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Guardians of Rescue

By Kyle Barr

Fallen U.S. Airman Christopher Raguso, who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash, promised his Commack family he would get them a dog upon his return. Although he never came home, a local organization has stepped in to fulfill his pledge.

Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps connect dogs with veterans and retired law
enforcement as companion animals or to be trained as service dogs, gifted a 4-month-old black Labrador named Calvin to the family Aug. 24.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night I was so excited,” Raguso’s wife, Carmela, said. “We needed this — we’re wounded, our dad was a warrior, our hearts are broken and maybe this dog can help us.”

Carmela Raguso told her two daughters, Eva, 5, and Mila,7, when the truck rolled up it was just their family friend, Joe Bachert, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, bringing his own dogs for them to play with. Instead, Bachert came out of the vehicle with Calvin cradled in his arms.

Eva ran forward with her arms outstretched, screaming with delight, and started to hug and kiss the young pooch. Mila asked her mother if the dog was theirs, who responded that of course he was. 

“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Eva said, as she held Calvin’s head close to hers. “I like him so much.”

Raguso’s wife said Eva took the death of her father hard. The couple’s youngest had taken to sleeping in bed with her, “to keep her father’s side of the bed warm.” Now, with the addition of Calvin, Eva said she will be sleeping in her own bed with Calvin always at her side.

“To have this dog be her buddy and especially be her sleeping buddy, maybe she’ll sleep well,” Raguso’s wife said. “It’s been tough, but we put one foot in front of the other — we honor the dead by living.”

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in the line of duty when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

“One can’t even imagine what the family is going through, and we hope that this adds a little sunlight to their lives because they’ve been in darkness for some time,” said Smithtown resident Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War.

The black Lab was just one of a litter of 11 puppies that Paws of War’s sister organization and nonprofit rescue group Guardians of Rescue saved from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana, days before they would have been put down, according to Misseri. The rest of the dogs will be given to other veterans and veterans’ families either as a companion animal or be fully trained as a service dog.

The Nesconset nonprofit provided the Raguso family with a puppy starter kit that included everything from food to toys, and even a cage. Calvin is already leash trained and housebroken, and Misseri said the rest of the dog’s training will be provided for free.

“The goal is just to make their lives better and put smiles on their faces,” said Bachert, who is a member of Paws of War and served as Raguso’s drill instructor in the Commack firefighter academy.

By all accounts, Calvin was excited to be with his new family, but he was still nervous of new places. As the family tried to bring him into the house the young puppy shied away from the door. 

It was only when Eva went inside, suddenly upset by a rush of emotions, that Calvin darted after her. He instinctively knew his role with the family, to comfort them in their continued grief.

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown volunteers hopped to saving nearly 30 domestic rabbits that were left alone and abandoned in a tick and poison ivy infected stretch of forest last week in Ronkonkoma.

Smithtown-based nonprofit Guardians of Rescue received a tip about the illegally released rabbits and reached out to local animal rescue groups for help. Volunteers spent close to two full days overall, May 27 and 28, capturing 27 rabbits that had been marooned in a forest near the Ronkonkoma train station commuter parking lot. One was found dead in the forest and another died while receiving care.

“These particular rabbit breeds were not suited for the wild,” Robert Misseri, the president of Guardians of Rescue said. “There is no telling how long they would have lasted, but it would have not been long.”

After Misseri got a tip from a local feral cat rescuer, he said he put the call out to several local animal rescue groups including the Sound Beach-based nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League.

Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves.”

– Frankie Floridia

The first rabbit that Erica Kutzing, vice president for the Strong Island rescue group, saw when she arrived at the forest was larger than any wild rabbit should have been. It was a Flemish Giant, a huge breed of rabbit known for being extremely calm around humans. Kutzing got down to its level and laid out rabbit feed in a line and the rabbit loped toward her. From behind her, Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island rescue, flashed out with a net and caught the rabbit. Kutzing held it as she brought it back to their car. It was nearly as big as a small dog.

“Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves,” Floridia said. “They were giving those rabbits a death sentence.

Many of the rabbits found were of different breeds including Lionheads and Flemish Giants. Some had obviously interbred with each other, which makes the rescue groups believe all these animals were held together in only a few small cages.

“Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds,” Kutzing said. “It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”

Misseri said he suspects the person who abandoned the rabbits might have been breeding them.

Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds. It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”

– Erica Kutzing

Many of the animals were sick with pneumonia. Others were injured by the cage they were kept in and the rabbits they were caged with, according to Misseri. Several had cysts on their skin and many were suffering from malnourishment. The first rabbit Strong Island rescue captured is currently being nursed back to health, and they have named it André the Giant after the famous French wrestler and actor.

“Once we caught him we were running through the woods, it was just net after net after net,” Kutzing said. “And you have to be careful picking these guys up because if they kick strong enough they’ll break their backs, if they get too frightened they can have a heart attack. They have paper-thin skin so if you handle them wrong you can tear the skin.”

The rescued rabbits have been sent out to multiple animal rescue operations in the surrounding area. Six were taken in by Guardians of Rescue, but all those have already been fostered out. Several more were taken in by Long Island Orchestrating for Nature from Malverne, the Connecticut-based Hopalong Hollow Rabbit Rescue and Queens-based All About Rabbits Rescue.

The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has put out a $3,500 reward for a person who leads them and authorities to the person who abandoned the animals. Several local animal rescue groups donated money toward that reward, namely Guardians of Rescue, Strong Island Animal Rescue League and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature who  put up $500 each, while the SPCA and All About Rabbits Rescue put up $1,000 each.

This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County.”

– Vivian Barna

“We at the SPCA take this very seriously, especially in cases of abandonment like this,” Suffolk SPCA President Roy Gross said. “This is a case of abandonment and animal cruelty, and so the person or persons involved in this are up for criminal charges. All that person had to do was to pick up a phone, call any of these organizations and we would have found a home for them, but instead he abandoned them.”

Vivian Barna, who runs All About Rabbits Rescue, took in six of the rabbits, and said that rabbit abandonment on Long Island, especially in Suffolk, is endemic.

“This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County,” Barna said. “This is about our fourth or fifth recent rescue. We had rescued 25 in Bohemia back in December 2016, another set in Northport not too long ago. These rabbits were just deprived. They had illnesses including upper respiratory problems, intestinal parasites, and these six rabbits are costing us close to $2,500 to give them that care.”

Gross said there have been instances of rabbit abandonment recently not too far from where the rabbits were dumped in Ronkonkoma.

“We had a case just recently of other rabbits dumped in Lake Ronkonkoma,” Gross said. “This may possibly be the same person, but there’s no way right now to be sure.”

All rescue groups mentioned in the story said that if people were interested in fostering the rabbits or wished to donate to call to call and inquire. People inquiring about the rescued rabbits can call the
Guardians of Rescue at 888-287-3864.

The SPCA said that any tips about the person who abandoned the rabbits can be sent to their phone number 631-382-7722. All calls will be anonymous.

Tito was sick and in pain when the group rescued him in New Jersey. Photos from Guardians of Rescue Facebook

A Smithtown-based animal rescue group is continuing to guard the community’s most vulnerable.

Guardians of Rescue, a nonprofit organization, rescued Tito, a seven-year-old Argentine Mastiff who was found in a junkyard in New Jersey Feb. 2. The group works to provide aid to animals in distress, including facilitating foster programs, rehabilitation and assisting other rescue groups. The Guardians said Tito was mistreated, neglected and was near death when they rescued him.

“This dog was in such horrible condition that he could barely walk,” Robert Misseri, founder and president of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “He has been severely neglected and it’s so sad to see. We had to act and do what we can to change things for him.”

Tito is now a healthy and happy dog. Photos from Guardians of Rescue Facebook

According to the group, a good Samaritan in the New Jersey community originally found Tito and told the Guardians about the condition he was living in. The community member said they attempted many times to get Tito’s owner to surrender the dog to no avail, and eventually the Guardians were called in to help. Tito had been living in a mechanic’s shop his whole life and may have been being used for breeding purposes. When rescued he had severe ear infections in both ears, which has lead to hearing loss, was 35 pounds underweight, was living in constant pain and could barely walk. He was also filthy and had teeth that were decaying.

The owner wanted to continue breeding Tito, despite the fact he was emaciated and could barely walk, the group said. After being evaluated by the resident veterinarian, he and members of the Guardians convinced the pet owner to surrender Tito.

“No one knows how much longer he would have survived, but for however long it was painful each day just for him to live,” Dr. Marvin “Moose” Baynes, the Guardians’ resident veterinarian, said in a statement. “Tito is recovering and doing well. He’s lucky to have been rescued and we will do all we can to help him make a recovery.”

The group is ensuring he gets the proper medical care he needs, and will work to find him a proper and loving home where he can live out the rest of his life.

Tito is currently living with Baynes as he continues to have his health evaluated and receive treatment.

Last month, the Guardians rescued a dog named Bear who had been living chained to a doghouse for 15 years. He was adopted in January and now is in a safe and happy home.

Guardians of Rescue has a new show called “The Guardians,” which airs on Animal Planet on Saturdays at 10 p.m. To learn more about the nonprofit or to donate, visit www.guardiansofrescue.org.

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.

Bailey brought comfort to personnel in Afghanistan

Bailey’s journey isn’t over yet, but she has found her home again after reuniting with Staff Sgt. Kevin Brady at the Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station on July 4.

Fireworks popped in the distance as the Anatolian shepherd mix whined, wagged her tail and moved frantically around Brady, whom she had not seen in a couple of months.

The National Guardsman and his unit took in Bailey in the fall, when she was about eight weeks old. The dog had previously been tagging along with the Afghani army and the American unit quickly became attached to her. Brady, who recently finished his second tour, said she provided comfort to soldiers who were away from their kids, families and pets.

When the unit went back stateside, “Just leaving her there just didn’t seem right.”

That’s where the Guardians of Rescue came in. Dori Scofield, the group’s vice president as well as Save-A-Pet’s founder, said Brady contacted her three months ago about bringing Bailey to the United States. Guardians of Rescue, which rescues and finds homes for animals in need, raised $5,000 in nine days to help the soldier and “his battle buddy Bailey.”

Guardians of Rescue president Robert Misseri said Afghanistan can be a hostile environment for a dog, and when some people find a dog U.S. soldiers have left behind, they will kill it.

For all military personnel do for their country, “the least we can do is help them get their war buddy home,” Scofield said.

Staff Sgt. Kevin Brady is reunited with Bailey the dog, above, on Independence Day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Staff Sgt. Kevin Brady is reunited with Bailey the dog, above, on Independence Day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Nowzad, an organization that rescues dogs in Afghanistan, brought the dog to Kabul for her vaccinations and to get her spayed, she said. Bailey, who is now about 11 months old, made a stop at a kennel in Dubai before being shipped to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Scofield picked her up there on July 2.

“I walked into the cargo area and heard ‘Woof woof.’”

Scofield said Brady had been in constant contact with her and when she told him the dog was having a bath, he texted back, “She went from peasant to princess.”

Bailey waited at Save-A-Pet for a couple of days for her soldier to pick her up and take her with him on a road trip back to his home in Sacramento, Calif., where Brady has two sons.

The staff sergeant, who is still on active duty, is also a deputy sheriff in nearby Placer County.

Scofield said Bailey “loves everybody, but she’s looking for him.”

When Scofield brought Bailey outside to where Brady was waiting on the afternoon of July 4, she ran to her whistling friend and whined as he laughed and petted her.

“She got a lot bigger,” Brady said.

Bailey may have been unsure when she first went outside to be reunited with her buddy, Scofield said, but when Brady whistled to her, “you saw the light bulb go off in her head.”

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