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On Monday the New York Daily News reported the on the death of Lima, New York City celebrity hawk Pale Male’s mate. Often when stories — both happy and sad — of New York’s leash-less animals pop up, we hear from wildlife rehabilitators Bobby and Cathy Horvath. The two have been rehabilitators for 25 years, but they work as volunteers. They both hold down what you might call day jobs — he as a fireman and she as a veterinary technician — while living with a host of animals in need of care. Currently, Bobby told Runnin’ Scared, they have 50 or so animals in their home. We called up the married couple to get their reaction to recent news about Lima and other high-profile New York birds, and to learn more about what it’s like caring for the city’s wild creatures.
Tell me a little bit about your work as wildlife rehabilitators in New York City?
Cathy: Well we live on Long Island, and we’re volunteers. We’ve been rehabilitators for 25 years. We’re licensed by the state and the federal government. We get calls all the time for birds of prey in the city so we travel back and forth. We were there trying to get Violet from the NYU building. That was a really long process. And not just from Manhattan. We go to Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens. We travel around.
What was your reaction when you heard about the death of Lima?
It was kind of a shock. They were just mating the day before she was found dead. It was shocking that she was dead.
[Cathy hands off the phone to Bobby.]
I was asking Cathy about Lima, and I was just wondering, what is your reaction when you see something like that happen? Do you think there’s a problem in the city? Do you think it’s a freak accident?
Bobby: It’s not just a problem in the city. It’s a problem everywhere. We live out in the suburbs, we live in Nassau county, and we see problems out here as well.
So what would the problems be leading up to Lima’s death?
There are no facts yet. We would be speculating now. I can’t say for sure, nobody knows for sure what she died of. It’s all just opinion and speculation right now. It’s possible she died from poisoning. It’s absolutely possible she died from poisoning. I’m not ruling that out. And that’s why as rehabilitators we try to correct problems, man-made problems, we try to patch animals back up and put them back in the wild that have had contact with man either hit by a car, flew into a building, poisoned, cordoned — those are the things that we encounter all the time. Those are the situations we are trying to make better.
What do you think is the state of wildlife in New York City?
I believe it’s excellent. There are more species and there’s a greater variety and more of them than ever before. The state of wildlife is tremendous right now. But there’s always going to be room for improvement and we’re always going to need to be diligent and police ourselves to maintain that level. Just for example, a Peregrine Falcon is an endangered animal. A very serious animal, the government monitors them highly. Their numbers in Manhattan and throughout the city are growing every year. They are breeding and there have been significant numbers found. That’s a great sign that these animals are thriving in New York City.
What is your reaction when you hear these sad and high profile stories of Lima and Violet?
It bothers us. Obviously we’re affected by it. But we don’t look at the high profile stories any different than — we had another bird die from Central Park two weeks ago that was possibly poisoned. It doesn’t make the papers. They are all sad stories. A so-called famous bird isn’t any more sad or tragic than a bird who doesn’t get it. To us they all get the same attention.
What got you involved in wildlife rehabilitation to begin with?
Growing up I dreamed of being a veterinarian. That’s what I wanted to do as a kid and teenager growing up. Schooling didn’t work out for me to be a veterinarian, the requirements. I went the civil service route like my father. My father was a fireman. So I became a New York City fireman also. So this has been the next best thing. The license and permit to be able to work with animals on a close relationship like we are.
What have been some of your best experiences doing wildlife rehabilitation in the city?
We’ve had dozens of releases. Mostly birds. We receive a lot of birds of prey from New York City. We were pretty much the sole outlet for rehabilitation. There is a new place in New York City, Wild Bird Fund on the West Side. They are also accepting birds now, but before they were also in operation, we kind of had a monopoly, not by choice. There were very few other people like us doing this. So over the years we’ve taken in dozens of hawks every year from New York City. Hawks, falcons and even owls and been able to bring them back into the city and release them. And we don’t do this secretly. Our life is pretty much an open book. We are under a microscope when we do anything in New York City and when we do bring these animals back into the city, we invite people to join in and to be there and witness it. It’s not done in secret or in the corner of a park. We are educating people by incorporating them into it and involving people into it.
So do you take them back to your home when you are rehabilitating them?
Yes, we work from our home. We have a cooperating veterinarian, who is amazing. The animals get veterinary care first, and then the veterinarian puts the long term care into our hands. Sometimes it’s only a couple of days sometimes its upwards of a year before an animal can be released successfully back into the wild.
What is it like living with these animals?
I enjoy it. It’s hectic at times. I got to admit, it can be hectic at times. But we love doing it. I couldn’t imagine life any other way. This is our calling. This is our passion. I believe animals are always going to be a part of our life in some way.
How many animals do you have in your home now?
50 animals or so. The numbers change. It goes and up and down. It’s kind of a revolving door. Animals will be released. Some animals will die on their own. Some animals we may need to euthanize, so the number drops and then it climbs back again. The number changes all the time, spring and summer being the busiest time of the year, being baby season, which is right around the corner, and then fall and winter slows down.