Humane Heroes April 2021

May 9, 2021

A brave and giving young lady makes it her mission to help shelter animals!

All of us at Associated Humane Societies want to send a HUGE thank you out to Avery Sontheimer of Corry, PA.  “Thank you” hardly seems enough, when you look at what this young lady is doing for animals in need all over the country, especially given the fact that she has some special needs herself.

We received a letter from Miss Sontheimer, along with a $5.00 gift card to be used to care for our animals.  In her letter, Avery let us know that in March, 2020, she made it her mission to help as many animals as she can in animal shelters all over the country by sending out these gift cards.  She writes, “I donate these gift cards because I know it will help animals.  $5.00 is not much, but something is better than nothing and I know how donations can go a long way”.  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Avery!

Despite the fact that Avery is being treated for an aggressive Ewing Sarcoma bone cancer, she has achieved more for shelter animals in a year than most hope to help in a lifetime.  As of March 22, 2021, Avery has sent out a total of 3295 gift cards to shelters all over the U.S.!!  Thanks to her Facebook page:  Avery’s Pawsitive Change, and the support that she’s received from people from around the country, she continues to help so many animals, and bring smiles to all of our faces.

How you can support Avery’s mission…

In Avery’s letter, she writes, “You are truly some animals hero, and you are my hero!  If ever you doubt your job, don’t, because someone like me looks up to someone like you”.  Avery- YOU ARE OUR HERO.  We look up to you, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for what you are doing for animals.  You are an inspiration to us all, and we hope and pray for you during your courageous battle with cancer, and that you will continue with the wonderful mission that you are on.  Thank you, from all of us at Associated Humane Societies!  You can support Avery’s mission by donating to her Go Fund Me page here.

Bayville Elementary School Helps Shelter Pets!

All of our AHS Lacey branch animals would like to send out a huge thank you to the students and teachers at Clara B. Worth Elementary School in Bayville, NJ.  They held a donation drive for our animals for a pet study project and delivered the tons of donations that they collected!  We are so grateful for the dog and cat food, blankets, toys, cleaning supplies, and more that they dropped off.  Thank you all!  Pictured here are: Ariel Maffia, Chelsea Conaty, Michelle Lozzia, and Carly Komerowski

Shelters Helping Shelters….

All of our AHS Newark branch animals and staff are so grateful to our friends at the Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, NJ.  These great people recently delivered tons of donations to us that included animal carriers, toys, food, blankets, cleaning supplies and more!  Thank you all so much for being heroes for our animals!

Young Humane Hero Helps Tinton Falls Animals…

All of us at Associated Humane Societies would like to send out a heartfelt THANK YOU to young Humane Hero, John Paik of Rumson, NJ.  He stopped by our Tinton Falls facility with lots and lots of donations that he collected for our animals!  The pet food, blankets, cleaning supplies, and more, will be put to good use and are so greatly appreciated.  Thanks so much, John!

Monmouth County High Schooler Helps Animals in Need…

We would like to send out a heartfelt thank you to young Humane Hero, Daniel Bricker!  Daniel is a candidate for the Honor Society at Monmouth County High School and his love of animals drove him to hold a fundraiser for the animals at our Tinton Falls facility.  He made up fliers for the donation drive that he placed around town and then delivered the tons of pet supplies that he collected to our shelter.  Thanks so much, Daniel!

Girl Scout Makes Toys for AHS/Popcorn Park Cats!

All of us at AHS/Popcorn Park (and all of our cats too!) would like to send out a HUGE thank you to Autumn from Girl Scout Troop #8498!  For her Silver Award, Autumn and friends made tons of cat toys out of recycled items for all of the cats at our Lacey location.   Thanks so much Autumn!

LACEY – Dogs are barking. Kids are chatting. Up in the trees, birds are chirping.

None of it fazes the newest star at Popcorn Park Animal Refuge — Artemis the falcon. At least, not while a custom-made hood sits over her eyes. This is a retirement community for Artemis, age 9, after years of working at Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, Bergen County. There, she performed for thousands of revelers at the renowned dinner theater, demonstrating the ancient art of falconry on command.

But the pandemic hit her hard. Medieval Times closed for well over a year. When it reopened, well, things were different.

“When it came time to resume putting on the show, she had put on some weight, just like the rest of us during COVID, and she became a little less athletic,” explained Danny Mendez, Popcorn Park Animal Refuge’s assistant director. “In the show falcons circle an indoor arena and come back when they’re called. Artemis decided she didn’t want to come back anymore. She would land on some people’s tables, eat their food and she even took somebody’s scarf.”

Animals do have a way of expressing their feelings.

“They thought it was time for her to retire,” Mendez said.

So Artemis retired to Ocean County in early March. But she didn’t get condo and play pickleball. She moved into Mendez’s home in the Bayville section of Berkeley, so they could bond.

And bond they have. Despite all the hubbub around her Tuesday afternoon, Artemis perched on Mendez’s bent arm — an extended arm signals that it’s time to fly, while a bent one puts her at ease — and chilled.

“This is the ideal retirement for a falcon like her,” Mendez said. “She will maintain her diva status, but she doesn’t have to work for it. All she has to do is sit here and look pretty while I dazzle people with facts about her. As long as she doesn’t eat any children, it will be a successful day.”

Mendez has a good sense of humor. Artemis won’t attack children. When the hood comes off, however, it’s game on for this remarkable bird of prey.

‘An incredible force of nature’

Artemis — named after the Greek goddess of wild animals and hunting — is a hybrid falcon specially bred by Medieval Times. She’s two feet tall and majestically patterned. Her kind can fly as fast as 240 mph in a straight-line pursuit of prey.

“One of the world’s fastest animals,” Mendez said. “An incredible force of nature.”

A Hudson County-raised zoologist, Mendez has worked at the Bronx Zoo and Liberty Science Center. He arrived at Popcorn Park last year to assist longtime director John Bergmann and is focused on offering public education sessions with “ambassador animals” such as Artemis and Dizzy the Opossum, who survived being hit by a car and was nursed back to health by Mendez and fellow staff.

“It’s important that people have these interactions,” Mendez said. “With bears and monkeys (two of Popcorn Park’s most popular inhabitants), there is still physical separation. When you don’t have that, there’s a chance that interaction is going to lead to a lifetime of love and interest for somebody.”

Part of the educational session will be advice on what humans can do to help falcons, such as avoiding using poisons to kill mice and rats (which often winds up sickening falcons who eat them) and putting decals on large windows to prevent these majestic speed-flyers from crashing into them during pursuits.

In mid-April, during spring break, Mendez debuted Artemis on his wrist in a public “test run” for what will be a regular feature this summer. It was a huge success — for Artemis and enthralled kids.

“How often do you get to stand three feet from a falcon like this?” he said.

The hood comes off

Although Mendez praised Medieval Times’ staff for their treatment of animals, he had to start from scratch with Artemis when she moved into his duplex in March.

“For the first three or four days, she would fly away the second I walked into the room,” he said. “Then she was like, ‘You can feed me.’ Then when she saw me, she would associate me with positivity.”

Mendez became Artemis’ de facto dietician, helping her lose weight so she could be comfortable again (her dietary staple is frozen mice). She won’t, however, be flying for the public.

“We’re not going to free-fly her,” he said. “This is not the right environment. She’s used to an indoor arena. Here we have a ton of wild animals — too much stimulation. It would be a really short show if we introduced her and she attached herself to a peacock.”

To prove the point, Mendez removed Artemis’ hood. Her head immediately darted in five directions, as if on a swivel. Her feathers fanned out. The birds in the treetops were of particular interest. Lunch, perhaps? Twice, she tried to take off after them, but a tether kept her on Mendez’s glove (known as a gauntlet).

After a few minutes Mendez slipped the hood back on and all was calm. Time for some treats as a reward.

“The hood is great — I wish we had them for kids,” he joked. “We would sell them in the gift shop.”

Artemis could be a Popcorn Park resident for many years to come. Falcons can live into their 30s and respond well to people. It’s not a bad retirement gig, hanging on Mendez’s arm, impressing visitors and maybe even inspiring a few.

“She is a spectacular ambassador for us,” he said.

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