You wouldn’t think that bourbon and birds go hand-in-hand, but for Sandi Sanders, it does.
In one part of her Lebanon Junction home, Sandi is busy preparing and painting decorative bourbon barrel heads and staves. In another area, there are 20-30 exotic rescue birds that she cares for while trying to find them a forever home.
Sandi has been operating the non-profit Feathers Galore, which rescues, fosters and adopts out pet birds, since March 2016. She funds the operation through the sale of hand painted bourbon barrel heads, staves and other home décor items.
Sandi has used many different kinds of wood for her crafts, but when she discovered painting barrel heads and staves, she said she found her strength.
“My husband (Phillip Sanders) worked at a cooperage, where they refurbish bourbon barrels,” Sandi said. “He had wood laying in a scrap pile and one day I asked if I could have a couple to try. I liked the way the wood looked and how it painted.”
Sandi paints mostly barrel head signs and staves. Her most popular barrel heads and staves are those with magnetic interchangeable letters that can be switched out depending on the season or preference. She also does custom painted barrel heads. Her products can be purchased at Silo Ridge Makers Market, 314 St. Clair St. in downtown Frankfort.
Phillip no longer works at a cooperage, but being only 20 minutes from Bardstown, Sandi doesn’t have any problems finding barrel heads and staves for her crafts.
“I get barrels from wherever I can buy them,” she said. “From weddings, from a local cooperage in Shepherdsville … I’m not too far from Bardstown, so there’s always people with barrels.”
After she gets the barrels, she breaks them down and sands each piece. After cleaning the barrel heads, she glues each piece back together.
“I like that each piece of wood is different,” Sandi said. “No two staves or barrel heads are going to look the same.
“I don’t make them real flat and shiny because I want you to see the character and the flaws. I think it gives it character. A lot of the bourbon barrel and stave art looks the same. I wanted to try something different and add more color than you typically see.”
All of the proceeds from her craft sales go toward paying for food, toys and vet bills for the rescue birds. She rescued her first macaw eight years ago. The bird was surrendered to her under bad circumstances.
“An older guy bought her as a baby, which wasn’t a good idea because they live a long time,” Sandi said. “She had plucked all of her feathers and she was aggressive. After I had her, she turned from an aggressive bird, to one that is loving. It made me realize that was something I wanted to do more often and running a rescue allows me to do that.”
Sandi rescues any parrot breed and any domestic bird. She rescues mainly parrots, macaws, cockatoos, parakeets and cockatiels.
Sandi said one of the main reasons that the birds are surrendered to her is because the owners die.
“The birds live longer than we do,” she said. “You have to have a plan for them. My macaw (Marjorie) is about 13, so I have to plan for the potential that she could outlive me.”
Other people surrender the birds because of life changes, such as their work becoming more hectic. She said during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, many people surrendered their birds because they were too loud when they were trying to work from home.
“A parrot is like having a toddler that never grows out of the toddler stage,” she said. “They need a lot of attention or they will destroy stuff and scream and are unpleasant.”
The birds are kept in a climate controlled “she shed” in Sandi’s backyard. The building is complete with a playground wall for the birds to interact and play with each other.
Sandi’s primary goal is to find forever homes for the birds. Every rescue bird is posted on her website, feathersgalore.com, and on the Feathers Galore Facebook page.
“I think the rescue is important because we’ve taken these birds from the wild and we’ve turned them into pets and I think that there’s a false impression that birds are just a pretty thing that sit in a cage and they are so much more,” she said. “The cage should be minimal. They need to be played with and talked to. The birds thrive best when they’re part of the family. They need to sit at the kitchen table with you and watch TV with you and go to the grocery store with you.”
Sandi has five birds that are her pets. One of them is a cockatoo named Buddy who she takes to the grocery store, family functions and on car rides.
“My primary goal is to teach people that birds are more than just a pretty thing in a cage that talks,” Sandi said. “I’m trying to turn that mentality around and focus more on personality and needs. They’re difficult to own and a lot of reasons rescues are needed is because people don’t realize what they’re getting into. They don’t realize that the birds are a toddler for 70 years. Birds never outgrow that. It’s a lot of work for a long period of time.”