photo credit Rich Dionne
Posted Thursday, September 15, 2016 12:00 am
By Bruce Burdett
TIVERTON — Wendy Taylor watched last week as the white Pekin duck waddled behind the other ducks down toward the pond. It hesitated a moment and then waded in to join its companions.
“It was quite a moment,” she said later. “This was almost certainly the first time this duck had ever been for a swim. It came naturally … like a duck to water.”
Ms. Taylor has witnessed many such firsts since taking in 67 refugees from what has been described as an animal “hell hole” out in the Westport woods off American Legion Highway.
For those newcomers to her West Place Animal Sanctuary off Main Road in Tiverton, it is a fortunate transition from the worst of places to what surely must be the best of situations.
The 70-acre Westport “farm” was a grim, foul-smelling place of broken glass, clamshells, trash and dead and dying animals.
West Place Animal Sanctuary is one of this region’s most beautiful places — meadows, barns, pond alongside protected Pardon Gray Preserve and Weetamoo Woods, overlooking the Sakonnet River. Here animals live out their lives with good food, clean places to roam, veterinary care — and never get dragged off to an unlicensed slaughterhouse.
These 67 are among the first 230 animals to be released by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) from their temporary holding area in Westport to rescue groups around the northeast. Also finding homes nearby were a number of rabbits, taken in by the Potter League shelter in Middletown.
The rest of the over 1,000 rescued animals remain at the holding area while ASPCA works to find them new homes and deals with claims from some of the former owners Among those making the short trip to Tiverton so far have been three ducks, five partridge, three pheasants, one quail, four peacocks and some 39 small koi fish.
Sill to come, Ms. Taylor expects, are seven or eight sheep and two goats.
Except for the fish and peacocks, which were probably destined for sale in the exotics market, the fate for the rest was apparent given what inspectors found in the Westport animal lots.
“They were intended to become food,” Ms. Taylor said. “Almost all of those animals were going to be slaughtered.”
Although some of the birds still display the developmental effects of malnutrition, all are adapting well to their remarkable change in circumstance.
The fish, which she and others spent a couple days scooping from the big tank where they were discovered in Westport, quickly vanished into the murky West Place duck pond.
It’s impossible to see down into the pond, which has built-in fish shelters, and that’s a good thing since it keeps winged predators from raiding the water for easy pickings. “But we haven’t found any casualties yet. I believe they are all doing well.”
Most of the birds were extraordinarily timid at first, shying away from any approach, a marked contrast to the other West Place residents who follow their caretakers around.
“You can tell they’ve had trouble,” Ms. Taylor said. But there is progress. “Yesterday one actually relaxed enough to let me pet his breastbone. That was a really big step.”
Still, they haven’t entirely learned the ropes at their new place.
Returning from a Thursday shift with a medical team at the Westport holding area, Ms. Taylor pulled off the protective clothing she had worn —ASPCA cautions all volunteers to scrub and disinfect everything before contacting their own animals — and brought a can of feed out to the flock.
Turkeys, ducks and more ran to her from every direction but the three newcomer ducks hung back, not sure what was up.
The pheasants, partridge and quail are held in the barn for now — some might be able to fly off which would almost certainly end badly.
Next project on her long list is to build a small barn especially for the pheasants, along with an open area protected from above by netting to prevent escape. “They need their own space — they can be aggressive with other birds.”
It’s all a big strain on a place that began as a sanctuary for wild creatures unable to survive on their own or for certain farm animals.
“We did our planning and grant writing for this year not based on taking in another 67 residents, with some more big ones to come,” she said (they are also taking in a few Buttonwoods Zoo farm animals — the zoo recently announced the closure of its farm animals collection).
And it’s a lifetime commitment — as with most of the creatures West Place takes in, the expectation is that they’ll live out their lives there. The only exceptions are the “soft releases” — wild geese, turkeys and others that gain or regain the ability to fly and decide one day to move along. “They stand a good chance of surviving in the wild and it is their choice to come or go.” And there are occasional adoptions — only to places she knows will provide the right kind of care.
How can people help — “Donations, donations, donations,” Ms. Taylor said. They can also use physical help, reliable volunteers willing to come in one day a week or so to feed the animals and help clean up.
Although most of the animals, among them hundreds of cows and many other large farm animals, remain at the Westport holding area, “I am comfortable that they are all in a good place where they are getting outstanding care and will eventually find suitable homes.”
“And I am also confident that none will wind up being slaughtered … ASPCA is determined to keep that from happening after all these animals have been through.”
Ms. Taylor said she has witnessed superb teamwork at the holding area (which is off limits to public and press).
“None of this couldn’t have happened without the ASPCA — they have amazing resources and ability to get things done,” she said.
“But ASPCA couldn’t do it without local resources and expertise … some really talented people from this area are playing a very important role in there … (as are) caring volunteers who have been donating food and helping with all sorts of work. It is heartwarming to watch.”