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Animals

A honey bee drinks nectar and transports pollen through the process. Photo by Polly Weigand

They buzz and flutter and are disappearing from Long Island’s environment.

Monarch caterpillar eats milkweed, its only food source. Photos by Polly Weigand

Pollinators, bees and butterflies are in decline on Long Island and nationwide, a situation that experts say is threatening the food supply. Ladybugs, too, are a threatened population.

To address a range of human health concerns, Executive Director of Long Island Native Plant Initiative Polly Weigand aims to repopulate the Island’s communities with native species plants and shrubs to re-establish important lost habitat for pollinators. The idea is to protect human healthy by preserving food and water supplies.

“Native plants provide food and habitat for wildlife,” Weigand said. “And it reduces the need for pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation, ultimately protecting Long Island’s groundwater supply.”

Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook and St. James is a big supporter of the initiative. The site’s 140 acres were restored to include only native plants and shrubs. As it expands to 210 acres, it’s repopulating the land with a palette of native flora.

Homeowners can also take part in the movement.

Creating native habitats in your own landscape contributes solutions to many serious concerns and therefore, can be rewarding for Long Islanders.

The caterpillar then forms its chrysalis on the underside of the milkweed leaf before it emerges as a butterfly. Photo by Polly Weigand

“Protecting Long Island’s aquifer — the sole source of all our drinking water — is critically important,” said Seth Wallach, community outreach coordinator for Suffolk County Water Authority. “We also strongly encourage all Long Islanders to visit www.OurWaterOurLives.com to learn how they can help, and take the pledge to conserve water.”

The native solution

The first step for any landscape project, Weigand said, is to identify the light, soil and water conditions. 

“When you plant native species in the right location, that’s it,” she said. 

Milkweed and asters are two very versatile plants to consider, she added. The milkweed’s leaves provide habitat for Monarch butterfly eggs and forage for the caterpillar. Its blossoms can also provide nectar once the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Butterfly metamorphosis, a miraculous process to witness, can potentially take place in your own yard.

“People plant gardens for butterflies but perhaps they could consider planting gardens or areas for caterpillars,” Dan Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.  “This might help support some butterfly populations as well as help birds, many of which include some caterpillars as a large part of their diet, and many caterpillars are quite beautiful and interesting.” 

Three of Long Island’s more abundant native milkweed varieties include common milkweed, butterfly milkweed and swamp milkweed. Common milkweed and butterfly weed are good choices for sunny and dry locations. The swamp and butterfly weed habit grows in clumps, whereas the common milkweed is a rhizome that tends to spread across larger areas through an underground root system.

Goldenrod is also a good choice, she said.

“It’s a myth that it causes allergies,” Weigand said. “Goldenrod pollen is not dispersed by wind.”

For shrubs, bayberry is a nice option. Its fragrance lingers on your fingertips after touching it and evokes the scent of a beach vacation. It’s also beneficial to birds.

Butterfly drinks nectar from the milkweed. Photo by Polly Weigand

“Its waxy fruit is crucial high-energy food for migrating birds in the fall,” Weigand said. 

Choke berries and service berries are also good landscape options. Aronia not only flowers in the spring and displays bright foliage in the fall, Weigand said, its berries are edible and is similar to the acai, which has become a popular breakfast food.

Long Island Native Plant Initiative operates a website chock full of information with images on native plants (www.linpi.org). The nursery sells both wholesale and retail. Weigand encourages people to request native plants at your local garden center to help create demand.

“I love sitting and watching the many different types of pollinators attracted to native plants,” Weigand said. She recommends observing and learning to appreciate the show. “It’s native plant television.”

Students got to interact with therapy dogs before the start of their exams. Photo from Andrew Harris

In the Comsewogue High School cafeteria, where the air would usually becomes tense with the anticipation of final exams at the end of the school year, signs were posted on empty chairs during regents week which read, “Come pet me… and chill.”

School Social Worker Taylor Zummo said that the dogs had an incredible impact on the students. Photo from Andrew Harris

Quickly those empty chairs filled up and lines started to form behind them. Sitting in the now filled chair was a student who would be taking their regents within the next few minutes. Opposite them was a therapy dog and it’s handler, both welcoming the student to relieve a little stress with a friendly canine.

“They have a calming effect on people,” said Bill Bodkin, a retired teacher and administrator at the high school. “The animals benefit just as much as the humans do. Medically, it lowers blood pressure and the pulse rate of the person petting them.”

Bodkin’s dog, Corey, was trained with the Smithtown-based nonprofit Guide Dog Foundation, and together they often visit hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

The idea of bringing in dogs before the regents exams was welcomed by high school Principal Joseph Coniglione. The dogs were an instant hit, with students gravitated to the dogs and some stayed with them up until the instant they went to take their exams.

Several other therapy dogs were sent in from Dog Works in Holtsville, where they go through rigorous training to become certified.

“These dogs are very unique, and not all of them make it through the process.” Said Deb Feliziani, who works for Holbrook-based Dog Works and is the owner and trainer for the hounds Gabby, Bette and Comet, all who levelled their training to aid the high schoolers.

In addition to the therapy dogs, district teachers said students were taught meditation and breathing techniques to help lower stress and anxiety before testing.

“As students waited to take their regents exams, in a room that is typically filled with nervousness and fear, there was a lighthearted energy that took over as they interacted with the therapy dogs,” said Taylor Zummo, a high school social worker. “Between the smiles on their faces and the laughs of excitement, it was clear that these dogs had an incredible impact on the students. There is something quite powerful that happens when dogs are in a room, and it was apparent that the students could feel it too.”

Tom King, a special education teacher, has been taking his own certified therapy dog named Bailey, a Labradoodle, to class for years. King and Bailey walked around to students who had pre-testing jitters and were quickly surrounded by them all wanting to pet Bailey.

From left, retired teacher Bill Bodkin, Teacher Dave Hughes and Principal Joe Coniglione said the dogs lightened the mood for students taking the regents. Photo from Andrew Harris

Overall, the visits were a huge success, said Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher and advocate for therapy and service dogs who helped get the dogs to the high school.

“I saw many of my students light up when a dog comes to visit our class,” he said. “I especially see this for students with Autism and decided to make it a part of my curriculum. You would be amazed if you saw the level of excellence these students rise to when they know a dog is visiting.”

Harris added he has been training dogs for years, though he had taken advice from Feliziani to travel to Canada to find the “perfect dog.” This young hound named Ramsey has learned to alert people with medical emergencies and assist with walking up and down stairs. At only 11 months he can climb ladders, complete obstacle courses and assist people. At home, the dog acts a protector and house pet to him and his family.

“He has been in training since the day he was born and has taken rides on various forms of public transportation and socialized with people and other animals,” Harris said. “I think it helps me be a better teacher because you continually learn positive reinforcement.”

Teachers at the high school said they expect to utilize the dogs in the future in the school district.

Information provided by Andrew Harris

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The Smithtown Historical Society hosted a Spring Farm Festival in celebration of the season May 4. The family event included children’s games and crafts, pony rides and a petting zoo. 

Artisans demonstrated traditional farm skills, such as sheep shearing, yarn spinning and weaving, wood-working and ironworking. The barn and carriage house were also open for the public to view. 

All photos by David Ackerman.

Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

By Daniel Dunaief

Heather Lynch is thrilled that she’s in the first class of scientists chosen as a recipient of the National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant.

An associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, Lynch uses computers to study satellite images to reveal details about populations of penguins.

In addition to determining how many penguins are in an area, Lynch also can use images of the stains penguin poop leaves on rocks to determine what the penguins eat. Krill, which feeds on the underside of ice, is reddish or pinkish, while fish leave a white stain.

Heather Lynch with a penguin. Photo from Heather Lynch

A total of 11 researchers won the grants, which are a combined award from Microsoft and the National Geographic Society and were announced in December. The winners were chosen from more than 200 qualified scientists.

“This is the first grant that National Geographic and Microsoft are doing,” Lynch said. “It’s super exciting to be in the inaugural group.”

To hear from Lynch’s colleagues, she is an extraordinary candidate for a host of awards, including recognition as one of the TBR News Media People of the Year for 2018.

In addition to landing a coveted grant for her innovative research using sophisticated computers and satellite images, Lynch earlier this year made a remarkable discovery using Landsat imagery about a population of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands in the Antarctic that was largely unknown prior to her published paper.

This archipelago of nine islands, which were named because of the ice that is impenetrable in most years, was home to 1.5 million penguins, which she surveyed using a combination of photos, drone imagery and hand counting. That figure represents a substantial population of a charismatic animal whose numbers often are used as a way to determine the health of a delicate region managed by a collection of nations.

“She does such good work,” said Patricia Wright, a distinguished service professor at Stony Brook University and the founder and executive director of Centre ValBio, a research station in Madagascar. Her discovery of the additional Adélie penguins was “fantastic.”

Lynch received some pushback from people who thought the discovery of these penguins ran counter to the narrative about the need for conservation. Wright appreciates how Lynch shared the discovery with the public, reinforcing her scientific credibility.

“She’s an example of a scientist who doesn’t give in to political pressure,” Wright said. “It’s difficult sometimes to face up to people who have good intentions, but who don’t seem to want to accept the reality.”

While the discovery of the Adélie penguins was remarkable, it doesn’t necessarily run contrary to the notion about the delicate balance of the Antarctic ecosystem, and it also doesn’t indicate that the population is soaring in a way the flightless water fowl never will. Indeed, the 1.5 million penguins may have been higher in the 1990s, although she is working to pin down exactly how much larger they might have once been.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

Lynch has also won admiration and appreciation from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who recently won his 14th term and has focused attention on environmental issues.

“Her ability to use statistics and mathematics to further conservation biology is pioneering work and worthy of recognition,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman believes scientists and policymakers are still in the early part of the process of understanding the complexity of the ecosystems in the Antarctic.

Finding the penguins on the Danger Islands doesn’t mean the “Antarctic is any less at risk. We still have to place that discovery into its proper context and [Lynch] is helping us do that,” Englebright said.

People who have ventured to the Antarctic with her admire Lynch’s focus, energy
and stamina.

Michelle LaRue, who is a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, suggested that Lynch was “the most hardworking scientist that I know.”

LaRue recalled a time when Lynch was ill, and she still got up and did her job every day.

“The work we were doing wasn’t easy,” LaRue said. “I know she didn’t feel well and she kept going. She has a lot of perseverance.”

LaRue appreciates how her fellow scientist sees the “forest for the trees,” using a combination of high technology and considerable on-site counting to understand what changes in the penguin population reveal about the region.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University, has also worked with Lynch for years. He appreciates how she’s “not afraid of uncertainty. In science, it’s knowing how well you know something. She’s amazing at taking data and information, which from the natural world is messy, and analyzing it and helping people pull useful and meaningful knowledge from complex situations.”

Ron Naveen, who founded the nonprofit group Oceanites in 1987, has worked with Lynch for 11 years.

“I’m very much proud of her work ethic and the standard of excellence she brings to the job,” Naveen said.

Oceanites collaborates with Lynch and others, Naveen said, to understand how penguins have reacted to climate change in an area where temperatures have been increasing at a faster rate than they have for much of the rest of the world.

Naveen recalls how Lynch, whom he describes as “petite and energetic” lugged around “amazingly heavy equipment,” including a camera for a Google Earth project.

“Whether [Lynch] is hiking, using a satellite or a drone, or lugging equipment that’s heavier than she is, she gets the data,” Naveen said.

He recalled a lab meeting with Lynch, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland in the lab of William Fagan. Lynch circled the room as she wrote on the board, sharing statistical language to explain a point.

“I had no bloody idea what she was talking about,” Naveen said. “When she was done, she sat down with a smile, and I raised my hand and innocently asked, ‘Would you mind translating that into plain English?’ Without missing a beat, she did.”

By all accounts, she’s continuing to do that.

A photo of Jose Borgos who allegedly left dogs out in freezing temperatures. Photo from SCPD

More than 20 dogs were left out in the cold in Rocky Point until a local police officer saw them and took action.

Jose Borgos, a 52-year-old Rocky Point resident, allegedly left 21 Rottweilers out in freezing temperatures Nov. 22 at his house on Broadway. Seventh Precinct Officer Karen Grenia was on patrol when she heard dogs barking at about 10 a.m., according to a Suffolk County Police Department press release. The officer discovered the dogs in Borgos’ backyard, nine of which were found in travel crates in a shed.

Borgos, who identified to police as a dog breeder, was charged with 21 counts of violating the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law pertaining to appropriate shelter for dogs left outdoors, which requires dog owners to provide appropriate shelter to dogs existing out in inclement or harmful weather. He was also charged with 21 counts of violating Suffolk County code on outdoor restraint of animals, which prohibits dogs from being tethered outside when the temperature is below freezing.

Information on Borgos’ attorney has not yet been made available, and he was scheduled for arraignment at a later date.

The Town of Brookhaven Animal Control will determine the placement of the dogs, the police statement said.

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Partisanship is a distressing topic these days. We are a divided country on so many issues, and savvy candidates in the upcoming elections try to sooth that aggravation by offering to reach across the aisle to get the nation’s business done. But here is an age-old question that is simply unbridgeable: Which are smarter, dogs or cats?

Now many of us have heard of Chaser, a border collie from Spartanburg, S.C., who understood 1,022 nouns. His owner was John Pilley, a scientist who studied canine cognition and trained his pet as part of his work. There was also a border collie named Rico who could identify 200 items. These dogs helped us reach the conclusion that dogs were extraordinarily intelligent and certainly smarter than cats. But had their partisanship colored the verdict of remarkable canine smarts on the part of owner-scientists?

Currently there seems to be a study for every question, and this one is no exception. Stephen Lea, an emeritus professor in the psychology department of the University of Exeter in Devon, England, along with Britta Osthaus, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, England, conducted one such study, according to a recent Laura Holson article in The New York Times. The results are published in the journal Learning & Behavior. In the interests of full disclosure, Lea confessed that he was a cat person. Nonetheless the scientists tried to impartially compare dog cognition with three similar groups: carnivores, social hunters and domestic animals. Among those selected were wolves, cats, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons.

Here is what they found.

Dogs cannot use tools, unlike dolphins, New Caledonian crows and chimpanzees, which according to The Times, can harness plant stems to fish for termites. Homing pigeons are trained to fly home over great distances, and probably would be more trustworthy to travel on a 1,000-mile errand than a dog, Lea believes. Domestic animals, like horses, can also impress with their learned tasks and tricks. Dogs seem smart in part, Lea said, “because they like to be trained.” The same cannot always be said for cats.

In my dog-owning years, some 45 all together, I’ve loved and enjoyed the company of three golden retrievers and one royal (the largest) standard poodle. From this small sample, I would conclude that the poodle was the smartest. When I would sit on the sofa and read the newspaper, he would hop up on the cushion next to me, sitting upright as people and that breed do, and peer over my shoulder. I swear I think he was reading the paper, much as paperless people used to do to their paper-toting seatmates on subways before the arrival of the smartphone.

So all right, I am a bit partisan.

The conclusion that Lea’s study reaches is that dogs “are not smarter than they are supposed to be, given what they are.”

Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe and a dog lover, recognizes merit in Lea’s study. He explains that Lea is not putting dogs down but rather putting them in their proper context. What Wynne touts about dogs is their outstanding capacity for affection.

Cats, I feel, are more aloof. So while Lea concludes that dogs are not particularly extraordinary, I would say that by being so affectionate toward humans, they have created the best possible lives for themselves. I once had a plumber working in my house who, eyeing my dog asleep on a pillow, told me, “In the next life I want to return as an American dog.”

Now if that doesn’t show superior intelligence on the part of dogs and their ability to earn that kind of existence, I’m not sure what could reveal a higher IQ. Certainly our elected officials are not nearly so endearing.

A popular Sound Beach event for a good cause took place Sept. 22, but this year it was renamed to honor a late friend and participant.

For the sixth time, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its pet adopt-a-thon in the parking lot of the Hartlin Inn on New York Avenue, during which representatives from local animal groups and shelters set up shop and push for the adoption of dogs, cats and more looking for permanent homes. During adopt-a-thons past, Sound Beach father-daughter duo Sal and Gina Mingoia provided the musical accompaniment to the event, singing and playing instruments throughout the day. This year, Gina had to perform without her dad, who died after a battle with cancer in 2017. This year and going forward, the event will be known as The Sal Mingoia Pet Adopt-A-Thon.

“Sal loved animals, and everybody loved Sal,” said Bea Ruberto, Sound Beach Civic Association president and organizer of the event. “So we checked with the family to see if it was OK with them. They said great, they loved it, so that’s why we changed the name. And that’s what it’s going to be named from now on.”

Sal Mingoia was described as a gentle, caring soul by civic association member and Sound Beach resident Ernestine Franco.

“Although he’s gone, Sal’s kindness and generosity are not forgotten,” she said.

The event always leads to the adoption of quite a few animals, according to Ruberto, who said this year four cats, three dogs and a guinea pig were adopted, though applications are pending for the adoption of eight more cats and six other dogs. More than $1,100 was raised through donations and auction items, as well as from the sale of digital pet caricatures done on-site at the event by 19-year-old Sound Beach resident Brianna Florio using a drawing tablet. Funds raised were distributed to the animal organizations in attendance.

Ruberto credited volunteers and civic members for helping to set up and execute the event and gave special thanks to Boy Scout Troop 244 for helping to set up. A local band called Random Notes even showed up unexpectedly and offered to take turns with Gina providing music for the event, Ruberto said.

“Over the time that I’ve been involved with this event, I’ve never had to really go looking for people to step up and help — they just show up and offer their time and talent,” Ruberto said.

A dog is rescued from flood waters of Hurrican Harvey in Texas. Photo from Mark Freeley's GoFundMe

After internet sensation Storm, an English golden retriever, saved a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor, now owner Mark Freely is looking to help others.

Last Chance Animal Rescue is teaming up with Freeley’s North Shore Injury Lawyer and volunteer Jeff Segal, owner of Boom Event Source, to help thousands of animals affected and displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Freeley is an animal adoption event leader, foster and pro bono attorney for Last Chance Animal Rescue on Long Island. He said the organization has a truck leaving next Wednesday, Sept. 6, being driven by Segal’s friend transporting all needed supplies to Texas, according to an email from Freeley.

There is a need for donations of dog and cat food bowls, leashes, collars, collapsible crates, cat litter and disposable litter pans.

“Last Chance has already stepped up to donate many of their existing donations to help these animals who are in dire need,” Freeley said of the Southampton-based nonprofit. “Donations will help us to send these items to Texas, and purchased items can also be donated to us.”

Items to be donated must be handed in no later than Sept. 5. Items can be brought to Freeley’s law office at 144 Woodbury Rd. in Woodbury from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., to Boom Event Source located at 11 Michael Avenue in Farmingdale from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or to the Last Chance adoption event at the Selden Petco Sept. 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A truck will be dropping off supplies to the George Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, which is housing over 400 animals and 8,000 people, to San Antonio Pets Alive Rescue and some will also be dropped off at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, which will be taking in 200 displaced rescue animals from the Texas flooding.

“They are so desperately need our help, and as much as possible,” Freeley said. “The animals of Texas are counting on us.”

Freeley has already collected $2,200 from 41 people in less than 24 hours after creating a GoFundMe page to help the cause. The current goal is $3,000.

“Thank you for helping these poor animals,” Danielle DiNovi said with her donation.

“God bless the victims of Hurricane Harvey,” wrote Geri Napolitano with a contribution to the cause, “both big and small.”

A brave dog took Port Jefferson Harbor by storm to rescue a flailing fawn July 16, and as a result has become a national celebrity. A video was posted on Facebook Sunday morning of Storm, a dog owned by Setauket resident Mark Freeley, bounding into Port Jeff harbor to rescue a drowning baby deer as Freeley watched from the shore and urged his dog to bring the deer in. By Wednesday, several million shares and views later, the video had gone viral and Storm was set to be honored by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Freeley said it best at the conclusion of the one-minute video: “Good boy, Storm!” Check back next week for a full story on the local hero.

Guardians of Rescue members cut the chain holding Bear. Photo from Guardians of Rescue.

One dog in Smithtown has more than a few guardian angels watching over him.

Bear has spent 15 years chained to a doghouse in the backyard of a Smithtown home, but as of Jan. 23, he’s officially off the leash. The black lab has Guardians of Rescue, a Smithtown-based organization that works to provide aid to animals in distress, including facilitating foster programs, rehabilitation and assisting other rescue groups, to thank for his new-found freedom.

“We received a call about a dog in need of a doghouse,” Robert Misseri, founder and president of the group, said. “But when we got there, it was even worse than that. That’s when we discovered the poor dog had spent his whole life attached to a heavy chain. We knew then and there that we had to do something to make a difference in that dog’s life, and so we did.” The group said Bear had endured harsh winters with little attention.

The guardians said they spoke with the dog owner, who agreed to surrender the animal to the rescue group.

“It’s excellent,” Misseri said as Bear was cut free from the chains. “It’s nice to see the dog get off the chain after 15 years and live out the rest of its life with a nice older family, perhaps who will treat him right. He’ll lay around inside and have a good rest of his life.”

Bear was cut free, loaded into the front seat of a pickup and sent to the groomer. The group is currently searching for a permanent home for Bear.

The rescue group said its plan is to make Bear veggie burgers, take him to dog parks, on car rides and even get him into an indoor pool. The helpers also want to make sure he’s able to spend some time lying in front of a warm fireplace.

“Our mission is to help rescue as many animals as we can, but we can’t do it without the help of the community,” Misseri said. “One phone call from someone in the community set the wheels in motion that have changed Bear’s life. That’s a true success story and why we exist.”

Guardians of Rescue has a new show “The Guardians,” which airs on Animal Planet Saturdays at 10 p.m. The show depicts the work of the group as they travel Long Island rescuing animals and providing them with a better life.

The community can assist the group by watching out for animals in need and contacting the organization when they see one in distress. To learn more or get involved, visit www.guardiansofrescue.org.