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The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog
By: Nancy Ellis-Bell

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Hi Nancy,

Great news! THE PARROT WHO THOUGHT SHE WAS A DOG was named one of the Top 10 Sci-Tech Books of the Year!


Ava Kavyani
Associate Publicist
The Crown Publishing Group

Shelf Awareness Review
Reviewed by: John McFarland

"I had adopted a raptor," Nancy Ellis-Bell admits to herself in this charming journal of unexpected love between a one-legged macaw and a literary agent good with problematic animals. When she first met the caged blue-and-gold bird, she was drawn to its gorgeous plumage and its four-ft. wingspan. The vets and caretakers warned her about the bird's viciousness. A single soulful gaze into the macaw's wise eyes was all it took to hook Ellis-Bell on the bird whom she named Sarah and on every last issue her wildness might present.

Ellis-Bell brought Sarah home in a cage that dominated a 10'-by-12' converted trailer already crowded with two dogs, two cats and a husband. When Ellis-Bell finally decided to let Sarah out of her cage to roam around the house, one thing became very clear: the bird ruled. Everything from furniture to French lingerie became hers. Anyone who has ever loved a "difficult" pet will heartily enjoy the detailed inventory for raptor-proofing a home. Each tale of another ingenious method that wild things devise to get what they want recalls times when all we can do is say, "That's cute."

Ellis-Bell, the one who thought she was in control, learns many lessons from Sarah. First of all, macaws choose one mate, and Sarah chose Ellis-Bell as hers. Before you say, "That's cute," meet harsh mistress Sarah: jealous, possessive and loud enough when miffed to bring in the police. Pats for the dogs and cats had to be delivered out of Sarah's sight. As for sex between lawfully-wedded husband and wife, the operative word was furtive. Pet-haters will ask, "Why did she put up with this?" Pet-lovers, though, will thrill to every minute of the adventure.

Not to spoil all the fun, I offer only one tidbit. One early spring day, Ellis-Bell ventured out to her garden to plant bulbs. By this time, Sarah had begun behaving like her little dog, following her everywhere (the macaw had also displaced the dogs, developed a taste for their bones and perfected an imitation of their barks. All together now, "That's cute!"). Sarah watched intently as Ellis-Bell dug a hole and planted a bulb. As it so happens, macaws love to dig in dirt. Sarah then proceeded to dig her own hole and wait for a bulb to be put in place so that she could cover it up, too. At moments like that, and there are many, Ellis-Bell persuades her readers to feel and see the unforgettable passion she shared with Sarah.

Sacramento Bee Review
Reviewed by: Allen Pierleoni

If you want to sell a book, include animals in the story. Such conventional publishing wisdom may seem somewhat dated, but it still works with a segment of the national audience. For example:

"The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog" by Nancy Ellis-Bell (Harmony, $23, 256 pages; on sale Tuesday): At first, the one-legged rescue macaw was nervous in her new surroundings in author Ellis-Bell's farmhouse in rural Northern California. After all, there was plenty of competition – dogs, cats, raccoons and another parrot. Then Peg Leg (a.k.a. Sarah) spread her 4-foot wingspan and began taking charge, showing off her X-rated vocabulary and her nasty temperament, and demonstrating a love for dog food.

Soon, the author realized that her entire home "had slowly transformed into a birdcage." It was time for a drastic step – as in teaching the parrot to fly.

Kepler's Review
Kepler's Book Signing Event, video feed

Literary agent - turned author, Nancy Ellis-Bell came to Kepler's last night to talk about her book, The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog.

Whether you're a bird-lover or just love a good story, you're sure to get a kick out of this video. Here Nancy tells the story about when she first realized her blue-and-gold macaw, Sarah, could talk. What timing!

By: Jay Strafford

Some people are Earth angels, attracting needy animals and taking them into their homes and their hearts. Such was this reviewer's maternal grandmother, whose Nelson County farm was home to multiple dogs and cats, and such is Nancy Ellis-Bell.

A publishing agent who lives in a renovated trailer with her contractor husband in rural northern California, Ellis-Bell already had two dogs (Ben and Blanco), two indoor cats (Mr. Mistoffelees and Tiger), more than a dozen outdoor cats and an outdoor raccoon (Rachel) and her many broods.

But in a big heart, there's always room for one more. Ellis-Bell had that heart set on an African grey parrot. But she changed her mind at a friend's bird-rescue sanctuary when she saw Peg Leg, a 2-foot-tall macaw who was missing her left foot (probably cut off by her captors when it became hopelessly tangled in a parrot snare in Latin America when she was 2 years old). In addition to her disability, Peg Leg was sick with an infection and carried a reputation for viciousness.

Mean, ill and missing a paw? Pshaw. Ellis-Bell forsook her African grey dream for what could have become a macaw nightmare.

That it didn't, and that the love the two shared became the basis for The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog, is a testament to devotion.

After bringing Peg Leg home and renaming her Sarah, Ellis-Bell kept her in the bird's large cage for two weeks before freeing her to explore the tiny house. And explore she did, tossing laundry items around, destroying a favorite dog toy, opening the kitchen cabinets and rolling the canned items about, among other behavior benign -- helping to dig planting holes for bulbs, having a rare sip of a gin and tonic -- and mischievous -- sporadically strafing the dogs. Ellis-Bell and her husband got used to the occasional parrot screams, but one neighbor, thinking Ellis-Bell a victim of domestic violence, summoned the police.

Whether to make Sarah a free-flight bird was a question over which Ellis-Bell agonized. Her wings were intact, but would she fly off and break her person's heart? Was keeping her safe better than enabling her to be free? Ellis-Bell took the plunge, and Sarah mostly stayed nearby, only occasionally venturing into nearby trees. Eventually, of course . . .

Her canine adventures were on a different level. She would nosh on the dogs' kibble, unearth Blanco's bones, play tug with Ben and -- most amusingly -- imitate their woofs and yips so closely that people couldn't tell the difference.

As she settled in, Sarah of the broken spirit became Sarah the queen of the realm. She grew to trust Ellis-Bell implicitly and reserved for her the phrase "Love you." Still, a big bird in a tiny trailer can cause periodic havoc, and Ellis-Bell handled it with tolerance, ingenuity and, above all, life-changing love.

Equally comical, affecting and wrenching, The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog is a little charmer that reminds us of the love we owe our fellow travelers on Earth and the difference that love can make -- in their lives and ours.

Book Detail
By: Miriam Tuliao, NYPL

Ellis-Bell, a California-based literary agent with a proven track record for helping rescue animals, adopted a one-footed,
foul-mouthed blue-and-gold macaw with a propensity for biting. Here, this self-described woman who loves animals too much touchingly chronicles her daily adventures with Sarah and a menagerie of "sweet babies" (birds, dogs, cats, and visiting raccoons).

What begins as a cautionary tale of avian domination and destruction (replete with jealous tirades, physical attacks, and earsplitting screams) develops into a story of "Icarus reclaimed," freedom and flight. Ellis-Bell shares amusing anecdotes about the one-bird demolition derby, cage-free domesticity, Sarah's curious diet (consisting of kibble, nuts, and the occasional gin and tonic), the bird's prolific climbing achievements, affectionate mannerisms, and profound sense of play ("Sarah saw dirt as kindergarten").

This winsome book will surely delight animal rescuers and avid fans of Animal Planet.

Listings of general bird-rescue organizations are included. Recommended for all public libraries.

Star News Online
By: Ben Steelman

When literary agent Nancy Ellis-Bell adopted a one-legged blue-and-gold rescue macaw named Sarah, she didn't know what she was in for.

Brutalized on capture and long neglected, Sarah soon lorded it over the house, stole the dogs' toys, bathed in their water dish - and shouted obscenities when the humans were on the phone.

Sarah's behavior began to turn around, though, when she discovered that puppy treats were tasty and that dog barks were easy to imitate. Ellis-Bell describes her rehabilitation in The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog.

Advanced Review
Reviewed by: Nancy Bent

Peg-Leg entered Ellis-Bell’s life after the author was captivated by her eyes at a “parrot weekend,” a get together for potential and current parrot owners. The blue-and-gold macaw lost a foot during her capture from the wild, was abused by her previous owner, and became vicious as a result. Renamed Sarah, she now lives with a person who loves her and is eager to make a better life for a poor battered bird.

When first released from her cage, Sarah climbs down and rousts the family dogs from their dishes, absconding with an entire rib bone. Laundry time becomes playtime as the macaw digs through the freshly dried laundry, showing a particular fondness for lingerie. After two months of exploring the house on foot, Sarah starts flying, and strafing the dogs becomes her new joy. Upon seeing her interact with the resident ravens through the window, the author decides to let her go outside, and gardening with Sarah becomes a paradise for both human and bird.

Life with a macaw is always an adventure, since they are easily bored and have the maturity level of a perpetual three-year-old. Ellis-Bell captures this ongoing sense of discovery perfectly.

BookLoons Reviews
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Sarah was a bright blue and gold one-legged macaw with an attitude. Born wild, she was caught in a net that tangled her up in a way that caused the loss of a leg, but she was still captured and sold to a woman who hoped to breed her. Unfortunately she didn't get along with the male macaw. The woman became so annoyed and upset with the birds' constant fighting and screaming at each other that she started hitting them, and finally relinquished them to a vet who sent Sarah to a wild bird rescue sanctuary in California.

When Nancy Ellis-Bell went to the sanctuary, she was looking for an African grey parrot, but the owner talked her into taking Sarah. Nancy couldn’t bear the thought of this magnificent bird being caged, so she brought her home, where Nancy and her husband lived with two dogs, two inside cats, numerous outside cats, and a raccoon family that made its home under her deck. One more animal didn’t seem like much.

A macaw is two feet tall, with sharp claws on its feet and a beak that can easily tear and shred anything from paper to wood to flesh. Nancy was sensibly cautious around Sarah, gentling the abused bird at first with soft talking and food treats. Soon she felt a bond forming between her and the bird. Even though she wasn’t able to touch Sarah, the bird started to follow her around, and she was even able to control her somewhat with a feather duster, which for some reason the bird was wary of.

Unfortunately, Sarah was always more in charge than Nancy. The bird would steal toys from the dogs, chew up anything she could get her beak on, and shriek loudly when she was unhappy about anything. When Nancy let her out of her cage, she eagerly investigated every nook and cranny of the small house. Nancy described her as intelligent and curious, in need of stimulation and new experiences, sort of like having a three year old child who never grows older.

Any animal lover should find this an interesting and enjoyable book. This lively bird’s shenanigans were a challenge to the woman who loved and cared for her and the husband who, mostly, tolerated her intrusion into his previously calm life. She talked, laughed, and even learned to bark like a dog, and in the end, she flew again.

The Willits News Review
By: Maureen Moore

"Woof, Woof! Heh, heh, heh," was not an uncommon utterance radiating from the Ellis-Bell home on Ridgewood summit. The inspiration for Nancy's book, The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog, came from a parrot that had quite a sense of humor, and proved to be a great source of inspiration for a lighthearted, yet heartfelt, book.

The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog chronicles Nancy and husband Kerry's, adventure of rescuing and living with Sarah, a blue-and-gold, one-footed macaw they adopted from a family friend.

Sarah had lived a difficult life before her arrival at the Ellis-Bell home. She had been dubbed "Peg-Leg" and arrived with a warning from a veterinarian oabout the bird's vicious demeanor.

The bird had lost its left foot when its captors tried to release it from the snare with which they had trapped her in the Amazon Basin. But in the large cage that then dominated the living room of Nancy's home, Sarah still stood impressive, nearly two feet tall and with a black four-inch beak and soft, yet inquisitive black eyes.

None of this fazed Nancy an animal lover with a knack for taking-in and rescuing problematic and temperamental animals and she slowly began to build trust and develop a friendship with Sarah.

As a literary agent, phone conversations and negotiations with publishing houses proved to be difficult after a seemingly wordless Sarah started adding her two cents to the conversations.

"It's crap! It's crap!" would spring suddenly from Sarah's beak, much to Nancy and the publishers' surprise.

Thankfully, Nancy was able to explain the circumstances of her household addition, and the publishers found humor in the situation, asking if the bird was going to be present to oversee contracts as well.

The story of Nancy and Sarah's relationship is filled with laughter, growing, tears and healing a must-read for animal lovers or anyone who has ever had to spread their wings and fly.

Mendocino County Library
What We're Reading

Reviewed by The Mendocino County Library Staff

Two things brought me to read this book. My father had had a macaw and as the book crossed my path, I noticed she lived in Mendocino County. I am always interested in Mendocino County authors. There may be a list somewhere, but I have not found it.

Someone must have thought this was a catchy title in our current slew of dog books. I never found the connection. Sarah the macaw obviously is a parrot. A large somewhat feral, one legged macaw with a wing span of 4 feet while the author, her husband, dogs and cats live in a fairly small trailer. My father's macaw was imposing and he stayed in a large cage in the dining room spewing feathers, seeds and other dropped matter. Having a cage free and fairly large bird in one's house seems imposing, but then people tell me 5 dogs and 3 cats seem imposing to them.

It is a fascinating story though and I will leave you to read it yourself. I enjoyed the tale and thoroughly expect that you will also. If you are so inspired, the last chapter lists information, rescue organizations, bird organizations and avian veterinarians to help you integrate a large or smaller bird into your house.

The Mercury News
Reviewed by
Linda Goldston

I spent much of my childhood wishing I could fly and so have been in awe of all kinds of birds ever since.

My family had a succession of canaries and parakeets, but as an adult, I've always had too many cats to think adding a bird would be wise.

Perhaps that's why I fell in love with Nancy Ellis-Bell's new book, "The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog." Nancy does a great job of letting you see through her eyes — and the parrot's eyes — what it's like to have a large bird move into your home and take over.

Like a lot of us, Nancy had been a sucker for stray cats and dogs and the occasional squirrel and raccoon through the years, welcoming them to the home in the woods she shares with her husband, Kerry, on the north coast. But she knew a bird was in her future when the time was right.

Her book tells the surprising and remarkable story of how that pet turned out to be a rescued bird, a nearly 2-foot-tall macaw with a two-foot wing span, a smart mouth and a propensity for making as much of the world hers as she could — once Nancy helped to make her feel safe.

Dubbed Peg Leg when Nancy adopted her because she only had one foot, the bird quickly became Sarah, and Nancy set about making her feel loved. Sarah lost her foot when her leg became ensnared in the mesh used to capture her and other wild birds, and her captors cut it off to free her.

From there she and a potential macaw mate were shipped to a
would-be breeder in the Midwest who had dreams of turning out very expensive macaw babies like hotcakes.

The only problem, as Nancy tells it, is that Sarah and her chosen partner hated each other and refused to mate. Robbed of the dream of quick, easy money, the owner in the Midwest punished the big birds by hitting them with a stick inside their cage.

Sarah had made it to a bird rescuer when Nancy saw her during "Parrot Weekend Experience," a two-day event where people are introduced to various types of parrots and learn what the birds are like and what their needs are.

"As I moved closer to her cage, her powerful gaze asked only one question: Predator or prey?" Nancy wrote.

How could the bird feel anything else? But as Nancy looked deep into those golden eyes, she saw wisdom and strength and knew she had to take the bird home.

The story moves on to document in charming detail how Sarah takes over the dogs' food dishes, claims anything good as hers and comes out with the darnedest sayings at the most inopportune times.

When Nancy was on the phone one day with an editor about a new book offer, "The advance was less than I had hoped for, and my voice must have reflected that disappointment," Nancy wrote. Before she could respond, there was a loud "Crap! It's crap!"

The surprised book editor stuttered, "What? What do you mean it's crap?"

It was Sarah speaking, and it was only one of the many times she put in her two cents. Sometimes she came out with "bummer, it's a bummer." Sometimes she'd just bark.

As happy as Sarah became at Nancy's house, the time came when Nancy knew the bird wanted and needed more: to fly free.

I don't want to spoil any of the great stories about Sarah and this family by revealing too much, but I highly recommend this book. It's a love story on a grand scale, and I finished it liking the author and being madly in love with Sarah, as Nancy was.

There's another neat book about a love affair between a woman and a parrot that I think you'd like: "Alex & Me" by Irene M. Pepperberg.

Alex is the Alex, who became famous for being so smart, despite a brain that was no larger than a shelled walnut. You may have gotten to watch him on one of many television appearances or read about him in a magazine or a newspaper.

The plucky African grey is credited with shattering myth after myth about bird and animal intelligence. The subtitle of the book: "How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence — and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process."

Before Alex died last year, he and Irene had worked together for 30 years. Irene does a good job of sharing the growth of their friendship that occurred at the same time Alex was debunking the myths about bird brains.

Sarah and Alex will stay with me for a long, long time.

How could they not? The last thing Alex said to Irene was: "You be good. I love you."

Irene will speak about the book and her three decades with Alex at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, 1010 El Camino Real.




Website by Maureen Moore All Rights Reserved ©2008 Nancy Ellis - Bell / Nancy Ellis Literary Agency