Beatrice Foster doesn't live alone. Not really.
"I ain't that healthy," she says. "I have arthritis and bursitis . . . but I can get around. I don't have to have nobody lead me."
And she has DeeDee, a parakeet given to her by People-Animals-Love (PAL), a nonprofit District "pet-facilitated" therapy group that works with the elderly, the handicapped and institutions.
"It's a lot of company," says the 76-year-old Foster, who lives in a Columbia Heights federal housing project in Northwest D.C. "She doesn't talk, but she makes an awful lot of noise. And if I sit on the chair, she comes right over here on my lap."
DeeDee is one of nearly 100 birds -- mostly parakeets, but also lovebirds and cockateels -- that PAL has placed in the past three years.
"On a senior citizen's and Social Security income, you can't afford to buy too many things," says Foster. "So when I heard they were supplying these birds, I learned all about it."
The birds are first trained for six weeks by the Montrose 4-H Club in Rockville, where they're taught to be companion animals. "They'll come out of the cage on your finger, interact with you and look to you for attention and snacks," says Ann Holder, a club leader and PAL volunteer.
Pat Boyer, who lives in Rockville's Bethany House for the elderly, got Lady Anne in February. "She gets next to my ear and goes chirp-chirp-chirp," she says. "I tell her I want her to be quiet, and sometimes she is and sometimes she isn't."
The parakeet goes everywhere with Boyer -- into the bathroom, around the kitchen -- often while perched on her shoulder. "Because I only have one hand," she says, "sometimes it takes me longer to do things like feeding her water."
Lady Anne's worth the effort.
"She's just a baby. She got into the trash can, and I had to get her out," says Boyer, 55. "And when I was washing dishes, she jumped into the dishpan."
The birds, Holder says, are a great incentive at meals, which tend to be no fun solo. "We encourage people to interact with the birds at dinnertime -- to give them some of their vegetables."
Another reason she developed the program was to get her 4-Hers -- many of whom didn't have grandparents living in the area -- involved with the elderly. The club members, who range in age from 8 to 18, follow up once a bird is delivered, answering questions on care and, if necessary, delivering feed and gravel. The seniors contribute only what they can afford.
"One lady here wouldn't take a bird," says Boyer. "I said, 'Don't you hear my Lady talking to me?' She said, 'Yes, but I don't want it.' "
The woman has since died, Boyer adds. "She had cancer, but I think she could have lived a little bit longer if she had had a bird.