Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, August 23, 1999

Sweetheart lost
By Cynthia Oi


Near Valentine's Day, Donna Gaines, 69, hair colored like the rainbows so common in her Manoa neighborhood, began walking the streets, ringing a bell and calling "Sweetheart! Sweetheart!" into the tree branches above her.

"If you didn't know her and didn't know what she was doing, you'd have thought she should be locked up," said her daughter Merrie Carol Gaines.

Donna, who is fond of tinting her hair in multiple hues, laughed. "I got really strange looks."

The older woman was not looking for a lost love. Well, actually, she was -- in the form of the family's lovebird, Sweetheart.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Donna Grain poses with Liko, one of the
lovebirds she and her daughter adopted after their
pet Sweetheart went missing.

On Feb. 1, the African lovebird, a family member for 13 years, flew from their home near Dole Street into the wilds of urban Honolulu.

Since then, the Gaines women and Merrie Carol's husband, Jerry Norris, have distributed about 1,000 fliers, spent about $700 in "lost and found" ads, fielded dozens of phone calls and inspected many a foundling love bird.

The bird was riding Jerry's shoulder that day, Merrie Carol recalled. Lovebirds don't weigh much, only a few ounces, and "after walking around with them for awhile, you forget they're there."

Jerry walked out of the house to run an errand and Sweetheart "spooked." He stayed close to home at first, but eventually flew farther away.

Frantic, the family searched the neighborhood. Merrie Carol put the ad in the newspapers and notified the Hawaiian Humane Society. She and her mother began walking the area, usually starting at dawn, and passed out fliers door to door. They'd stop for lunch and a break before heading out again in the afternoon. Donna took Sweetheart's favorite bell from his cage and sounded it as she called out his name.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
One of Sweetheart's colorful tail feathers.
Merrie Carol Gaines keeps a jar
full of feathers shed by the bird.

Six months later, Sweetheart is still missing.

There have been sightings. One man who lives nearby saw the bird feeding with a flock of finches in his yard. He had a flier with the family's phone number, but he didn't call.

This frustrates Merrie Carol and Donna, but his attitude reflects that of some who don't understand the fondness people develop for their pets.

"People have said 'Why don't you just get another bird.' My response is that a pet is not like a pair of shoes. We really have a bond," Merrie Carol said.

Others have told them it's hopeless after all this time. Some callers have even been mean.

"This guy called and said a love bird landed in his yard. Then he said, 'I tore off its wings,' and he laughed this wicked laugh and slammed down the phone," Merrie Carol said.

Most people, however, have been sympathetic and very helpful. One man even drove in from Aiea with a bird he thought might be Sweetheart. "People say, 'How can you tell your bird from another?' Well, you can tell. If you were one of triplets, your mother could tell the difference, who's who," she said.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Merrie Carol Grain remains hopeful that her bird
Sweetheart, missing since Feb. 1, will be found.

Besides, Sweetheart has a definite personality.

"When he was in his cage and wanted out, he'd run his beak in circles on the bars of his cage, like a kid with a stick running against a fence," she said.

"Bird people know the language of their bird."

Pat Laws, owner Leeward Coast Aviaries, who has been breeding macaws and rare cockatoos for more than 30 years, said it is likely that Sweetheart is still alive and thriving in the wild.

"Unless a predator gets it, a pet bird can probably survive," she said, especially in an environment like Manoa. "There's plenty to eat in Manoa, lots of water and there are lots of lost birds there."

Although they miss Sweetheart, the Grain women see positive elements in their experience.

"We lost weight," Merrie Carol said. "The walking turned out to be very good for us."

During their canvassing, they also got to know their neighbors and had "wonderful conversations" with other bird and pet owners.

They also acquired six other lovebirds: one from a sympathetic bird fancier, three others because they were lost themselves and had no homes, and two that hatched from eggs laid by one of the lost birds. But none of them are Sweetheart.

Merrie Carol thinks that someone has adopted their pet. "He was so bonded to us, he probably found his way to another human or was attracted because they have other birds."

Dr. Mark Caspers, a Kaneohe veterinarian, said that's likely. "I bet you this bird found somebody to hook up with. "These birds are used to people so they tend to link up with another family."

The flame of their hope is kindled by others who have recovered their birds.

One lady called to say she lost her love bird in Waikiki," Merrie Carol said. "Months later, she got a call from a guy in Aiea. She went to check it out and it was her bird -- from Waikiki to Aiea, after all those months. So anything is possible.

"I truly believe that."

Has anybody seen this bird?

Bullet Name: Sweetheart, an African love bird
Bullet Age: 14 to 15 years old
Bullet Description: 5 to 6 inches long from head to tail; green with blue tail feathers; red face, light peach down the throat; small, pale yellow feathers on the sides of the back
Bullet Call: 949-5850

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