew up to the second floor of our loft and quickly swallowed it before I could even start climbing!”
Janelle and her girlfriend Arielle Zarutsky fell in love with exotic wildlife during a trip to Las Vegas, so their hearts were completely stolen when they spotted Touki at a breeders in June 2019, when he was just a few weeks old.
“Our hearts just melted. He was very quiet and I guess shy in the cage. I think it’s because he was injured and he had scab like things in his feathers,” Janelle explained.
“I made the commitment right there, that I would do whatever it took to love and care for him. It was always a dream of mine to care for a toucan.”
Fortunately, the couple were well aware that toucans are not your average pet – they need a huge amount of space as spend their time in the wild in the treetops. They’re also extremely territorial and monogamous, so only bond to one other animal or human.
In fact, Touki is so attached to Janelle and Arielle that he will cry – extremely loudly – if one of them so much as leaves the room.
“Toucans have a tendency to display different behaviours, randomly. He will have separation anxiety if one of his humans leaves the room and he will croak call or screech loudly until one or both of us returns to the room,” Janelle said.
“It can be very annoying, like a screaming parrot. Working from home can be very challenging, making phone calls can be impossible, as he is so needy and demands attention all waking hours.
“Sometimes I’ll put on nature birds singing in the background to get him to quiet down a little, sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Not only that, the couple have been forced to cover all their furniture with plastic, to protect it from the exotic bird’s brightly coloured poops, which he does around every five to 10 minutes.
Janelle also receives a lot of comments from activists who claim that they should not keep such an exotic animal as a pet.
She said: “They will assume we took him from the wild and will say ‘it’s cruel, you should put him back’. Of course they don’t know his predicament and don’t realise he was raised by humans in captivity and it’s a completely different situation.
“We don’t recommend them as household pets they’re very beautiful creatures and we have so much to learn about them.
Despite all the hard work that comes with being Touki’s humans, the couple wouldn’t change it for the world.
“We do not keep him as our pet, rather, he keeps US as his! I love him deeply and don’t see my life without him. It is a joy and fortune to have such a majestic animal respond and connect with human interaction.”