CLEARWATER — Nearly every evening on Pier 60, Tequila the Parrot is working for tips.
This scene repeats itself over and over again: Tourist families stroll by and see the bright green bird. Camera-toting parents nudge their child forward. Tequila's owners, Robert and Robin Murray, gently place their pet on the child's outstretched arm. The parents click away with their cameras, capturing a postcard-worthy portrait of their offspring holding this Florida icon. Meanwhile, the wide-eyed child gazes at the parrot with a mix of wonder, fear and joy.
Tequila was banished from the pier recently when Clearwater declared a moratorium on animal acts at Sunsets at Pier 60, a nightly festival. Animal rights activists had been complaining about how a couple of performing monkeys were being treated, so the city considered banning animals altogether.
But after the Murrays appeared before the City Council to plead the parrot's case, Tequila has made a triumphant return to her perch.
"Kids hold her and get their pictures taken with her. She's in all the high school yearbooks around here," said Robert Murray, who has had Tequila for 28 years. "The kids love it, and we've never had an incident. I would never put her in harm's way."
Sunsets at Pier 60, patterned after a similar festival on Key West, has been going on Clearwater Beach since 1995. Vendors hawk T-shirts, henna tattoos, shark tooth necklaces and seashell crosses. Musicians and jugglers perform.
The problem started with two monkeys. They would shake hands with people. They'd accept quarters from tourists' hands. But the little monkeys tugged on their leashes, and they were stationed near a spray painter who generated fumes.
"People complained. People would scream at me," said Jean Hagen, manager of Sunsets at Pier 60. "It just snowballed."
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals approached Clearwater and requested copies of records and contracts and city ordinances.
"We spent 50 to 70 staff hours dealing with a series of animals rights groups," said city parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar.
Finally, the city's staff drew up an ordinance forbidding animal acts on the pier. Earlier this month, they brought it to the City Council for a vote. But the Murrays pleaded to stay.
The council decided to allow animals, and left it to the managers of Sunsets at Pier 60 to work out the details.
The monkey act was not invited back, but the parrot has returned.
Five or six nights a week, she's at the approach to the pier among the other performing acts. The Murrays keep her a good distance away from the spray painter, the juggler and especially the fire breather.
Next time you're near Pier 60 after 6:30 p.m., stop by and see Tequila. Hold your arm out, and she'll perch on it. She makes eye contact and emits little squawks. She tilts her head winningly.
"She'll pose," Robert Murray said. "She's a ham."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.