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Future of Canada’s exotic bird hospital rests on a wing and a prayer

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A bellowing “hello” is what gets your attention the minute you step into the reception area of Night Owl Bird Hospital, on Vancouver’s west side. 

The greeting isn’t from a staff member. It’s from a brilliant blue and gold macaw named Amara. 

The 10-year-old parrot is one of dozens of resident birds at one of Canada’s only animal clinics devoted solely to the treatment of birds.

It houses dozens of birds, ranging from rescues and maimed birds found in the wild, to feathered pets like budgies and cockatoos. 

Some of these birds here have been visiting the hospital for “16-plus years,” said Dr. Anne McDonald who operates the clinic. 

But now the clinic is in jeopardy.

McDonald needs to hire more staff, but she can’t find qualified veterinarians to hire in Canada. And the federal government won’t give her the approval to bring in a bird specialist from overseas. 

Feds thwart overseas search 

Night Owl has twice attempted to recruit an Australian avian specialist but the hire wasn’t approved by Employment and Social Development Canada. A Canadian company wanting to hire a foreign worker must first prove that efforts have been made to find a qualified Canadian.

The process, called a Labour Market Impact Assessment, must be completed by the employer and approved by federal officials. 

Night Owl has twice been denied in its bid to hire a foreign bird specialist. McDonald said the application was rejected because the government said the hospital hadn’t looked hard enough to find a Canadian candidate. A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said the ministry doesn’t comment on individual cases.

“What is most frustrating is that we are just another number to whoever is doing our application,” said McDonald. “We are not a living, breathing organization. We are a number.”

In the meantime, the hospital’s client base continues to grow. Two years ago, it inherited hundreds more birds when a Vancouver Island parrot sanctuary closed unexpectedly.

Veterinarian Dr. Anne McDonald personally owns two African Grey parrots, including 12-year-old Molly, pictured. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

The hospital has been actively looking for additional veterinarians to join the practice for the past five years. But two years ago, a nation-wide ad campaign resulted in just one response. 

McDonald said the facility needs another one or two veterinarians. 

The demanding workload has taken a toll on McDonald’s health. In the past two years, McDonald, 66, has been hospitalized twice for exhaustion. 

If McDonald can’t continue to work and no replacement vets are found, the hospital will have to close, said hospital manager Niki Montgomery.

Lifelong passion 

McDonald has loved birds since she was a child, and was only 15 years old when she got her first job in a vet’s clinic. From there she went on to study at the University of British Columbia, then onto a veterinarian school in Saskatchewan.

For years, she performed surgeries at the Vancouver Animal Emergency Clinic, and in 1990, she bought Night Owl Bird Hospital.

Last year, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association honoured McDonald with its 2017 Humane Award. 

Demand is high 

The Night Owl hospital is small but the workload is huge. 

Staff at Night Owl Bird Hospital treat a roster of over 10,000 birds. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

“We are crazy busy,” said Montgomery amid a cacophony of chirps and tweets from an array of birds. Clinic staff see an average of 45 birds a day, six days a week. 

McDonald said birds can suffer from an array of issues with their heart, liver, vascular and respiratory systems. 

“Birds get sick,” McDonald said. “Nobody realizes it — and, then they collapse.” 

The hospital provides everything from ultrasounds to laser therapy to surgery. 

Watch an exotic bird veterinarian in action:

Dr. Anne McDonald shows how she examines and treats birds at the Night Owl Bird Hospital in Vancouver. 3:52

Need more help  

The work is done by McDonald, an associate veterinarian and a rotation of 32 technicians. The hospital consistently needs more staff, and especially needs another avian-trained veterinarian. 

“There aren’t very many people who really want to work with birds or if they do want to work with birds, they’re usually afraid,” said McDonald. 

Night Owl Bird Hospital technician treats Teresa a geriatric macaw with laser therapy to alleviate pain and help her walk. (Tamara Baluja/CBC )

Range of clientele

It’s estimated the hospital has a roster of more than 10,000 birds who depend on it for their health needs. 

In June 2016, McDonald stepped up after more than 560 exotic birds unexpectedly became homeless when the World Parrot Refuge, in Coombs, B.C., on Vancouver Island was forced to close.

The refuge’s owner had died without leaving a plan in place to care for the birds. About 160 of those birds are still in care at Night Owl Bird Hospital. 

McDonald spent a lot of her own money rescuing and caring for the African greys, lovebirds, cockatoos, budgies and macaws from Vancouver Island. 

In 2016, when Dr. Nadine Meyer (left) was hired to work at Night Owl Bird Hospital she was the only Canadian applicant for the job. (Tamara Baluja/CBC)

Unhealthy situation 

But the workload has taken a toll. “She is consistently working 12-plus hours a day,” said Montgomery.

“It’s not something that is sustainable for anyone, let alone someone who should be looking to retire.” 

If the hospital closes, all 32 employees will be out of work. Montgomery said the hospital won’t make another application for a foreign employee. The process costs $1,000 for each attempt plus legal costs.

McDonald doesn’t want the hospital to close, but would love to scale back her hours.

“I’ve done it all these years,” she said. “It’s not something you can just walk away from.” 

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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