Free Bird! Bay Ridgeites rescue parrot trapped in smoke shop for three months

parrot in bay ridge smoke shop
The parrot pictured Wednesday before the successful rescue effort.
Photo by Adam Daly/NYC Sheriff’s Office

Concerned residents in Bay Ridge successfully orchestrated the rescue of a parrot that was living alone in a smoke shop for three months after the store was shuttered by the city in February.

Viral Exotics, previously located at 8711 5th Ave., was closed by the law enforcement on Feb. 28 for allegedly selling cannabis without a proper license.

The legal dispute around the business meant that the key holders and authorities who shuttered the store could only access the building together, leaving those who called local authorities to rescue the bird frustrated.

A nearby neighbor of the smoke shop told Brooklyn Paper the tenants returned after the initial shutdown to rescue their pet cats who had been locked inside. Annie Vaccari said she assumed the pet parrot had also been taken at the time, but was dismayed to see it flying around the closed store days later.

“That’s when we realized, ‘Oh no, no one’s gotten the bird yet,’” Vaccari said. She decided she “had to get the bird out” after seeing other neighbors post online about the caged bird.

parrot in bay ridge smoke shop
Concerned neighbors were told the owners were leaving food and water for the bird. Photo provided

“We were told that the tenants were going in to leave food and water but I didn’t know how that’s possible,” she said, given the legal requirements to enter the building.

When Brooklyn Paper stopped by the store on Wednesday, open packets of bird food could be seen through the window while droppings covered the floor. The parrot itself was perched on the glass counter among smoke paraphernalia, looking more lowly than high.

Online chatter among locals about the welfare of the bird picked up steam over the last two weeks, which Vaccari said translated into hoards of people stopping by to check on the bird.

Local veterinarian Catherine Walsh told this paper before the rescue that she was particularly distressed for the bird due to the living conditions and because “these animals can die from stress alone.”

Walsh was regularly in touch with local elected officials and 311 to try to avoid “watching the bird slowly die” but kept hitting dead ends when it came to coordinating efforts with key-holders.

For months, Vaccari tried to contact those involved in the legal dispute around the smoke shop to coordinate a rescue effort for the bird but said she too was given a “huge run-around.”

Concerned for its welfare, she would regularly stop by to push small containers of water through the store’s mail slot.

She was eventually able to get in contact with an attorney with the NYPD Legal Bureau who coordinated with the local precinct and tenants to open the shop on Wednesday evening.

“We looked outside and we saw two officers from the precinct and two of the tenants and they were removing the bird,” she said. “So, we physically got to see it happen, I have visual confirmation which I’m happy about because I wasn’t going off anyone’s word anymore. I was told the bird was taken before so I was like ‘I need to see this actually be removed.’”

Vaccari hopes to follow up with the tenant’s attorney to check on the bird’s welfare. They did not respond to requests for comment from Brooklyn Paper at the time of publication.

“Just when I thought I had seen it all, I get a call about a parakeet trapped inside a shuttered illegal weed shop. They don’t teach you this stuff in poli-sci class,” local Council Member Justin Brannan said. “Because this place had been shut down and basically seized by the New York City Sheriff’s Office, it wasn’t a simple rescue mission but sometimes it takes a village.”

“How many compassionate New Yorkers does it take to save a wayward parakeet? I guess now we’ve got our answer,” he added.

The legal dispute around the closure of Viral Exotics continues with the landlord of the building seeking a jury trial on the matter, according to court filings.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants operated the store without being granted a Conditional Adult-Use Retailing Dispensary (CAURD) license and that the state’s Office of Cannabis Management only granted the the tenants a hemp license which only authorizes the sale of products derived from cannabinoid hemp.

Currently, the only type of license authorizing the sale of cannabis in New York state is a CAURD license.

The city and state has ramped up its battle with illegal smoke shops since the lawsuit against Viral Exotics was first filed, culminating in “Operation Padlock to Protect.”

The initiative launched by Mayor Eric Adams last month after he was given more authority to do so in the state budget, has seen a cohort of local law enforcements and city agencies inspecting and padlocking stores found to be selling cannabis without a license around the five boroughs.

The roughly 2,800 illegal weed shops have proliferated across the city ever since Albany lawmakers moved to legalize cannabis in 2021, taking root as the state has been slow to roll out licenses to sellers who applied for them through the mandated process.