For years, if you found a wild animal in distress in New York City, there was one place to go: Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation (WINORR), which consists of spouses Bobby and Cathy Horvath. They rehabilitate wildlife in their home on Long Island and the spacious enclosures behind the house where injured birds can relearn how to fly. They have released countless healed animals back to the wild, sending those who couldn’t survive on their own to live at sanctuaries or keeping them to help with educational programs.
The pair works for free. They have been at it for over 25 years.
Right now they estimate that they are caring for 50 injured animals — who are all facing homelessness because of a zoning rule.
A coward who wouldn’t give a name complained to the township that the Horvaths were violating its ban on keeping dangerous animals in areas zoned for residential use. The township conducted an investigation; during the same period, it called the Horvaths several times asking for their help with an injured swan and an injured beaver. Got to respect that chutzpah, because at the close of the investigation the township concluded that the Horvaths and WINORR were violating the zoning rule and the animals had to go.
The township acknowledges that the Horvaths “are doing…a good service. We know they are licensed but this is not something you can do on residential property.”
No one has complained that the allegedly dangerous animals at WINORR have ever injured or even threatened anyone. The Horvaths rescue hawks, owls, swans, geese, peacocks and other birds, plus others like raccoons, possums and squirrels — urban wildlife, not lions and tigers and bears. One wonders why the township considers these species to be “dangerous.”
Both Horvaths work to support themselves and their rescue operation. Cathy is a veterinary technician and Bobby is a firefighter. He has pulled his colleagues into rescue missions to do things only they can — like get a ladder all the way up to a particular nest almost 100 feet above the ground.
In that nest were three eggs laid by Athena, a hawk the Horvaths had rescued once before. Now she had been hit by a car, and this time she didn’t make it.
Bobby feared that the eggs wouldn’t survive the cold night and didn’t think Athena’s mate, Atlas, would be up to the task of incubating them by himself, but he had to get to work. So Cathy got on the phone. In the end Ladder 117 of Astoria went in for the save. Nestling the eggs into one of the firefighters’ helmets, they safely removed them from the nest and got them to WINORR, which put the eggs in a special incubator to keep them warm.
I wonder if the township will permit the Horvaths to keep eggs in their house, or are they dangerous too?
On a happier note, Bobby says that New York City wildlife is thriving. “There are more species and there’s a greater variety and more of them than ever before. The state of wildlife is tremendous right now.” Not that they don’t still need WINORR’s help.
The Horvaths are not veterinarians, so when an animal comes in the first item on the to-do list is to get an exam and treatment from a friendly cooperating veterinarian. WINORR takes over the long-term care, never mind how much of an investment they are making: “Sometimes it’s only a couple of days, sometimes it’s upwards of a year before an animal can be released successfully back into the wild,” Bobby told The Village Voice. However long it takes, the Horvaths keep at it.
It seems that the township is willing to shoot itself — and injured wildlife throughout the New York City area — in the foot because of a zoning rule that it refuses to change. You can help by signing the petition asking the Town Supervisor to drop all charges against WINORR and let it stay where it is.
If you find an injured bird or other animal, Bobby advises calling a wildlife rehabilitator like himself. If that doesn’t work, he says to call 311 or the New York Center for Animal Care and Control. For tips about helping the bird until a professional can take over, check this Queens Gazette article.
Photo credit: iStockphoto