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Strong Island Animal Rescue

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.

Suffolk County Executive presents Setauket pet with proclamation

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents Storm, an English golden retriever, with a proclamation for rescuing a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor. Photo by Kevin Redding

A local English golden retriever has earned a lifetime of “Good boy!” declarations and belly rubs, but Suffolk County recently threw him another bone to add to the accolades.

Suffolk County’s newest hero Storm, the brave, 6-year-old dog, who became a national celebrity last week after a video of him pulling a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday, July 16, spread like wildfire online, rolled around in the grass outside the Save the Animal Rescue Foundation in Middle Island July 19 as he and local animal rescue members were honored for their efforts to save the baby deer.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) presented proclamations to East Setauket resident and injury attorney Mark Freeley, Storm’s owner who captured the heroics on his cellphone, Strong Island Animal Rescue League co-founder Frankie Floridia, who aided in the rescue, and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation Director Lori Ketcham, who is rehabilitating the 3-month-old male fawn now referred to as Water. He is currently in stable condition.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite an attempt to present an official proclamation to the man’s best friend of the hour, Storm seemed much more interested in a large bone provided by the county executive’s staff.

“We’re here to talk about some of the heroes we have here, both canine and human, for what they’ve done to really remind us of the importance of compassion and giving to others and helping others,” Bellone said, acknowledging the selfless initiatives of the animal rescue groups.

Looking down at Storm, he said, “And this dog here is no ordinary golden retriever. He really did something important and special for us. The inspiration that Storm has given to all of us should inspire us to support the work of people like this that is happening each and every day. If that happens, then what Storm did will not only help save one fawn but will help save countless other animals here and others that will be here in the future.”

It was just another normal Sunday morning walk out to Pirate’s Cove for Freeley, 53, and his dogs, Storm and Sarah, a rescued Border collie, when he said the golden retriever suddenly got ahead of him on the empty beach.

The next thing Freeley knew, Storm was paddling out into the water about 100 feet offshore toward “a brown head bobbing” he quickly realized was a drowning fawn. As captured in the video seen around the world, Storm held the deer in his mouth and carried it towards the beach “like a lifeguard would with their arm,” Freeley said.

After the fawn got on the sand, it ran around wildly before collapsing. Storm gently nudged the deer’s face and belly and pawed his leg.

“He won’t even play fetch with a tennis ball,” Freeley said, laughing. “I just feel like he thought he had to do something for this deer. Storm’s a very well-adjusted and socialized dog. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and he gets along with all animals. People on Facebook were saying he was going to kill the deer, but if you meet this dog, you know that was not going to happen. He’s not prey-driven.”

Freeley quickly posted the video to his Facebook and then called the nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League to inform its members of the fawn.

Floridia, the group’s leader, said when he and his colleague Erica Kutzing tried to approach the deer with leashes and nets, “it totally went AWOL” and ran back into the water and paddled more than 200 feet out. Floridia said it was a do-or-die situation and it didn’t take long before he was swimming out to save the deer.

“He went into the water and followed the example that Storm set earlier and brought that fawn back in and brought it to safety,” Bellone said of Floridia, who he called the animal rescue cowboy.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The deer was then transported to the Middle Island animal rescue center.

“The deer was saved and that’s really the best part of the whole thing,” Floridia said. “It’s wonderful that this is bringing awareness to what really happens behind the scenes. Of course I want to thank Storm for helping us ride this wave to get awareness for what we do every day.”

Since the video was posted, the courageous canine’s heroics has accumulated nearly 5.5 million views on Facebook, has been the top story on several talk shows, including ones overseas.

“We’ve been going from one interview to the next and Storm’s been a champ at everything,” Freeley said. “Yesterday, a lady out of the blue called me to tell me just how much of an impact the video had on her, and I could hear her crying a little bit. It’s just amazing and I think people just want to see a simple, basic act of kindness by a dog because news is so hostile today.”

Ketcham said she appreciates the attention her center has been getting from this, which she admitted she isn’t used to.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days since the fawn came here,” Ketcham said. “We have several hundred animals here in our care all being taken care of by a dedicated bunch of volunteers. We hope to get the fawn outside with the rest that are there in a couple days and then back out into the wild in September.”

Freeley, who fosters rescue dogs, provides pro bono legal work for a local animal rescue group, and runs adoption events every Saturday with his daughter, reiterated the biggest takeaway from this.

“It’s really important to support people like Frankie and [these foundations] because they’re the front lines of animal rescue and everybody wants animal rescue, but without your support, there can’t be animal rescue,” he said. “So if Storm has one thing to ask you today it’s to donate to Strong Island and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation to help them continue to save the lives of animals in Suffolk County and on Long Island.”

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