Photos by Dave Donelson
From sparrows to emus, kittens to cows, the all-volunteer organization Animal Nation rescues and rehabilitates our feathered and furry friends.
Patrick Moore rescued his first wild creature when he was 14 years old.
The teenager found a baby robin in his yard in Pound Ridge, tenderly nursed it back to health, and released it into the wild. Today, less than 20 years later, he runs Animal Nation, an organization that has saved tens of thousands of winged and four-legged creatures.
Animal Nation is who you call when you find a fawn crying for its mother in your backyard, or a goose with a gimpy wing, lurching through the park, or a turtle with a broken shell, lying helpless on the side of the road. The organization handles 5,000 such calls in an average year. “We’re going to reach 8,000 this year,” Moore says. “The pandemic sent more people outdoors for hikes and other activities where they encounter more animals that need our help.”
Jill Doornick, a wildlife rehabilitator in Rye, founded the all-volunteer organization in 2001 to help her care for rescued animals at her home. “It’s turned into something much bigger than I expected,” she says. Moore, a teenager at the time, joined forces with her in 2002 and became president in 2018. Doornick continues to support Animal Nation in various roles, including the care and release of hundreds of distressed songbirds every year, many of them hatchlings from parents who’ve disappeared.
The two had mutual passions. “I believe all the species in the world, animals and people, deserve to be treated with respect,” Doornick says. Moore adds, “We care about people, too. When someone calls about a baby bird they found on their porch, they are often distressed. We can’t just pick up the animal and forget about the people.”
Moore became a licensed wildlife rehabilitator at 16, the minimum age allowed by New York State law. “Before I got my driver’s license, my mom drove me up to New Paltz to take the rehabilitator test,” he says. “I studied my wildlife rehab books instead of what I was supposed to be reading for school.”
The care-for-all philosophy has fueled Animal Nation’s growth to an organization that operates two small farm sanctuaries in Westchester, three cat adoption centers in Fairfield County, and dozens of foster homes throughout the area. Its network of volunteers includes four licensed wildlife rehabilitators, a number of veterinarians, and about 100 individuals who feed the baby birds and kittens, muck the stalls at the farms, and administer unabashed love for the creatures in their care.
“Animal Nation has transformed my life,” says volunteer Laurie Gandal. “Not just learning from the good, hard work, but the coexistence of all those different animals is inspiring. It’s a beautiful thing.” She says her favorite animal at the moment is Henry, a big ram found emaciated and wandering loose after coyotes wiped out his flock in Mahopac. “He was afraid to eat because looking down might allow the coyotes to sneak up on him,” Gandal explains. Today, Henry lives a peaceful life at the Animal Nation sanctuary in South Salem.
“One thing that sets Animal Nation apart is that we care about all animals, not just cats and dogs,” Moore explains. “We tend to well over a thousand birds and nearly that many wild animals. Last year, we took in 40 deer, and 28 of them made it. We typically bring in 150 to 200 ducklings from airport no-fly zones or from places like the reservoirs that supply drinking water to Yonkers.” When the adult fowl are killed, the hatchlings end up at Animal Nation.
“We also get a lot of squirrels and rabbits, which have litters throughout the year,” Moore says. “We got many fox calls this year because that population seems to be booming.”
Doctors Charlie and Janice Duffy, veterinarians who own Norwalk Veterinary Hospital, provide pro bono care for wildlife rescued by Animal Nation, as do several other vets. “It’s a way for us to give back,” Janice explains. “A lot of the wildlife have broken bones and other injuries,” Charlie says. “They have been hit by cars and need surgery followed by rehabilitation. Patrick came to us with a fox with a broken pelvis recently. It stayed in the hospital for about a month, to get antibiotics and cage rest until it recovered, and was eventually released into the wild.” The Duffys have supported Animal Nation for more than 10 years and sponsor the organization’s annual fundraising dinner, as well.
Animal Nation’s work may be driven by a love for all the creatures of the world, but it also has a practical side.
“Skunks and raccoons are a particular problem in Westchester, where we have an extraordinarily high rate of rabies infections,” Moore points out. “One of the biggest issues is that Westchester doesn’t have a volunteer licensed trapper for these animals, and a commercial trapper will charge as much as $400, so people don’t know what to do. By the time the skunks are captured, they can infect three or four other animals. One of our goals is to create a wildlife center where we would have properly vaccinated and trained veterinarians and staff to take these animals in and, in conjunction with the department of health, get some of this problem under control.” Stray animals must be quarantined and handled by vaccinated personnel to protect against rabies.
Animal Nation will probably take in 500 farm animals this year, according to Moore. They come from various situations. “We rescued 118 goats from one place alone. The owner was a hoarder,” Moore says. “In August, we took in two alpacas. We’re expecting two horses from a divorce case. There are a couple of cows on the way, too.” He points out that kids hatch ducks and chicks as part of school programs, but now they’re doing it at home, due to the pandemic. People still buy baby chicks as Easter gifts for their kids, too. “They say, ‘Oh, I thought it was cute, and when it got bigger, I’d just give it to a farm.’ But these are make-believe farms. They don’t exist. So, what do you do with the chicken in your apartment?”
Then there are pigs. “I enjoy the one who was in a video that went viral when the Stamford Police spent an hour trying to catch him,” says volunteer Lindsay Perry. “Unfortunately, they don’t train police officers to catch pigs, and he became quite distressed. I named him Jesse James because he was running away from the law.” The story illustrates a problem, though: A surprising number of misguided people think pigs make cute pets but forget they are destined to grow into 200-plus-pound porkers with voracious appetites and best-kept-outdoors bathroom habits.
Pigs aren’t the only wrong choice pet seekers make. Fifi, for example, is a 12-year-old Sulcata tortoise from Africa who was brought to Animal Nation two years ago by a teenager whose parents made him give the animal up because of the smell. “You can buy a four-inch baby Sulcata online for $75,” Moore explains. “Fifi now weighs 50 pounds and is a pooping machine who will continue to grow for another hundred years!” Fifi is also a boy, by the way. The owner was mistaken about that, too.
Critters find their way to Animal Nation through many routes. The organization works with law enforcement agencies, animal control departments, other rescue organizations, and animal rights groups in the metro area. Frequent callers are the Westchester Humane Society (formerly the New Rochelle Humane Society), the ASPCA, Pet Rescue, and various nature centers. Two alpaca came last year as a result of an animal cruelty complaint. They had no shelter, food, or water at the home where they were kept. Another pair of alpaca came from a mobile petting zoo that tried to use them for birthday parties, not realizing they would kick and spit at the kids. Leila the llama came along with four sheep and a goat from a woman who was evicted from her home.
Two of the most striking residents are a pair of six-foot emus. Kevin, a girl who is misnamed as a boy, and Didgeridoo, who may be a boy or a girl, came from a woman who drove past a farm in Delaware that sold emu oil, which is extracted from the fat obtained when the bird is slaughtered for its meat. “The woman bought two chicks to save them from slaughter and brought them to us,” Patrick says. “When she got them, they were about 12 inches tall. There are nine emus at a private zoo in Bedford right now that need another home.”
“People don’t realize how many private zoos there are here,” Moore adds. “There’s one in Mount Kisco. There’s one in Greenwich. People even still try to keep monkeys as pets.” One week, in September, he was called three separate times to deal with lizards, a bearded dragon, a tegu, and a Nile monitor, dumped in various spots around the county.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed two of them, Animal Nation operated three cat adoption centers located at pet stores in Norwalk, Darien, and Stamford, specializing in hard-to-place adult cats. “We’ve probably adopted out 5,000 cats,” says Kim Foley, who volunteers with her husband, Kevin. “We had a hoarding situation last year in White Plains where we took 49 cats out of a basement. It was pretty horrific. They had a lot of medical problems.” Sadly, she says that’s not unusual. “The cats we rescue need health exams, deworming, vaccinations, spay and neuter, microchip. We couldn’t do what we do without Charlie and Janice Duffy.” The only fee Animal Nation charges is a requested donation of $150 for cats, which is a fraction of the vet bills an individual would pay otherwise.
Animal Nation’s growth has been driven by the need for its services and made possible by the devotion of its volunteers. “Many, many of them work at Animal Nation more than 40 hours a week. They really pour their hearts into it,” Moore says. That goes for him, too. Moore, who lives in South Salem, has a full-time job as an NYFD firefighter in the Bronx, a part-time job as a vet tech, and still finds 60 to 80 hours a week to devote to Animal Nation. Neither he nor anyone else on staff is paid for their work. Sleep is mostly an afterthought.
The anonymous owners of a South Salem farm have allowed Animal Nation to use their nine-acre property and barn for the last 14 years at no cost. A neighbor this year added an abutting 10-acre farm on the same basis. That’s where the wildlife and farm-animal rehabilitation take place and animals who can’t be released into the wild find sanctuary. Those generous arrangements aren’t necessarily permanent, however, and donors are sought to fund their purchase. Development planning is underway for another 35 acres in Pound Ridge that was deeded to Animal Nation last year by another anonymous donor, but its ultimate use remains uncertain.
The only thing for sure is that rescue calls at Animal Nation never stop. Neither does the need for financial support. A thousand birds and animals must be fed, fences repaired, the light bill must be paid. The organization’s annual operating budget is less than $100,000. Even with all the donated care, vet bills last year ate up nearly half that amount.
Animal Nation doesn’t just provide a service; its very existence delivers a message: “We point to the ducks and the pigs and the turkeys and the goats who all live happily together,” Moore says. “None of them are like each other, so we as people should be able to get along with each other, too.”
Volunteer Laurie Gandal says it another way: “People forget that we are just one creature on earth, this big barnyard of life.”
Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison amid a small menagerie of four adult dogs, four puppies, and a cat who is above it all.