Opinion | We can all take steps to help protect wildlife

Imagine for a moment waking up one morning before 7 am to the sounds of screaming outside your bedroom window. You jump up and look outside to see a buck stomping the life out of a small deer. You watch in horror not sure what to do so you go onto your local Facebook group asking people for advice. That morning I was trolling my usual Facebook pages when I saw that post. I immediately responded to the woman and told her I was calling someone to help.

I quickly called my friends Joe Rocco and Jackie Roche from The Broken Antler Wildlife Search and Rescue. The Broken Antler is a nonprofit rescue and education organization founded by Joe and Jackie to address the needs of the ever-growing interactions between the wildlife and humans. Within 10 minutes, Joe was on the road headed her way.

By all accounts the deer should have been dead. It wasn’t moving. Joe approached the wounded deer to find — lo and behold — it wasn’t dead. It was just really beat up and in shock. It most likely would have died if not for the homeowner and the quick response from Joe, who quickly bundled her up and brought her to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, where she was treated and allowed time to recover. She was brought back to her area some few weeks later and released — and that’s one story with a happy ending.

Not all stories end that way. Rocco and Jackie started rescuing wildlife after volunteering at the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center. Their love of all animals, big and small, is what makes them local angels on earth. They branched off themselves to focus on deer rescues. In 2020 alone, they went out on 468 rescue calls with 328 of them being deer. They helped some injured animals cross over the rainbow bridge, they helped others get out of the pickle they’d gotten themselves into and they watched and cared for others while they healed and then released them back into their natural environment.

You may have read or heard about the story of the loon that was attacking people on the Vietnam Veterans recreation trail in Calverton, or the deer that was trapped in a well (a very challenging rescue) or the swans that were hit by a car that didn’t stop. Joe and Jackie responded to all those incidents — and they had great outcomes. But this isn’t just a story about all they’ve done. This is a story about how we humans can make things a little better for our wildlife and how everything we do affects them. It’s important to be educated and know how making a few simple changes in our lives can help keep us and the animals safe.

It’s not surprising that in 2019 Suffolk County had the third highest deer-car strike tally in all of New York. The building boom exploded here on the East End the last 20 years and critical habitat began disappearing — the woods and fields where deer and other animals lived peacefully were removed to make way for the development of homes, shopping centers and office parks. And that has driven our animal population further and further into our “space.”

Where once their food sources were plentiful, we’ve taken it away and instead planted these delicious trees, bushes and plants. Deer, who were rarely seen when I was a child, are now walking up and down our roads foraging on the buffet that is laid out for them in yards.

Deer fencing that farmers and homeowners put up to protect their investments are a big problem with not just deer but owls and other raptors that hunt for food on the ground. Not only do the animals get stuck in them, but they force the animals closer and closer to the roads where the chances of an animal being struck by a vehicle have now multiplied. Kids’ soccer nets, hammocks, clotheslines, all these wonderful, fun, and handy things for us are confusing, injuring and even, sadly, killing the animals.

Joe Rocco frees a young buck tethered to dead buck by twine wrapped around the antlers of one of the animals. Courtesy photo: The Broken Antler

Over the last few months, Rocco responded to a couple of rescues that struck me to the core — so much so that I wanted to write this column so others can be more aware and learn how we can help.

The first rescue was half a happy ending. It involved two deer, one who had twine he acquired from somewhere wrapped around one of his antlers. Male deer fight over females and territory. While they were “doing what they do” the deer who didn’t have the twine on his antlers got one of his antlers stuck in the other’s twine.

Fast forward two days, one deer is dead — most likely from a broken neck — and the other is thrashing around, fueled by adrenaline as he tried in vain to free himself from his dead adversary.

You cannot tranquilize an animal in such distress without most surely killing it, so Joe had to approach the petrified deer in order to try to free it. The video and many others are on The Broken Antler Facebook page if you want to see them in action. He’s like the deer whisperer or something. Joe was able to get the buck into a position that enabled him to cut the twine that tethered him to his slain opponent. Half a happy ending.

The second rescue that stood out to me was the huge buck who had his antlers stuck in a soccer net. The family lives in the city but didn’t put their kids soccer net away. Luckily a neighbor nearby saw and called for help. This would not have ended well without the Joe’s intervention.

Deer aren’t the only animals we endanger. Birds, waterfowl, raccoons and even squirrels are rescued — or euthanized — more and more often. Fishing line is the main culprit for waterfowl, and results in slow strangulation or starvation for the animal that gets tangled up in it. If you fish, please make sure you take your discarded line with you for safe disposal. If you come across discarded fishing line while walking on any of our beautiful beaches, please pick it up and dispose of it properly.

There are so many simple things we humans can do to help the animals who share our island — as well help the rescuers and rehabilitators who jump into action, day and night, in extreme heat or dead of winter in a snow storm.

First, put your kids sports nets away when not in use. That would help immensely. Hammocks are very nice to nap on but please take them down when not in use. Deer and birds are constantly getting snagged in them and many will not survive unless help is given quickly.

If you adopt a pet — any pet, including rabbits, chickens, household birds — please remember that this is a commitment. Dogs and cats should be spayed and neutered and if possible chipped, other animals should be cared for and if for some reason you don’t “want” them anymore, please reach out to a rescue instead of dumping them.

Our lawns look lush and we don’t like weeds but the chemicals and poisons we put on them are transferred to the mice and other small animals that our birds of prey eat which then poisons them. Always remember, Opossums are our friends. They eat so many ticks and with Lyme disease a constant threat, we need them. Again, putting pesticides on our ground not only harms the animals but also our environment as a whole.

If you have a raccoon or rat problem, please call a rescue so that they can humanely deal with the problem or give you advice. Rat poison is one of the leading reasons our birds get sick. Raccoons out during the day are not rabid. Most of the time they are mothers who have babies and they need to eat around the clock to feed their babies.

A baby dear that you may find curled up in your yard is 99% of the time not abandoned. Mothers will leave their young in a safe place while they forage for food. Do not approach the animals no matter how much you think you’re helping. Keep eyes on them and call The Broken Antler or any other rescue for advice.

Squirrels will fall out of their nests. Let them be — 99% of the time the mother will come get them. If too much time has passed or you see a dead animal you think may be its mother, call a rescue.

If you see a turtle crossing the road and it’s safe for you to help get them there faster, always move them to the side of the road in the direction they were going. They’re on a mission and turning them around only makes life more difficult for them. If you find a turtle with a cracked shell, please call the rescue. The injury will eventually kill the turtle but it takes forever and it’s agonizing.

If you hit a deer please report it. Do not just drive away even if you think the animal is ok because it took off. Most times the animal is in shock and will collapse a short distance away. The Broken Antler has heat-sensing equipment and can locate an injured animal and either rescue it or put it down humanely so it won’t suffer a slow and agonizing death. Our local police departments use The Broken Antler and other rescue groups to help with calls so if you have a problem and don’t know how to reach out to the rescue directly, call your local police department and they can help put you in touch. Unless it’s an emergency, please use the non-emergency number.

There is one more thing we can do to help The Broken Antler and all the animals they assist, “like” their Facebook page and donate to their organization. The Broken Antler is nonprofit and relies on the generosity of its supporters to continue doing the great work they do. You can donate through their Facebook page or by check to The Broken Antler, PO Box 1618 Riverhead, NY 11901 – or Venmo @thebrokenantler or email [email protected]

Together we can all do our part to make our island a happy home for everyone.

Tanya Doherty is a native Flanders and a current resident of the Ridge. She works in Riverhead.

Editor’s note: The “In My Opinion” column is open to anyone who wants to submit a viewpoint on any topic. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not reflect the point of view of RiverheadLOCAL’s publishers. We welcome submissions. Be sure to include your email address and daytime phone number. Click here to submit your opinion.

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