Seaside rescue caps ‘wild’ goose chase in Riverhead

A high-octane, cold water animal rescue mission unfolded Thursday morning at Riverhead’s Roanoke Beach, when two abandoned domestic geese were located and recovered by a local animal advocacy group.

Beachfront homeowners Kerry and Tessa Harris spotted the waterfowl wandering along the beach early Thursday morning and knew something was off.

“Those are the biggest seagulls I’ve ever seen,’” Mr. Harris recalled thinking.

“Tessa said, ‘I don’t think those are seagulls. Those are geese.’”

Ms. Harris went down to the beach to investigate, and noticed that one of the birds appeared to be injured. The couple went online and started Googling what to do with injured waterfowl.

They found a story posted the previous evening by Riverhead Patch’s Lisa Finn, who first reported on the abandoned geese, directing anyone with information to contact Riverhead-based Humane Long Island.

“They were here in 20 minutes,” Mr. Harris said.

John Di Leonardo, an anthrozoologist and president of the animal advocacy organization and his wife, Juliana Di Leonardo, vice president of HLI, responded — carrying nets behind their back so as not to scare away the geese. The rescue was captured on cell phone video by Mr. Harris.

“They went into the water as soon as we arrived and tried to get away from us,” Mr. Di Leonardo said. “The waves were very rough. So I ran into the water after them and I was able to catch the female goose right away … before she could really get deep into the [Sound].

“And then the husband went out into the ocean, and we lost him for a little bit. But I knew that he was very bonded to her, and he was going to come back for her. So … we put her in a carrier and we left her on the beach and sure enough, as soon as we walked away from her, he doubled back to try to help her.

“He almost got past us and then a big wave came [and] pushed him back. So I was in the water and I kind of chased him up onto the shore … and was able to net him on land.”

Mr. Di Leonardo said that most people don’t understand the vital differences between wild and domesticated waterfowl — or how dangerous it is to abandon domesticated animals.

Domesticated geese are “as different from a wild goose or a wild duck as your house cat is from a tiger,” he said. “They have tiny wings. They lack camouflage. They lack natural instincts. They are literally sitting ducks out there for predators or cruel humans.”            

To hear it from Mr. Harris and to see it on video (above), the Roanoke Beach recovery mission was the very definition of a wild goose chase.

“It was like the world’s lowest stakes episode of ‘Baywatch’, but with no red swimsuits — only jeans and sweatpants,” Mr. Harris recalled. “But that said, I don’t know that David Hasselhoff would have gotten into the Long Island Sound when it’s 54 degrees … I thought they were going to give up once [the geese] hit the water. I was like ‘I guess that’s it. There’s no way he’s going in the water’. Sure enough, a second later, he’s in the water and really going for it. It’s incredibly impressive that he did that.”

Courtesy photos

Mr. Di Leonardo said that every spring, people buy adorable baby chicks and ducklings and find out quickly just how much work is involved in maintaining them.

“A lot of times it’s people who are just impulse buying animals at tractor supply stores or your local poultry store.”

Four days before Easter last spring, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office cracked down on illegal sales of baby chicks, ducklings and rabbits.

Baby chicks under 2 months old can’t be sold in quantities of less than six, and no animals can be sold after being dyed a different color, according to state agricultural law. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. Abandoning any domesticated animal in New York state is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

“The adage ‘adopt, don’t shop’ applies to every species of animal,” Mr. Di Leonardo said.

When animals are rescued — and if necessary rehabilitated at HLI’s Riverhead aviary — Humane Long Island works with “an extensive foster network and adoption network, both in sanctuaries and in private homes,” he said.

“We try our best to keep animals in state and on Long Island, if possible, and we do adopt out to the general public — with commitments that they’re not going to eat them, they’re not going to breed them, sell them or exploit them in any way.”

In most of Nassau County and parts of Western Suffolk, it is illegal to own domesticated waterfowl, he said, but it’s allowed in Riverhead, Southold and Southampton.

Mr. Di Leonardo and his wife, who run their nonprofit aviary in Riverhead, are currently rehabilitating a pheasant, a chukar partridge and a peafowl, he said.

“We serve all the animals that your traditional shelters and wildlife rescues do not serve, because these are animals that cannot be released into the wild.”

The Roanoke Beach geese were just two of “upwards of 1,000 domesticated, farmed and exotic animals” the organization rescues each year on Long Island, according to Mr. Di Leonardo.

“The large majority of those are waterfowl.”

Just last week, the couple rescued another abandoned goose in Yaphank. When it was first spotted, the goose had a mate, but they found only one.

“I’m sure that mate is dead by now,” he said.

“A few weeks ago in Moriches it was the same story — there was a [domesticated] goose abandoned on a golf course” that, too, had lost its mate.

“We actually united the goose who lost their mate in Yaphank and the one who lost their mate in Moriches, and now they’re a happy couple.”

Mr. Di Leonardo said he can be reached for similar rescues at 516-592-3722 or [email protected].