Tag Archive | "Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons"

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.”

Homeless No More

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By Claire Walla

When howling winds from Tropical Storm Irene ravaged the East End last month, hundreds of tree branches snapped and entire tree trunks were split in two — locally, perhaps none more memorable than a tree in Pine Neck. The trunk practically burst open in the midst of the storm, splaying bits of bark in various directions only to reveal a hollow gap in the trunk’s interior, where trio of baby raccoons had made their nest.

An image of one of the four-week-old cubs made the front page of The Express the week following the storm, its furry body dwarfed by thick slabs of wood and its characteristic black mask slanting downward, almost giving the creature a worried expression as it stared out at the photographer.

Without their home and with the loss of their mother — who couldn’t be found after the tree collapsed — the creatures were destined for their demise.

Baby animals too young to survive on their own are often put in the care of local wildlife rehabilitators who volunteer their time nurturing them until they can safely be put back in the wild. It’s standard protocol. But not for raccoons.

Along with skunks and bats, wildlife rehabilitators are prohibited from caring for raccoons by the Suffolk County branch of the New York State Health Department. Instead, skunks, bats and raccoons that are wounded or are not entirely self-sufficient must be destroyed because they are deemed rabies-vector animals. (According to Ginnie Frati, Executive Director of the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, rabies is most common in these three animals, though it has not been reported in Suffolk County in the last few years.)

This would have been the case for these three cubs, had it not been for one fortunate coincidence.

As Irene gained momentum on the morning of August 28 and most East End residents were hunkered down in the comfort of their own homes, John (not his real name) was out driving around and taking pictures of the storm. That’s when he came up roughly 15 people gathered around a tree on Elm Street in Pine Neck. And when someone told him the tree was home to three baby raccoons, he exclaimed, “That was like hitting the lottery!”

A member of the Wildlife Rescue Center’s rescue team, he scooped them up in his grey, plastic rescue tub — which he always keeps in his car — and immediately took them home.

Even though it’s illegal for Suffolk County residents to do so (which is why his real name is being withheld for this article), John said he couldn’t help it.

“I grew up with raccoons, I had them as pets,” he explained. “So when I saw them in the tree, I immediately went into action.”

The cubs are now living in John’s backyard somewhere in the greater Sag Harbor area. He says they follow him wherever he goes and to demonstrate, he places all three cubs in the grass. They immediately swirl around his feet — and when he begins to walk the trio trails behind his every step, prompting an impromptu game of follow-the-leader.

The raccoons are kept inside a lidded wooden crate originally built for storing firewood and most recently used to store scuba diving equipment — not because John is worried animals might run away, but to protect them from predators.

“A local male raccoon would kill these babies if it had the chance,” he said. “Raccoons are very territorial.”

So with a modest tree branch inside the box for décor, the raccoons’ makeshift habitat is cleaned regularly and the creatures are fed a diet of liquid nutrition like Similac, baby food and the gravy from canned dog food. (The meatier pieces are put outside in the yard “for the local raccoons.”) While John said it’s taken the babies a while to transition into solid foods, he’s finally at a point where he can begin serving hot-dog pieces and slices of watermelon.

“What I really should be doing is taking them to the cove and looking for crabs and clams,” he said. With an appetite for local sea life, the hope is that the critters might be more inclined to avoid dumpster diving in the future. Although, John also pointed out, those efforts might be fruitless: “They just eat everything.”

According to John, there are several people like him on the East End who harbor raccoons illegally.

“We do everything we can to get the babies back with their mother,” said Ginnie Frati of the Wildlife Rescue Center. “But someone is really supposed to bring them to us for euthanasia.”

Unfortunately, Frati continued, some East End residents will call trappers to get rid of raccoons, and often the animals are drowned. While other parts of New York State can issue rabies-vector-species licenses for wildlife rehabilitators, such licenses have been banned in Suffolk County since 2004.

“I’ve been fighting this for years,” she continued, noting that there is a large population of raccoons on the East End. “In baby season we probably get about one to two calls a day. It’s heartbreaking for us to take the calls.”

As far as John is concerned, the rules in Suffolk County are a bit extreme. While raccoons have been known to carry rabies, he feels the animals have been unfairly singled out. Any number of animals can carry a whole host of diseases, he added.

“My neighbor believes rescuing animals is a waste of time, that it interferes with the course of nature,” he continued. “And I understand that. But, I also believe that if it wasn’t for us, we wouldn’t have to be out here rescuing them.”

John said most of the rescues he’s gone on have been influenced by humans in one way or another, whether it’s a deer that’s been hit by a car or a squirrel that’s ingested anti-freeze.

He plans to let the three raccoons go in November, if not sooner, when they’re big enough to survive on their own. He plans to take them to a place that’s relatively rural.

“I’ll build a box for them and set it up with some food,” he explained. “Then I’ll get in my car and go… and try to just keep driving.”

Box Turtle Found Impaled in Sag Harbor

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By Claire Walla

Last week, when an Eastern Box Turtle was discovered crawling through a backyard in Sag Harbor with a 10-penny nail driven through the center of its shell, volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons were on the scene.

The terrestrial reptile was brought to The Veterinary Clinic of East Hampton where Dr. Jonathan Turetsky took X-rays showing that the three-inch sliver of metal had pierced the very center of the turtle’s shell and descended through its mid-section, slightly poking through its hard underbelly. After administering the creature pain medication and antibiotics, Dr. Turetsky was able to remove the nail. He used dentil acrylic to patch up the broken bits of shell.

“He’s at the center now, being rehabilitated,” Ricky Greening of the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons said of the turtle. Greening estimated it will probably take two to three weeks for the turtle to heal (though it could be perhaps a couple months), at which point the animal will be returned to the yard where it was found.

The incident has sparked concern that there is someone in the community intentionally causing harm to local wild animals.

Earlier this year, the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons received calls about a seagull in Sag Harbor Village that was wandering around with a blow-dart lodged through its skull. According to Greening, the seagull died last week after having lived for months with the needlelike imposition. The bird was in the process of being transported to a local veterinarian when — probably due to trauma or duress — it died.

Dr. Turetsky wouldn’t speculate as to whether or not the two incidents are related, but he admitted they both seem to be premeditated acts of animal cruelty.

“Clearly, someone put the turtle down and hammered a couple of times,” Dr. Turetsky explained.

How the nail managed to avoid puncturing nerves and vital organs, Dr. Turetsky added, is “a big mystery.” However, it’s unclear how long the nail had actually been embedded in the shell and what harm such an object might have posed further down the line.

While the turtle seemed to be moving fine, in spite of the fact that a foreign object was poking out of its stomach, Dr. Turetsky said it was removed for health reasons. The nail was rusted by the time the turtle got to the East Hampton clinic.

“That’s always a question: could it do more harm taking it out?” Dr. Turetsky added.

In the case of the seagull, it seems tampering with the skittish animal might have expedited the bird’s death.

“But, as far as letting [the turtle] loose,” added Dr. Turetsky, “one of the concerns was that [the nail] was protruding through the bottom of the shell,” which could have proved dangerous for the animal’s mobility.

Roy Gross of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said this was clearly an act of animal cruelty and the SPCA is now investigating the case.

“This will not be tolerated,” he said in an interview this week. “People who do this are capable of hurting people. And they can do it again.”

Gross expressed frustration that the SPCA wasn’t notified of the incident until after both the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons and the vets office were on the case and the turtle was of out of surgery, which he said only makes it more difficult for the organization to conduct its investigation.

So far, the agency has not received any further calls related to this case. And, Gross added, the agency never received any calls about the gull. (He was unaware himself until The Expressbrought the issue to his attention.)

“Could it be related? It could be,” Gross stated. But, he added, even more important than a potential connection between the two Sag Harbor incidents is the implication it holds for humans — an aspect he said many people tend not to consider. “It’s a known fact that people who hurt animals hurt people.“

The SPCA is the only organization in Suffolk County with the sole purpose of investigating acts of animal cruelty, so Gross emphasized the need for such incidents to be reported as soon as possible.

“Even if you don’t think there are any witnesses … please report any suspicion of animal neglect and abuse,” he said. “If it doesn’t get reported, we can’t investigate it. I can’t stress that enough.”

“We really want to see this person apprehended,” Gross continued. “We don’t take this lightly out here.”

The Suffolk County SPCA is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with information on this incident. Please call Roy Gross at 382-7722. All calls will be kept confidential.

Our Ducky Little Village

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by Penny Moser

They shot out of the carrier and into the wild like rockets. Four mallard ducks – that once had a feather duster as mom – now dabble and splash in a fine pond. Next year, they’ll pair up and make more ducks. They have no clue they owe their lives to the kindness of Sag Harbor’s finest – our police force and highway department.

I suppose I’ve been living in and working out of Sag Harbor for the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons too long, because this is the time of the year when I think of us all as Meerkats. We who remain can stick our heads up out of our holes, look around, and see if it’s safe to come out again. I easily parked on Main Street this week.

So now my mind wanders back over this summer, and into the past, to contemplate the extraordinary kindness Sag Harbor demonstrates toward its wild neighbors. We should all know the unsung little things our village workers do for us.

Take the above-mentioned ducks. Now it could be argued that in the scope of things, four mallards don’t count for much. Yet these four, who had fallen eight feet into storm drains on Jermain Avenue, surely didn’t want to die the same week they had hatched. It took a miracle and hard work to save them.

The miracle was that some people were walking around the Otter Pond – neither talking on cell phones nor listening to I-Pods – and heard three fluff balls peeping beneath the busy street.

They called the Wildlife Rescue. I drove there and commenced what I call the “Ducklings Down the Drain Drill.” This starts with a call to the police, who faithfully respond.

On this day, we had extra drama when a well-meaning citizen, in the excitement of the moment, tried to lift one of the 200 pound iron grates. He succeeded only in dropping it way down into the sewer. The ducks were okay, but Jermain Avenue was not, now having a 2×4 foot hole in it. By the time Sergeant Paul Fabiano and Officer John Natuzzi arrived to assess the situation, a fourth duck was found in another drain.

It was Memorial Day Sunday morning. So we could only imagine how happy Village Highway Department Superintendent Jim Early would be to get this call on his day off. He’d be even happier when he learned he would need heavy equipment to put the street back together.

And yet, like always, he was there for us. Soon a crowd had gathered, and traffic was slowed. Highway worker Kevin O’Brien, obviously once an Olympic gymnast, was able to lower himself in and out of the drains with great agility, coming up with a duck or two each time. So maybe he did mutter a little bit, but he was there, our hero.

Within the hour, the four little ducklings were being warmed and rehydrated at the Wildlife Hospital in Hampton Bays, sitting contentedly under a feather duster, which substituted for mom.

Last winter, after a nighttime car-duck collision on Route114, a panicked driver found one of our street ducks, with a fractured leg, wedged into his grill. Our police carefully remove the female mallard. She was in a cast for six weeks and returned to the Harbor.

A number of animals find their way into our authorities’ hearts. Officer Barbara Mott once kept an injured squirrel in the office trash can until I could pick it up. The Chief has called about a baby catbird in distress, his brother, the Detective, alerted us to a crippled seagull. One night, I was most touched by a call that the police had a woman in the station’s lobby with a dying duck. When I got there I found her, crying softly, holding its bloody body against her pink, crocheted sweater. She was whispering comfort in Spanish.

Another time police called when a six-month-old fawn had been hit by a car and fallen on Jermain near Main Street. His little legs were fine, but he had serious head trauma. Quick treatment with anti-inflammatory steroids and IV fluids, and he was up the next morning, back in the wild the next day.

Maybe the most dramatic rescue I recall involved a Southampton Town officer who called for assistance at a residence on Ferry Road near the Haerter Bridge. When I arrived, a young doe, trapped in a “deer-proof yard,” had sprung back off a fence and impaled her entire body on a metal post. The outline of the post could be seen poking up beneath the skin on her back. She just stood there, with those big doe eyes, looking back at us. “I don’t really want to shoot her,” the officer said. “Just look at her.” He added that if the shot did not go well, the bullet could travel to the neighbor’s yard. 

I tranquilized her, and in a burst of adrenaline, my husband and I lifted her body up off the post. It was almost a scene from a Woody Allen movie. The entire time, the homeowner talked about his investment strategies.

After antibiotics and minor surgery, this deer too had cheated a horrible death.

Over at the hospital we have two posters that I love. One, features our largest local pelagic bird, the Northern Gannet, with 60″ outstretched wings. Beneath it a 1965 quote from Chip Taylor of the Troggs: “Wild Thing. You make my heart sing.” Another poster is a Peregrine falcon — which can occasionally be seen in the village — pictured over a quote from 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant: “You can measure the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

We are blessed here with strong people with big hearts.