Photos courtesy of Taylor Ganis
For decades, the live animals at the Dyson College Nature Center have been a cornerstone of the school’s environmental sciences department. Now, amid pandemic budget cuts, the animalia might be on their way out.
“The Dyson College Nature Center is a focal point on Pace University’s Pleasantville campus and serves as a component of the Dyson College Institute for Sustainability and the Environment and resource for the overall university community, and the general public.”
That’s how Pace University’s own website describes the nature center built around the remnants of an 18th Century farmhouse. The center provides educational and office space for the school’s environmental studies students and faculty, as well as a home to livestock like sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, and even more eclectic creatures like birds of prey, working border collies, and the center’s newly certified honeybees. Soon, though, students and visitors will see fewer familiar fuzzy faces should they stop by.
Recently, Pace announced that due to budget cuts in the wake of the pandemic’s ongoing economic trouble, the school would be forced to rehome the school’s resident animals.
“We found out this past Thursday that the University is going to remove all of our animals and give them to other places,” says Environmental Studies senior Taylor Ganis. “I specifically chose Pace because it has a unique farm that not many other colleges have. It made Pace stand out to me, and from what I’ve been hearing from others, the farm made Pace stand out to them as well.”
Ganis, along with other students and animal keepers at the nature center, has launched a Change.org petition hoping to get the school to reconsider its position, which has already garnered over 1,600 signatures and messages of support from current and former students.
“The Nature Center and the animals there were pretty much the sole reason I chose to go to Pace,” comments alumna Natasha Perdomo. “It’s a vital part of the Pace campus! It’s not only cherished by the Environmental Department, but by the whole Pace community. Many people, myself included, volunteer there to gain experience working with animals or simply use it as a way to destress and escape college stressors. The Pace community needs the animals at the Nature Center!”
Not solely relying on the administration to find alternative budget cuts to help maintain the nature center, Ganis has also launched a GoFundMe campaign so the Westchester community can donate to the school and aid the cause. Ganis seeks to raise $4,200 to pay for the animals’ feed for the coming year — estimating $,2000 for the farm animals, $1,200 for the birds of prey, and another $1,000 for the songbirds.
If students manage to raise more than the initial goal of $4,200, the excess will be put towards further Nature Center upkeep. Should the administration still be forced to relocate the animals, the raised funds will go toward preservation of the rest of the nature center.
Ganis says student workers are willing to volunteer their time for free, but the initial fundraising goal still wouldn’t cover the costs of center maintenance, veterinary bills, or the salaries of animal supervisors and staff. “We realized we were going to need to prove to Pace that we the students can help fund this center with the help of generous donors and sponsors,” she says.
Sadly, when reached for comment the university estimated complete costs for maintaining the Nature Center as-is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Our goal is to provide Pace University students with the experiential learning they need to succeed in their careers,” the school says in a statement to Westchester Magazine. “After a thorough analysis, the Nature Center in Westchester is being converted to a living laboratory with flora only. This better supports our academic programs, provides the strongest options for programming based on student interest and career opportunities, will save on costs, and is similar to farms at other colleges.”
Pace, however, does assure that the animals will be safely relocated to new homes in the region. “We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of our animals and they will be placed in new homes with other organizations in the region by the end of the year. This was a difficult decision and the animals will be missed.”
“I have worked with these animals for many years and I know they will be highly stressed in a new environment,” Ganis worries. “We have a very old sheep, that I don’t know will do well if moved around near the end of its life.” She adds, “Some of our animals are also rescues that have gone through so much to get to this wonderful farm at Pace.”
To donate to saving the Pace University Dyson College Nature Center, click here.