By Ann Rivers
I would like to address some of the specifics in the recent Islander article, “Is Animal Rescue Commercial?” ahead of the hearing on Sept. 23.
Ann Rivers of Acadia Exotics is my niece. She lives on Kimball Road, Northeast Harbor, in a house where three generations of Rivers have lived. She rescues domestic pets that have been discarded by their owners and need help.
I am the other Ann Rivers. A bit confusing isn’t it? I am Ann Rivers the elder, who for almost 30 years has been running the registered nonprofit Acadia Wildlife Center in Town Hill. Here, with multiple permits from state and federal Fish and Wildlife, I care for native wild animals. These include mammals such as foxes and yes, bats; birds such as warblers and eagles; and herps such as painted turtles, garter snakes and bullfrogs. All my patients are here to be treated for injury and then returned to the wild. We also have a Nature Center with a few non-releasable animals, again with each animal permitted by Fish and Wildlife. Without these permits the public is not allowed, by law, to possess any wild animal, except for the time it takes to call a warden or rehabilitator. Acadia Wildlife has Facebook and Instagram pages (acadia wildlife) and a webpage (acadiawildlife.org) and no personal pages. We can be reached for patient care only by our phone, (207) 288-4960 and patients are brought only by reservation.
First of all, may I say, that many of the issues described in the paper could have been cleared up easily over a cup of tea.
It was described that there was confusion over what animals are wild and what animals are domestic with the inference that Ann is illegally taking care of wild animals. This is easily cleared up. When you walk into a pet store you see parrots, tortoises, rats, rabbits, non-venomous snakes and certain lizards for sale. These animals have been bred in captivity for the pet trade. If they are considered an approved pet species, allowed in Maine, they are listed on the unrestricted list on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website. Anything that lives in our woods and waters (except for released pets like red-eared sliders) is wildlife and you can be fined or tried under state or federal law for possessing them, be it squirrel or hawk. All of the animals that my niece rescues are domestic pets and listed on IF&W’s unrestricted list. She does not have large farm animals and she does not have any wild animals.
Speaking of wildlife, turkey vultures as mentioned eat carrion only (not trash or live animals) and cover many miles of sky in their search for a dead animal to clean up (thank goodness for them!). If several are circling, then they have found something. I have never seen a turkey vulture circling over Kimball Road. Crows traditionally come in groups there to sleep, perhaps that is the confusion.
Quarantine was brought up in the article as an indication that Ann’s animals were sick and would infect the pets and children of the neighborhood. We have all just been through a pandemic, so I think we all know what quarantine is. Quarantining is the act of staying separate so that time can show if disease is present. In the animal business it has always been ‘best practice.’ All animals in my clinic are kept separate or quarantined for anywhere from two weeks to six months, not because they are necessarily sick, but because I have to be sure before introducing them to others of their species. Ann is performing ‘best practice’ for her rescue. Are some of her animals sick? Of course. Animals get sick when deserted by their owners and starve. Ann is there to treat them, keep them in locked cages, take them to vets and rehome them when they are all better.
“Bait and switch” was used to describe a hurried cleaning of the property apparently ‘observed’ before the board tour. Of course Ann would want her rescue to look its best before people came to judge it. Wouldn’t you clean your house before a dinner party? Ann has all her state permits and has passed multiple inspections by experts. Some of these inspections are made without a reservation so inspectors are seeing her rescue as it is every day. Animals are not tidy. Puppies and kittens are one thing but try keeping a room clean that has rabbits kicking chips out onto the floor. State inspectors can tell the difference between a rabbit digging and a dirty cage. Ann has passed all her state inspections with flying colors.
There is always too much work and too little help in a rescue. If community members dislike what they are actually seeing, not just what they are guessing about, maybe they could volunteer to help, or at least politely talk to her about what they don’t like. After all, gardens always have stuff behind the fence, compost, piles of pots and tools. All of us have staging areas in our yards or closets where things get collected. Have a conversation instead of making it a legal matter. Against all odds, Ann is doing wonderful work for our community. Lend a hand instead of criticizing.
So, finally, the question of, “Is animal rescue commercial?” I am not an expert in this area and only the town can decide. Is a food pantry commercial? Or a lemonade stand? What if the lemonade stand is raising money for a nonprofit? What is allowed in this district? This is the real question and up to the zoning laws. But commercial must mean the intake of money, like a shop. Ann has added up her donations of the past two years and they total a few hundred dollars. She and her family have paid out of pocket for the thousands of dollars that rescue animals require. She does not charge adoption fees for her rescue animals when she rehomes them, even though she should and could. Other animal shelters certainly do or they would go under. Rehoming fees only make up a small portion of the costs involved in rescuing an animal. Most rescues must fundraise to make up the rest. Donations can be asked for and received without nonprofit status, but the receiver cannot give a tax deduction to the donor. Ann is well within the law to ask for donations that are given freely by the donor to help with her work. A community member can put up a donation jar in a store to help someone with unexpected medical expenses, for example. A GoFundMe can be started without nonprofit status. In my nonprofit, I am not allowed to charge people for bringing wildlife patients. I can only ask for donations, which people generously give when they can. Animal care is very expensive and with domestic animals it should be covered by the owner who discarded the animal, but of course it isn’t. It’s a labor of love on Ann’s part and the Northeast Harbor community should be giving her a parade instead of badgering her. Of course, if the town requires a permit (who knew?), Ann needs to get one. But just have a conversation about the other concerns – a conversation based on facts. This ‘not in my neighborhood’ approach is uncool.
Ann Rivers is the Executive Director of Acadia Wildlife Center in Town Hill.