While most people were reflecting upon their respective holiday celebrations the day after Christmas, one local resident was frantically searching for her longtime companion, who did not return home after an outing late last month, on Dec. 26.
Pahrump resident Heidi Fleiss, formerly known as the “Hollywood Madam” from decades ago, owns a costly collection of exotic birds at her home on the north end of town.
Fleiss, who said she is presently working on establishing an exotic bird sanctuary in Pahrump, readily admits that her pet birds essentially have the run of her E. Fort Churchill home, as they come and go as they please.
The day after Christmas, one of her birds named “Jesse,” flew off in the morning, but did not return later in the day.
“There are four of my birds that fly out every morning, and return home,” Fleiss explained. “I was in Los Angeles on business on Tuesday, but my employees decided not to tell me that Jesse was missing until I got home on Wednesday. Every morning my birds would fly off and later come back. Jesse knows what he is doing. He does not get lost. His brothers and sisters sensed that something was wrong.”
Ominous feeling/reward offer
As the hours passed, Fleiss said she began to believe that someone somehow captured Jesse with the hope of keeping him as their own pet.
“I was thinking that someone who was not familiar with him wanted him, and just took him,” she surmised. “I didn’t think there was any bird of prey that harmed him. I truly believed somebody had him. Right now, I have over 30 birds, but only four of them go exploring. The people in the subdivision below me know my birds real well. Jesse is one of my younger birds and he likes to go out a little further than my other birds.”
In a desperate attempt to locate her bird, Fleiss said she took to social media to alert the community of her loss.
She also provided her contact information along with an incentive.
“I live on Fort Churchill Road and I put out my phone number with a $5,000 reward for the safe return of my Jesse,” she said. “I put feelers out everywhere and I even called the media, I called the Nye County Sheriff’s Office and I called Valley Electric Association. I had at least 100 people putting out messages because I thought that was the only way I was going to find my bird.”
Promising development/tense moments
As a result, Fleiss said she received some encouraging news that evening from a local woman via a Facebook post regarding the whereabouts of Jesse.
The woman, who received the information from a third party, also agreed to accompany Fleiss to help retrieve the bird.
“Jolene Harrington, who works at a big retail store here in town, got that message to me,” Fleiss said. “She told me that the lady who had Jesse lived nearby.”
Upon their nighttime arrival to the home, Harrington and Fleiss unlatched the main gate on the property and stepped in.
The visit did not go without a few challenges.
Harrington said the unidentified woman had her own plans for the bird’s future.
“The moment we took one step in the yard, the lady shouted and told us not to take another step or else she would shoot us,” Harrington recalled. “I think the woman knew that Heidi was going to call 911 because she then changed her tune and said that only one of us could come in. Heidi put up her hands and told the lady that she did not have any weapons and walked in. A few minutes later, Heidi came out with her bird and that was it. We actually have a recording of the whole thing, because as soon as the lady started talking all crazy, I thought that I should record it.”
Upon reflection, Fleiss said she too, had a bad feeling prior to the encounter.
“When I introduced myself, the lady said she knew exactly who I was,” Fleiss said. “I then figured out that this woman hated me. She told me that she had my bird and he was very sick and needed medical attention right away. She also told me that it’s too cold to keep my birds outside, but my birds do whatever they want on my property and they love this weather. I just pleaded with her to let me have my bird back and she finally did. I then called 911 and told them I got my bird back. I just could not deal with it anymore.”
Fleiss also spoke about her passion for the many birds she has owned, nurtured and cared for at her home over the years.
“As far as how many birds I own, I think one is too many,” she said with a laugh. “If I could, I just want to help every macaw that is stuck inside a cage, because I think putting a living creature that has wings inside a cage, is fundamentally wrong; it’s perverse and obscene. I gave up a very fancy and spoiled life for them. There is no financial benefit for me. It is very difficult and certainly not rewarding, but I gave up my life because it’s the right thing to do. Too many people think that they’re only birds and it doesn’t matter, but to me, it does matter.”
As a longtime, self-avowed bird lover, Fleiss was straightforward when talking about what is necessary to properly care for exotic bird species.
Demanding but worthwhile investment
Interestingly, she said they are not the best pets to own.
“Personally, I think most birds make horrible pets because they are very demanding and chew on everything,” she said. “From personal experience, I think they are awful pets. I have Jesse’s mom and dad and have had him since he was hatched. He will be two years old this month. He is very friendly and he loves to talk. He is a really nice bird.”
After living for more than 11 years in the Pahrump Valley, Fleiss said she is now looking to establish a rescue-type facility for all varieties of birds in the area.
“I am about to invest close to 10 million dollars right here on my property for these birds over the next few years,” she said. “I’m working with an architect and this will be for a bird sanctuary. I also work with different rescues and the Humane Society, but getting the support that I need is a difficult task. Representative Michele Fiore from Las Vegas is going to help by introducing some legislation that will be helpful to birds, but I’m still a couple of years away from doing it correctly and opening up the sanctuary.”
Moreover, Fleiss said working with and caring for exotic birds was definitely not her original intention when she first moved into town.
She suggested the entire experience was transformative.
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles but I moved here to get involved in the sex business,” she said. “But once I became familiar with the birds, it changed my whole life and I love living in Pahrump. It’s kind of simple, like Wonder Bread and Velveeta cheese, but there are a lot of beautiful things here in Pahrump as well as beautiful people. It’s a great community. I just want others in the community to have the pleasure of seeing my birds fly around and just being in their natural habitat and environment. It is really cool. People really love my birds.”
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at email@example.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes