Too Many Birds of a Feather: Enfield Man Grapples With State Over Home Business
Licensed bird breeder Thomas Thibodeau kisses his True Greater Sulphur Crested Cockatoo as his son Randy Thibodeau, 17, looks on at their Enfield home earlier this week. Thibodeau keeps about 50 birds. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
The Thibodeau family keeps 50 exotic birds, four dogs and a cat at their Enfield home. Thomas Thibodeau operates a bird business, but the state recently forced him to reduce the number of birds he was caring for from nearly 90 to less than 50. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
A bonded pair of Macaws occupies one of several breeding cages in the basement of Thomas Thibodeau's home in Enfield. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield — Even with fewer exotic birds than there once had been, there’s still a wild energy to Thomas Thibodeau’s home.
The ranch’s half-finished basement is home to a maze of cages and many macaws, ring-necked parakeets and cockatiels.
Other birds live in the Thibodeaus’ living room, and some are in the master bedroom, joining four dogs, a cat and a fish tank.
Some of the birds are used for breeding purposes; others are being given temporary shelter before heading to a new home.
Thibodeau has operated Painted Wingz, a small business that he considers more of a hobby, out of his Enfield home for several years. All together, there are now 49 birds in the Thibodeau household. But there used to be more.
Thibodeau is trying to get the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture to both loosen a 50-bird limit he sees as overly restrictive, and to allow him to house birds wherever he wants in his house — the department has banned him from keeping birds in his kitchen, which he said he had done for years without issue.
Since last December, following a state directive, Thibodeau has shrunk his flock from more than 80 to just under 50 birds.
However, he said, several are sitting on eggs now, and as such he continues to teeter on the ledge of what the state allows him.
“I cleaned house, because they told me I had to,” Thibodeau said.
The problems stemmed from a December state inspection, the first critical one since 2007 Thibodeau was first licensed by the state, which opened him up to twice-yearly inspections .
The inspection report found there were about 85 birds in the house, “approaching too many birds for amount of space.” It also said that while all birds had fresh food and water, all their cages needed cleaning.
“I admit it was crowded,” Thibodeau said. “I just think they made me downsize a little more than I should have.”
Eight inspection reports going back to 2007, when Thibodeau was first licensed, did not find any issues. Two previous reports from 2012, in March and September, said that he met “minimum requirement standards.” Both of those reports say the cages could use some more cleaning. The September one adds that it is “not too bad.”
About two weeks after the December inspection, a letter sent by New Hampshire State Veterinarian Stephen Crawford set the 50-bird limit on Thibodeau and disallowed the housing of birds in the kitchen.
“The department believes Mr. Thibodeau does care about his birds,” Crawford wrote. “But the department is also concerned that Mr. Thibodeau does not have adequate resources and staff support to maintain the necessary cleaning and sanitation standards.”
Thibodeau said his family helps him with cage cleaning and other duties when help is needed, and the unclean cages during the December inspection were largely symptomatic of a busy holiday season.
Enfield Town Manager Steve Schneider said in an email yesterday that he had spoken to Thibodeau about the latter’s dealings with the state, but the town of Enfield does not have any regulations for housing birds.
The regulations fall to the state level, then, specifically a chapter of New Hampshire law related to licensing for the care taking and selling of birds — laws with which Thibodeau vehemently disagrees.
In response, he has started an online Change.org petition (http://chn.ge/17AmDRW) that aims to change the rule, which says birds cannot be kept in “stores or shopping facilities where food or drink of any kind is sold, prepared or served.”
The petition has so far received nearly 150 signatures, and most comments agree that birds can be kept in a kitchen in a private home — with an emphasis on private.
According to a Jan. 17 letter by Crawford, though, the department sees Painted Wingz as subject to this rule because it is “housing birds for transfer,” even if it occurs from a private home.
“As such, Painted Wingz is not afforded the same latitude as a fully private home,” Crawford wrote in a March 22 letter to Thibodeau. “By virtue of this license, Painted Wingz has invited the public in and has subjected itself to public standards.”
But, regardless of the license, Thibodeau considers Painted Wingz a hobby, not a business. He’s never turned a profit, he said.
“With me, it’s long been a passion,” Thibodeau said, adding he first began working with parrots when he was 14, more than three decades ago. “I don’t do it to make money.”
Several hours later, a woman called Thibodeau asking if he would temporarily board her parrots while she was away, and, in order to stay safely below 50 birds, he opted to turn her away.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.