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Northbrook Has a House With 50 Parrots and a Cop

Refuge for Saving the Wildlife has been rescuing and adopting out birds from a house near Northbrook since 1996.

Tucked away in west Northbrook, in a small pocket of unincorporated Cook County, is a very loud room with 35 large cockatoos. The sound can be startling, but sometimes you might hear a "hello" over the symphony of squawks. 

The room is part of a bird rescue called Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, run out of Richard and Karen Weiner's home, operated by the couple and some volunteers. 

Richard, a lieutenant with the Glencoe Police Department, started the rescue around 1996. He met Karen about five years later when she adopted a bird from him. Eventually, the couple got married and included a bird chuppah at the wedding so two of their birds could join the ceremony.

The rescue runs a tight operation of boarding birds, caring for ill ones and adopting some out to new families. Adoption includes interviews and home inspections meant to pair birds with the right families. In some cases, interested adopters won't be paired with a bird at all.

"We're very particular about taking birds in and adopting them out," Richard said. "All our birds are adoptable if you find the right person." 

"I can go months without adopting a bird out because the right family hasn't come out," Karen said. 

When I first met Karen, she couldn't shake my right hand because a bird bit her finger and it was bleeding. The couple says bird bites are a sign of stress, anger, or just a misunderstanding. In this case, Karen had been feeding a bird almonds when she was bit, which may have only occurred because her finger was mistook for a nut.

"I've been bit maybe four to 5,000 times and it still hurts," Richard said. "A bite from them could break your finger."

"There's never a time that a bird owner hasn't been bit," he added.

Karen says running the rescue usually costs them about $50,000 per year. However, the rescue cost them twice that in 2013 because a neighbor filed a complaint against the Weiners.

Over the course of last year, a neighbor had presented a formal complaint against the rescue to Cook County. As a result, the couple had their operation inspected by county officials, and earned a permit to continue running the rescue for up to 80 birds. Currently, they have just over 50.

That was the first complaint they had received in 18 years. Karen says most of the neighbors didn't even know they were running the rescue. If not for a few bird-themed decorations outside their home, it looks like any other house on the block. The birds can't even be heard from outside.  

In the house are two rooms full of occupied bird cages. The big room, which hold 50 large birds, erupted with squawks and whistles when I walked in. 

"They're sounding a warning. What they're saying is, 'We don't know who you are,'" Richard said. "To them, everything is a predator until proven otherwise."

"Birds are a relationship you have to work on every day," Karen said. "There's research that says birds are as smart as a four-year-old child."

Richard said the birds can be incredibly affectionate. I saw that first hand when Karen introduced me to Prince, an African Grey parrot and Richard's first bird. He immediately jumped on my arm and climbed up to my shoulder.

"You can learn to read their body language to know what they're feeling," Richard said. "If you can fit it in your lifestyle, it's one of the most rewarding pets you can have."

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Ric Warchol January 09, 2014 at 12:26 PM
Clarification, There was NO one neighbor complaining about this operation. The operation had been operating illegally for many years and had become a neighborhood nuisance. Cook County inspectors went out at the request of the Homeowners Association and surrounding neighbors and issued 5 citations for the illegal operation in the zoned residential neighborhood. The certification that the the rescue tauts in all of its materials is from an organization that closed in 2002. It was not until the County issued the citations that the owners Richard and Karen Weiner, filed to become a legal operation. There were 4 immediate neighbors, the Northbrook West Homeowners Association and over 130 subdivision homeowners that protested this operation, as well as some residents of Northbrook proper. There was ONLY one homeowner from that section of Northbrook that was in favor of the operation recieving a Special Use Permit from Cook County and Commissioner Gregg Goslin. This was over a two year process. Boarding, grooming and other services for hire, are NOT approved functions of this Special Use permit. President, Northbrook West Homeowners Association
Wendy Grabell January 10, 2014 at 07:36 AM
These people cannot be trusted. They conned me out of my 20 year old Cockatoo, by the name of Snoopy, who I have had since he was a baby. Warning to people that have an amazing, unique parrot, DO NOT BOARD THERE! Please note: a verbal agreement means NOTHING to them! They lie!
Wendy Grabell January 12, 2014 at 08:15 PM
I want my bird back!
Debora Reynolds March 25, 2014 at 06:10 PM
I have known Rich Weiner for many years, he was there for me when my two were stolen from me and helped me keep my sanity until I found them. He and Karen welcomed me into their home, though all they knew about me was I was distraught over my two. They make sure these wonderful creatures will never have to go through abuse and neglect again, before adopting them out. They are meticulous in caring for each and every one of them. Ms. Grabell, I believe there must be much more to your story than you are telling, because Rich would never do what you say he has done to an innocent person.

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