New thrift shop supports rescue of exotic birds from neglect and abuse

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Deep River — Allison Sloane hopes the proceeds from her new thrift shop will someday provide not only for the care of the 36 exotic rescue birds housed at the back of her flower shop, but also allow for a bird facility in Waterford where people with post-traumatic stress disorder and opioid use disorder can go for healing.

Even if you didn't know about this mission, visiting Ashleigh's Garden would still be an unusual experience.

Sloane opened the shop 25 years ago after her daughter, the store's namesake, was born. Flower-filled rainboots and cowboy boots hang from a door frame next to the entrance, while a large "A" is affixed above and flower pots hang in front.

Upon entering, you may be greeted by Sam, Winter and Humphrey — respectively two Akita dogs (certified therapy dogs who are quite large and fluffy) and a tortoise (who is speedier than you'd think).

An Eleanora cockatoo named Gracie is one of the only birds who can interact with customers, whereas "all the other birds are rescued from abuse and neglect and really bad situations and cannot be interacted with," manager Karen Wolff said. Another exception is Bic, an African grey parrot who "doesn't know she's a bird," Sloane said. "She thinks she's a dog."

Newer birds spend some time in the adjacent work room before entering the back two rooms with the other birds. Sloane has only had great-billed parrots Ross and Rachel, who are apparently mated, for a few weeks.

"They're on a break," Wolff joked.

Ashleigh's Garden has two full-time and three part-time staff members, and the irony is that Sloane prefers her hires don't have a floral background, since she is trained in European design and wants to train them herself.

But they must be good with animals.

Sloane said she's had 12 birds from crack houses, and a blue and gold macaw named Morgan was rescued the day of a scheduled euthanasia. When Olive arrived, she kept saying "bad bird" and "swore like a sailor," because that's what she heard and what she was taught.

"They're so used to being taught to do this, because people think it's funny teaching them swear words," Sloane said. Now, she said some of Olive's utterances are "What's up?" and "Aflac," and she likes to sing with Morgan when Sloane puts on a Disney movie during their breakfast.

These two birds are in one of two rooms at the back with other birds — Amazon parrot, African grey parrot, Cape parrot, severe macaw.

Upon walking into Ashleigh's Garden, you wouldn't realize there are 36 birds. But when Sloane opens one of the back doors, the room is filled with a chorus of differently pitched and differently timed squawks emanating from the cages.

In the next room, the number of Xs on a cage indicates whether a bird can be let out. "XXXX" means if a bird gets out, everyone has to leave the room, and Sloane comes in to handle the situation, since some birds bite.

"They don't bite because they're mean. They bite because they're scared," Sloane said.

She had just introduced one bird by lovingly saying, "That's Pepper. She's demonic." The Greek word for "demon" is the root of an English word used to refer to a wild uproar: pandemonium.

"Pandemonium" is also the term for a group of parrots. And it's what Sloane calls both her nonprofit that rescues birds and reptiles and the new thrift shop.

Thrift shop supports rainforest project

It's remarkable how many items the 10-room Pandemonium Thrift Shop, adjacent to Ashleigh's Garden, has acquired in just two months. The store opened in a room in Ashleigh's Garden but it "just blew up," Sloane said.

She was fortunate to have the encouragement of her landlords to expand next door.

One room includes racks of old books, children's books, and romance books by bestselling authors like Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks — along with a few chairs and ottomans.

"I just want people to feel like on a rainy, cold day, they can come in and sit and pick out a couple of books," Sloane said. There's also a room where visitors can grab a cup of coffee and pay 5 cents for a piece of candy. There's a glassware room, and rooms of clothing and shoes and hats, and a holiday room.

It's not consignment; all the items are donated and the shop is run by a half dozen volunteers, meaning 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Pandemonium Rainforest Project.

Sloane was inspired by all the charity thrift stores she saw traveling in England and Scotland. Plus, she said she's not the kind of person who is going to put on a gala to raise money.

Sloane said she is working with architects in Old Lyme and a landowner in Waterford for her vision of a facility that would house rescued animals, serve as an educational facility, and provide a place for people who are coming out opioid addiction, have PTSD or are incarcerated to volunteer. She said she won't sign for the land until she starts raising more funds.

Allison Sloane's Ashleigh's Garden, a florist and gift shop, in Deep River. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Allison Sloane's Ashleigh's Garden, a florist and gift shop, in Deep River. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Business Snapshot

What: Ashleigh's Garden, Pandemonium Thrift Shop and Pandemonium Rain Forest Project

Who: Allison Sloane

Where: 500 Main St., Deep River

More information: 860-767-2889


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