UPDATE: The Horvaths struck a deal with the town and get to stay. 29,000 people signed the online petition.
Found a scared coyote in Central Park? Does your university’s star hawk have a bad foot? Did you just arrest someone with an inappropriate animal in their bathtub? Or have you just stumbled on a pelican, owl or baby fox that’s going to die if you don’t figure out what to do? Who you gonna call? For New Yorkers the answer for two decades has been Bobby Horvath, a fireman and wildlife rehabilitator. But now the town of Oyster Bay wants to shut down their federally licensed facility, claiming that the animals are “dangerous.”
The word came down Friday and now Bobby and Cathy Horvath have just two weeks to change the town’s mind (there’s no official appeal process) or find new homes for all their current residents. Frederick Ippolito, a the town’s planning and development commissioner, told the Horvaths they had gotten anonymous complaints about their animals. Ippolito himself is the subject of discussion on his restaurant’s failure to pay taxes.
There is no one around who could handle all the difficult cases the Horvaths do. New York City and Nassau County could each be paying a small staff to handle the weird emergencies that the Horvaths handle in their free time at their own expense. New York City now finally, thankfully, has the Wild Bird Fund, which handles an enormous volume of wildlife emergencies (and not just birds). Most of their patients, however, are birds that are manageable enough for a New Yorker to bring in, likely by subway. What makes Bobby Horvath uniquely helpful is not just his expertise, but that he’s willing and able to be a fireman and climb ladders and lean over rooftops to get some scary, frightened birds.
Horvath has permits for handling migratory birds, showing the animals (they give tons of free educational talks), handling potentially rabid animals and falconry. They handle a lot of owls and hawks. They also have a compassionate way of handling all the people who call in distress and confused about what to do for a wild animal they fear will die. I’ve called them on a few occasions and gotten good advice and the offer to take in animals. And just because they handle the glamorous cases in the area, they don’t shun the more pedestrian animals in need like starlings, pigeons, skunks, squirrels and possums.
If you’ve ever dealt with a bird rehabber you have probably not had a great experience. They’re typically curt and overwhelmed with calls, with too many people picking up perfectly fine baby birds, with dying pigeons and squashed sparrows. But the Horvaths are actually pleasant and seem to love both the animals they help and the people they deal with. I remember once seeing a post from Kathy on Facebook about how they’ve gotten so many calls from people saying they have a pelican that turns out to really be a seagull or pigeon that she was shocked when someone showed up and had an actual pelican. Many bird rehabbers are older women who handle the birds if people can manage to deliver them. So Bobby Horvath is especially useful because he’s brave and skilled enough to climb ladders and lean over rooftops to rescue birds.
Back in 2010 Oyster Bay adopted one of those boilerplate city codes, which goes into stunning detail about which animals are considered dangerous and therefore prohibited. Here are just some of the animals Oyster Bay goes out of its way to ban: “order Marsupialia, such as kangaroos and common opossums (Didelphis marsupialia); order Chiroptera (bats); order Edentata, such as sloths, anteaters and armadillos; order Proboscidea (elephants)…”My guess is they were trying to do the right thing after Travis the chimp mauled a CT woman’s face off in 2009. But it’s just silly to act like captive possums are going to be as big a problem as chimps.
It looks to me like the form letter code that Oyster Bay adopted specifically exempts the raptors as being covered by a federal permit. Oddly, if the Horvaths were using the animals to experiment on them or farm them, Oyster Bay would be fine with it. Which would you rather have nextdoor, a rooster and cows or a possum and some owls? The other exemption in the code is for a “recognized educational institution.” I’m pretty sure that their group Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation would qualify since they regularly give educational talks and demonstrations all around the area. And if not the town could add a few words specifically exempting wildlife rehabilitation facilities and do the Horvaths–and all New Yorkers–a favor.
Here’s a petition you can sign to ask Oyster Bay to help the Horvaths.
You can also write to: Frederick P. Ippolito, Commissioner or John Venditto, Supervisor, Town Hall West, 74 Audrey Avenue, Oyster Bay, NY 11771.