2015-06-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Sitting here on Father’s Day and two very different dad stories come to mind. One has to do with a papa swan property dispute at Southards Pond in Babylon; while the other centers around a wonderful dad who gave an unfortunate Pit the opportunity to enjoy pup paradise on earth. Let’s start with the swan skirmish:

Battle of Swan Lake: For at least five years, there had only been one pair of mute swans on Southards Pond which happens to be my favorite dog walking spot, and the home of Westminster Kennel Club’s clubhouse and kennels from 1880 to 1904. This is the site of my research, looking for the exact spot where the Westminster mascot Pointer “Sensation” was buried in 1887. Yes, I spend a lot of time at Southards, so I observe the swans often.

Southards Pond (19 acres), Argyle Lake (25 acres) and Belmont Lake (26 acres) are the three lakes in the Babylon Carll’s River system. Although close to the same size, the swan census at each lake has been inequitable for years. Arygle has up to 70 swans, mostly bachelors; Belmont has many plus the two large Boston-style swan boats tied to the shore while Southards had only the same two swans. The male chased any Southards intruders away. His reign of territoriality ended this spring.


Finally more swans at Southards Pond Finally more swans at Southards Pond Mute swans (Cygnus olor) are a non-native species brought to LI and the lower Hudson Valley in the late 1800s from Europe (same time as Westminster in Babylon) for their aesthetic appeal on private estates. Currently there are about 2,200 swans in NYS; and recent, controversial legislation promotes killing them because some consider these exquisite birds too aggressive and also destructive to aquatic vegetation. Mute swans are the largest birds in our state, weighing up to 25 pounds with a wingspan of seven feet. This species can live 20-25 years in the wild.


"Zola” rides a quad with her Dad Joe around their upstate NY campground. "Zola” rides a quad with her Dad Joe around their upstate NY campground. During the nesting and brood rearing-periods mute swans are very territorial. Scientists say both males and females are aggressive toward people and other waterfowl within their nesting area. The female would nest on the north side of Southards where people rarely go. Cygnets made their debut in June. No one was allowed to mess with their brood. My husband has been running at Southards for 40 years. Several years ago a pair of cygnets got separated from Mom (the pen) by the waterfall. When he tried to reunite the family, she walloped him: “Mister, get away from my kids!”

The Southard swan couple kept sole pond possession because whenever a new swan dared to land, the dad (the cob) would race toward him all puffed up like a Spanish galleon and chase the newcomer away, over and over, from every angle of the pond. He never seemed to tire. However, he was tolerant of the ducks, geese and sea gulls swimming at Southards. If multiple swans touched their webbed feet to his pond, he evicted each one with a vengeance. He must have been the Hulk Hogan of waterfowl during his prime. Swan interlopers just surrendered and left.

For some reason about a dozen swans trespassed at Southards this spring. Dad went into his full battle mode, storming each one, but they seemed to ignore him. Perhaps they considered him over the hill and called his bluff, or there’s strength in swan numbers. Soon there were two dozen new swans. (Not sure how the word gets out in a mute swan community.) Now there are even more, floating peacefully on the south side while the deposed dictator dad and his mate are at the north end tending to their cygnets and mingling with the seagulls. All is well at Southards Pond this Father’s Day.

From Here to Pup Paradise: After the devastation of Sandy, a dad came down from his upstate home (a lovely lakeside campground he owns) to check on his LI daughters. While here, he visited Last Hope in Wantagh and fell in love with “Zola” - a Pit mix that Last Hope took from Hempstead Town Animal Shelter after she’d been removed from her original home by the Nassau District Attorney’s Cruelty Division. This family was not abusing or neglecting “Zola”; instead her mom had limited cognitive abilities and other people in the housing development were victimizing Mom who was then taken to a domestic abuse shelter. “Zola” became homeless. She loved kids and missed the children in her family.

After applying to adopt Zola from Last Hope, the prospective dog dad had to convince his wife that a Pit mix would fit as a pet and be dog friendly at their Evergreen Trails Campground in Angelica, NY (www.evergreentrails.com) because many visitors camped or stayed in rustic cabins with their own dogs running loose. After a short time Zola proved herself.

Zola’s new mom Susan said, “Our girl Zola lives the good life now. You would never know she had a sad past. We can learn a lot from the attitude of a dog. She is such a big part of our family. She goes everywhere with us.” That includes riding around the vast property on a quad with her dad Joe.

Zola has become even more than the cherished pet of the Munsch family and dog recreation director at Evergreen Trails. Susan added, “I swear Zola understands every word we say. I really can’t even tell you how much we love, love, love her, and we use her here to debunk the “bad Pit Bull” beliefs and to promote “rescue dogs.” Father’s Day ushers in summer and vacation time. Consider booking a getaway upstate at Evergreen Trails Campground where you can meet Zola and experience the good life too.

For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St., W. Babylon: Take a look at two views of “Phats” 15-338 who, like “Zola,” came from a bad situation. He was one of six dogs seized during a police raid. Phats is about one year old, fine with all sorts of handling and good when dogs come up to him through the fence. “Phats” deserves a much better life.

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