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.
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.
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.”