An idea to form a nonprofit organization that will benefit the wildlife on the island sparked after three Pine Island residents, who all share the same passion for animals, became friends after a Pekin duck's injured foot was saved.
A meeting was held Wednesday night, which attracted approximately 35 interested individuals, who wanted to learn more about Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
Eileen Rowan, VMD, and vice president for Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary, said she was working at the animal hospital when Matthew Ristau, and his wife Sally, brought in an injured Pekin duck with a medical issue. She said she was very impressed with how the couple followed the nightly directions of taking care of the bird's foot.
Eileen Rowan, VMD; Sally Ristau; Matthew Ristau; and Barbara Peckin-paugh, have formed the Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary.
After working closely with rehabilitating the duck's foot, the three individuals began talking more about the numerous other Pekin duck that the Ristaus have rescued and saved.
"Fate brought us together," said Sally, the Pine Island Sanctuary vice president and secretary.
Rowan said since the couple already began rescuing animals, she figured they should apply for nonprofit status.
Sally said she has been a huge animal lover her whole life. She said the dream of saving animals came to her as a child.
One of her lifetime goals - starting a sanctuary - is finally coming true.
Sally said the biggest joy that will come out of the Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary is seeing the wildlife being returned to their habitat after they receive the care they need.
Matthew, Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary president, said they are in the process of becoming a 501c3 nonprofit organization, which is comprised of volunteers, who want to benefit Pine Island's native wildlife.
The organization was formed with good intentions from everyone, he said, which includes four thoughtful people who want to help animals.
So far the organization is comprised of Rowan, a veterinarian; Matthew a lawyer; Sally, a title agent; and Barb Peckinpaugh, a retired restaurant owner. Ken Hodgson, another veterinarian, is also on board to help.
"We have pretty good staffing behind us," Matt said.
Peckinpaugh said she is very excited about the sanctuary because Pine Island has needed something like this for a really long time.
Matthew said they want to start small and grow as the need arises from the wildlife standpoint, along with receiving backing from the community.
He said they are going to rely on the community for financial support.
Rowan said they are basing what they can do on the support they receive from the island's year-round residents.
Matthew said they have permits from the U.S. Florida Fish and Wildlife and Florida Wildlife Commission to treat animals. He said the joint permits will allow short-term and long-term housing of migratory birds.
Right now the organization can help injured squirrels and bunnies until all the legal paperwork is finalized. If those animals are found injured, individuals can call 239-699-4535.
Rowan said they will not be able to help sea turtles and otters on the island at the sanctuary. Those animals will have to be treated somewhere else.
Rowan said she knew she wanted to become a veterinarian when she was 6 years old. Her passion for helping birds and animals increased when she was a freshman in college and helped out with a massive oil spill in the Delaware River.
"I knew no one was doing anything," she said for the animals.
Rowan, the founder, member of the board of directors and veterinary advisor, began the TriState Bird Rescue and Research in Delaware due to what she saw happen to the birds in the spill.
After she graduated she traveled to New York where she worked as a veterinarian. She said all the wildlife that came in they treated for free.
"We didn't give a rehabilitation bill," Rowan said about the individual who brought the animal in because they are God's animals.
She said she has been treating wildlife for free for 35 years.
Rowan wants the vets in Southwest Florida to get excited about treating the wildlife for free once again. She said it is time to give back.
Sally said they will have wildlife release videos posted on their website www.pineislandwildlifesanctuary.com once the animals begin coming in. She said they will also have updates on their Facebook page to showcase the animals in their care and how they are doing.
The board of directors are currently seeking artists of the community to come up with a logo for the Pine Island Wildlife Sanctuary. The logo contest submission deadline is June 30.
Sally said they want a local artist to create their logo.
While everything becomes finalized legally, Rowan encourages the community to get involved. She said they can find a volunteer job for anyone who wants to help the organization.
Rowan said it is vital for those who want to become involved with the animals to take an animal handling class at the Peace River Wildlife Center. She said they will teach hands-on techniques.
Donations are also being accepted, which includes a wish list that can be found on the group's website.