DEEP RIVER — The greeters patiently wait inside the front door with their big brown eyes and wet noses barely reaching over the wooden gate.
There’s 3-year-old Sam, his black furry face barely showing and 7-year-old Winter, with a black and tan coat — he’s bigger and taller and able to comfortably rest his chin on the gate.
Welcome to Ashleigh’s Garden, where animals rule the roost.
Once inside, the cacophony of parrots talking fills the air and it becomes obvious that this is no ordinary flower shop. With the American Akita dogs at the door and Willow, a 3-year-old cat, Humphrey, a 20-pound African spurred tortoise and a “pandemonium” of parrots freely roaming, it is a haven for animal lovers.
“I think it’s a positive experience for anyone who loves animals,” owner Allison Sloane says.
“We have 36 rescued, abused parrots now,” she says. “I have a designated reptile room at home and that’s where the reptiles live and the parrots are in a sanctuary out back.”
The animals that reside here have been rescued from abuse and neglect, euthanasia and from crack houses. They are taken in, cared for and loved by Sloane and her staff.
Proceeds from this 25-year-old flower shop have long supported the animals’ rehabilitation, yet as their numbers and needs grow so do the bills. That is where Pandemonium Thrift Shop comes in.
Pandemonium, which literally means a group of parrots, is an apt name for the shop. All proceeds from the thrift shop go directly to the care of the animals through Pandemonium Rainforest Project, Inc.
This nonprofit organization not only rescues and rehabilitates these vulnerable animals, it also supports outreach programs to educate the public about the proper care of these exotic creatures.
The 10-room thrift shop, right next door to Ashleigh’s Garden, is stocked with gently-used books, clothes, toys, electronics, furniture, household items and jewelry.
Sloane’s hope is that the store will enable her to raise enough money to build a facility where the public can visit all her rescued critters.
Open for about six months, the thrift store’s motto is “Saving lives through recycling.”
Sloane is passionate about this mission.
“We’re saving lives through recycling,” she stresses, “and saving the landfill and it’s so important to me. It just can’t keep going, we only have one planet.”
Melissa Yumbla, dropping off donations with her daughters, Giselle, 5 and Sophia, 8, stopped in to visit the animals.
“It’s incredible,” she says. “I think it’s just such a great cause because I’m an animal lover,” says the Chester resident.
The newest addition to the parrot family is Marshmallow, who currently lives in the flower shop’s workroom.
Marshmallow joined the family after Sloane participated in a ride-along with a local police department. The bird was left homeless when its owner was arrested and jailed.
This Moluccan cockatoo, with its salmon-colored crest rising above its pink feathers, is talkative and prone to biting if not handled carefully.
“It’s going to take us a long time to work with him to get him to the point where he’s comfortable stepping out and coming out for people before we begin to look for a home for him,” she says.
Standing next to Marshmallow’s tall cage, Sloane tears up as she talks about the effect of the Australian wildfires on local animals.
“It’s just killing me,” Sloane says, fighting back tears. “I can’t talk about it.
“…I have cockatoos from Australia and I have emus from Australia and they’re a flock of these guys in a tree,” she says, pointing to Marshmallow. “It just kills me.”
Marshmallow, close by, joins in the conversation, talking over Sloane.
“He’s giving commentary at the same time,” Sloane says, laughing.
Sloane says she hopes that one day Marshmallow can be adopted out, but that remains questionable.
“He’s a sweet bird, but that bird can turn and he can bite,” she says.
Gracie is another story. She is definitely at home in the flower shop.
Sitting atop her cage surrounded by flowers, greeting cards and jewelry, she greets and talks to customers. With her pure white feathers, perfectly groomed, this Eleonora cockatoo proudly displays her yellow crest atop her tuft.
“Oh, yes, you’ve got some big things to say,” says Sloane to Gracie.
For Karen Wolff, Ashleigh’s Garden manager for the past 13 years, having the animals around makes her job interesting.
“It’s never dull,” she says. “It’s wild. They are demanding and hilarious.
“It could be the craziest Valentine’s Day ever and then there’s a bird singing to me a Judy Garland song from back in the day,” she says. “So, how can I be rushed and feel nervous, or anything, because these animals are ridiculous. They ground you.”
A back room is reserved for 30 parrots. With the door closed to visitors, it is quiet and peaceful – that is until Sloane enters.
Then the talk begins and all the parrots start talking louder and faster, clamoring to be heard above their neighbors.
Olive is the first to gab.
“Excuse you, very rude,” says Sloane, as Olive interrupts the conversation with her prattle. The blue-and-gold macaw arrived at the sanctuary as an alcoholic.
“They eat and drink everything we do,” Sloane explains.
The noise and chatter subsides as soon as Sloane leaves the room and shuts the door behind her.
“Usually when you come in here, you can’t even hear them because they’re part of a flock,” she says. “You don’t even know they’re there.
“All birds are flock animals and so because they have each other, they’ll quiet down now,” she adds. “It’s just mommy; mommy wasn’t giving them the attention they wanted.”
But Sloane doesn’t seem to mind at all.
It wasn’t until she was older that Sloane realized her calling was to care for those animals that have no one to care for them.
“We have actual state places that will take cats and dogs, but not parrots and reptiles,” she says. “And there are the exotics. People just go and buy them — they don’t even think about it. They live so much longer than dogs and cats.”
Sloane has always had an affinity for animals in need. As a youngster growing up in Essex and then, Lyme, she recalls bringing rescued animals’ home.
“I grew up in Lyme and then Essex…I had a horse and we would go, my horse and I, would just ride and you find animals, you find injured things,” she recalls.
This led to working with local vets, in particular the late Higganum Veterinary Clinic’s Rick Jacobs. She learned firsthand about the care of reptiles and “taking care of them properly.”
“When they start to get sick, they go down fast — reptiles and parrots, exotics,” Sloane says.
Such was the case with a baby bearded dragon brought into the shop by a local family.
“We will rehabilitate her,” says Sloane, confidently. “Unfortunately, she didn’t have the proper heating, so she’s in what we call brumation, so she goes into a partial hibernation.
“None of these guys should go into hibernation,” she stresses.
Just hours after arriving, the newest member of Ashleigh’s Garden family was sitting in the glass case, perched upon a log with wide eyes and eating two worms.
When animals are brought into Sloane’s sanctuary, they are signed over to her, never to be returned to their owners.
“We have them sign it over and release it because they’re not a fit home, as far as I’m concerned,” she says.
Every visitor to Ashleigh’s Garden and Pandemonium Thrift Shop walks away educated about the Pandemonium Rainforest Project.
“When we explain that we’re a full service florist and our profits go towards rescue and rehabilitation of their animals and they’re an animal person, they love it and they come back because we have the best flowers and we work very, very hard on all of our floral stuff, but they know that we have a big heart,” Sloane says.
“Everybody that works here is part of a family and part of a village and we all work together.”
Pandemonium Thrift Shop and Ashleigh’s Garden, 500 Main St., Deep River, 860-767-2889; Facebook Thrift Shop – Pandemonium Rainforest Project and Ashleigh’s Garden; ashleighsgarden.com