Tag Archive | "Easter"

The Serious Side of Pet Adoption

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By Claire Walla

“Do not buy the rabbits! Do not buy the chickens!”

Just about this time of year, when baby animals are born and images of fluffy white bunnies mark the onset of Easter, East Hampton resident Pat Lillis gets extra upset.

“I know, ‘they’re sooo cute,”’ Lillis mocked with a strained, high-pitched inflection. “But, who’s going to take care of them?”

If you’ve ever met Lillis, then you know this dialogue, written as it is, does little to capture the full spectrum of her husky, Irish, curse-word-ridden speech. And it does nothing to convey the passion she has for this issue.

Wearing Ugg boots, ripped cargo shorts and a t-shirt with the phrase “Defend human rights today, prevent tragedy tomorrow” — a year-round look for the 61-year-old — Lillis tended to the animals in her home as she railed against a segment of the population she has many issues with: “animal lovers.”

“There’s a reason why these cats are here,” she continued, referring to the posse of felines lounging in her kitchen. “It’s because people ‘fell in love’ with them.”

Twelve years ago, Lillis founded a non-profit organization called Elsa’s Ark, which raises funds to care for injured or abandoned animals. The organization is run out of her home in Springs, and can best be described by a hand-made sign she has hung on a bulletin board in her garage: Only one question allowed, how can I help?

“I had another one, but it fell down and the cats pissed on it,” she explained.

Lillis herself has cared for rabbits and chickens over the years, and is now caring for precisely two dogs, 15 chickens and nearly three-dozen cats, only one of which — Houdini, whom she described as “a thug” — is her own.

Lillis goes through roughly 574 cans of cat food a week. She counted.

“I don’t go looking for animals,” Lillis was very quick to explain. “And I don’t buy them.”

This is one of the many talking points that flips her lid. Lillis believes nobody should ever buy an animal. And even if they have plans to adopt, she urges interested parties to think long and hard before bringing a cat, a dog or even a chicken into their home.

Every now and then, she said, a “brave soul” will knock on the window of her Volvo and ask for her help. Lillis gritted her teeth before continuing: “If I meet you and you tell me you’re going to give up your animal, you’d better be in the ready position to start the 100 meters.”

According to Ginny Frati of the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, located in Southampton, the center sees about 12 domesticated rabbits each year. It is currently caring for two baby bunnies, in fact, which, at three inches long, she estimates are about two-and-a-half weeks old. They were allegedly found in East Port.

The Center also sees its fair share of chicks and ducks. Last year, she said there were two domesticated geese found along the banks of Otter Pond right here in Sag Harbor. Rescue crews were able to secure the animals, rehabilitate them and find them new homes.

However, Franti said most are not so lucky.

“People often bring them to a pond when they don’t want them anymore,” she explained. “Usually a fox or a raccoon will get them in the first year.” And with domestic ducks, she added, “Dogs will attack them, then we get them after they’ve been attacked.”

More than two decades before Elsa’s Ark was established, three East End residents created the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons (ARF) to address the growing population of abandoned animals on the East End.

ARF’s executive director Sara Davison said the situation has improved dramatically for Hamptons cats and dogs. Now, only about 15 percent of the dogs at ARF are abandoned. However, about half the cat population at ARF is there due to “owner abandonment.”

According to Director of Operations Michele Forrester, the shelter can keep up to 160 dogs and cats at one time, and it’s almost always at capacity.

“We’re now approaching kitten season,” Forrester further explained. Around this time of year, the feral cat population has an explosion of new litters, many of which end up at ARF. She said there are hundreds of volunteers throughout the community who not only help to feed feral cat colonies, but help locate new litters of kittens and bring them to ARF to be spayed or neutered.

“We call that ‘breaking the feral cat cycle,’” Executive Director Sara Davison added.

Because of these practices, Forrester said ARF has seen a decline in the number of kittens it’s seen for the past four years. However, she added, there are still too many cats for ARF to handle on its own. Because it is a private facility, ARF is able to pick and choose which animals it keeps for adoption. There’s a waiting list for the rest.

“You can’t overwhelm the staff, we have to stay at a level we can handle,” Forrester continued.

Like ARF, Pat Lillis is a big proponent of “breaking the feral cat cycle.” Elsa’s Ark provides free spaying and neutering services for anyone wishing to sterilize their cat.

But, she acknowledges that curbing reproduction is only half the battle.

In the backyard of her home, surrounded by her chickens Charlie Brown, Bertha, Red Red, Jeanne, Aggy, Mattie and Phyllis Diller (a light brown bird with a feathery ‘fro), Lillis explained that people’s attitudes toward animals are a big part of the problem.

For example, several of Lillis’ birds came from a man in Westhampton Beach who had moved from Mastic with 11 chickens in tow. He abandoned the birds when his neighbor complained.

“People don’t think before they get animals,” Lillis railed.

The cleaning, the feeding, the going into the chicken coop at dusk with a flashlight to check every nook and cranny for threatening four-legged species with an appetite for breast meat, she said it’s all part of the job.

At the beginning of January, Lillis said two cats were left in their cat carrier with a note: “We know you will give them a home.”

Just repeating the story put Lillis on edge.

“F— that!” she roared. “I’m a spinster at 61-years-old, how much longer am I going to live?! The nerve!”

“People make the mistake of saying I love animals,” she continued. But, she she said it’s not love.

“I believe everyone should be looked after,” Lillis said. “You have to be part of this world you’re hanging out in. I pick up everything. I pick up people, I pick up animals, I pick up garbage… If you see something that has to be done, it’s your civic duty to do it. It’s just your civic duty.”

Garden Center Prepares for Easter Animals

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Garden Center adjusted

By Claire Walla


When Phil Bucking started his gardening store 17 years ago, he didn’t just bring flowers and foliage to the village.

For as long as the Sag Harbor Garden Center has been around, it has consistently hosted an annual petting zoo to cap off the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s Easter Bonnet Parade, bringing rabbits, pigs, ducks, chicks and even llamas to the area so that bonnet-laden villagers and their children could enjoy Easter weekend festivities after their midday trek up Main Street.

“We clear away everything,” Bucking said as he stood on the porch of the old train depot — now the hub of his business — and swept his arm across the front portion of his yard space. Come Saturday, where now there are wooden shelves filled with potted plants, colorful spring buds and rows of terra cotta lawn ornaments, there will be a bevy of farm animals (brought to the East End by a group from the Cornell Cooperative).

“It’s a bit of a hassle,” Bucking said of the routine round of heavy lifting preceding the event. “But,” he added with a grin, “we do it.”

The bonnet parade begins in front of BookHampton at 1 p.m. and concludes a quick 15 minutes later at the garden center, where farm animals will be grazing, grilled hot dogs will be sold for charity and — of course — the Easter Bunny himself will show up for a photo op. In prior years, Bucking said the Girl Scouts were responsible for dishing up the frankfurters; this year, that service will be provided by a group of elementary school students who plan to contribute all profits to the village’s effort to restore the windmill at Long Wharf.

The idea for the Easter Bonnet Parade-and-petting zoo was generated by the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce in 1996. According to Bucking, a chamber board member, the events were established in an effort to stretch the Easter holiday back to include Saturday. (There is also an annual Easter Egg Hunt at Mashashimuet Park on Sunday, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Lion’s Club.)

Extending the weekend is especially important for a holiday like Easter, Bucking added, because most village businesses recognize the holiday and close-up shop on Sunday. While Bucking said he didn’t think hosting the petting zoo had a particularly strong impact on the garden center’s weekend sales — “most people are here just for fun” — he did say that the event itself has been helpful for the economy of the village as a whole.

“It kicks-off spring for everybody,” Bucking exclaimed.

Well, in theory.

This year happens to be a special case. The mild winter and early onset of warm weather brought spring conditions a few weeks early. This has already proven to be helpful for the garden business, Bucking said, as people are planting and pruning much earlier this year. Bucking added that the weather may prove to be good for business for the duration of 2012, as he predicts there may be an excess of weeds and bugs — both pesky problems that can be cured by products Bucking sells at the Sag Harbor Garden Center.

In addition to business benefits, Bucking continued to say that this year’s weather is a good sign for the Easter Parade and Petting Zoo.

“Last year was the first rain-out,” Bucking said. “And the year before that it was cut short — again because of the weather.”

So, from the looks of it, it’ll be sunny skies for parade-goers this weekend, which means sunny skies for Sag Harbor’s business community.

Rally People

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When Charlie Canavan was growing up in Garden City, he spent every Easter Sunday watching hundreds of vintage and antique automobiles parade down the block. 

“There were 200 to 400 cars every Easter morning. My family and all the local families would go down to watch the cars. I thought it was one of the greatest things,” said Canavan of the annual event.

Canavan hoped to recreate this childhood memory in Sag Harbor last Saturday by hosting his own Motorcade Parade with the Sag Harbor Hysterical Society to benefit the family of recently deceased local Joanne Cajowski.

Although Canavan’s idea was paved with good intentions, the weather was less cooperative as the precipitation ranged from a light drizzle to a steady downpour.

Despite the rain, almost a dozen classic car and motorcycle collectors turned up in support of the event, although Canavan had hoped to draw a larger crowd.

Peter Mole was one of the first antique car owners to arrive at the Long Wharf, pulling up in a bright red Studebaker pick-up. Mole purchased the vehicle nearly a decade ago at the annual Classic Car Auction held in Bridgehampton – which he also oversees. The truck — built in 1949 — spent most of its life at an estate in Vermont, and Mole said it has never been restored, but has been painted.

“I use it all the time,” said Mole. “I was at the dump the other day with it and a guy came up to me and said ‘You should have it parked and be polishing it.’ I responded,  ‘Well no, it’s a truck, and I should use it.’ It was built to be driven.”

In addition to the Studebaker, Mole owns the ultimate automobile collectible: a 1915 Model T-Ford. Mole said driving the Model-T is like stepping back in time.

“The Model-T is such a unique thing … They made millions but driving it is unlike anything else … it doesn’t have gears … and it only has two speeds … So I had to learn how to drive it,” explained Mole.

Among the cars present on Saturday were a lime green 1970 Dodge Super Bee, a brown 1971 Ford Pinto and a hunter green 1931 Model-A Ford. Newer vehicles, like a Smart Car, Volvo and Lexus also showed up for the parade.

Although a majority of the car owners who attended the event favored vintage automobiles, local motorcycle connoisseur Nick Genender showed up with three classic choppers. After working for decades in the clothing industry, Genender recently opened – and currently operates – a Southampton outpost of New York City Choppers. He will often build a chopper from scratch, but base the design on popular motorcycles from the 1940s and 1950s. The ultimate satisfaction of his work is building a chopper from the ground up. He said an added bonus is catering to clients who range from janitors to millionaires. Although chopper – and car enthusiasts – come from all walks of life, Genender said they are all linked by a common love for the classic automobile or motorcycle.

“It is a very small community, but we are like a little family,” he said. “We are like a tribe and everyone identifies with one another.”

Although the Sag Harbor Hysterical Society experienced some rain this year, Canavan said, “We will do it again next year … and hopefully we will get great weather.”