Puffy and Effi are special-needs ducks.
Puffy is blind, and Effi has a skin condition that requires a daily bath and special dietary supplements. Three years ago, they were caged and ailing, but now these rescue ducks have taken pride of place at TevaLand, a refuge for abandoned and abused farm animals — and assorted other creatures, such as ferrets and pot-bellied pigs — in Hillburn.
TevaLand (“teva” means “nature” in Hebrew) was founded by Taly and Dotan Ron, both 40-ish teachers and paramedics from Israel. In 2004 they went to Brooklyn to visit relatives and got work visas so they could earn some money. Friends invited them to visit their new place in Hillburn, and they fell in love with the setting.
“We thought they had lost their minds, living on top of Ramapo Mountain, but when we went to visit them we discovered its beauty and its history,” Ms. Ron said.
“They knew we loved animals, and their neighbor needed a place for some of her horses. Shelters deal with domesticated animals, but not farm animals. A lot of people just let them go in nature, and they can’t manage on their own.”
The friends showed the Rons a property for sale in Hillburn. Taly and Dotan Ron bought it with a vague idea of providing a home for animals in need. “Usually Dotan and I throw the bag over the fence and then figure out how to cross it,” Ms. Ron said with a laugh. Their approach to life is spontaneous.
“TevaLand just started about four years ago but we were rescuing animals way before that,” she said. “We didn’t have a plan. It just happened naturally as we heard about farmers downsizing and moving away. We brought a few animals at a time and then built enclosures. It seems like people were looking for us, and we took in more and more animals.”
She and her husband refer to their four-legged charges as their kids, but they hope to adopt human children one day as well. “Our religion is giving back,” she said.
As she talked to the Jewish Standard on the phone, Ms. Ron was feeding soup to Wilbur, a rescue pig she’d heard about through a Facebook friend.
“He was in a shelter in Brooklyn with his companion, Oggie, and they were going to be euthanized,” she said. “I think they had been fed bad food with a lot of salt, and Oggie was barely hanging in there. Eventually he had to be put to sleep, but Wilbur has a good life here now. He’s a happy boy, right by my side.”
Wilbur is hardly the only one by her side. TevaLand is home to another pig named Ollie, as well as horses, chickens, goats, rabbits, two ferrets named Mr. Noodle Soup and Ginger Spaghetti, and other critters, such as Bianka, an injured chicken rescued by a volunteer in Rockland County as it was trying to — you guessed it — cross a road.
Some of the animals, including Wilbur and a goat named Camelina, live in the Rons’ house.
“Camelina is fully trained, and a great source of heat when you hug her,” Ms. Ron said. “The goats are smart as dogs, and I take them for walks.”
There are even rescue rats, identical brothers creatively named Rat and Touille. “They were found in a bush together by a good soul,” Ms. Ron said. “And of course they found their final home here at TevaLand. They were domesticated at a certain time and then left to fend for themselves — to die. When feeding them we realized that if you put the food on the ground they would not eat, but rather wait for the human to hand it to them.”
The rescued animals are assessed, treated, and spayed or neutered at Franklin Lakes Animal Hospital or the Suffern Animal Hospital. “When there is a suffering animal we react first and deal with expenses later,” Ms. Ron said.
The expenses are steep, even though the Rons reuse and recycle as much as they can, and get some items at a discount from suppliers. In a typical week, TevaLand goes through about 1,500 pounds of hay and 200 pounds of grain.
The Rons recently arranged nonprofit status for their venture and launched a GoFundMe campaign (gofundme.com/2qc3pbg). They also have devoted donors of money and supplies, in addition to volunteer interns from Ramapo College, Pascack Hills High School, Pascack Valley High School, Emerson High School, and St. Joseph Regional High School.
“The interns from local high schools bring us leftovers from the cafeteria and that makes a huge difference for us, providing fresh feed for the animals,” Ms. Ron said. “They have bake sales and put boxes in their schools for people to donate items on our wish list, such as used clean towels for the horses.”
Ms. Ron and several interns bring small, tame farm animals — chicks, bunnies and Puffy the duck — to classrooms in a program she calls Taly & Friends.
“We specialize in special-education needs and offer therapeutic activities as well,” she said. “We also offer the program in Hebrew. Puffy is one of the best ambassadors of TevaLand, traveling with Taly & Friends to schools to teach kids about her kindness, bravery, and happiness — despite her disabilities.”
The cost of a one-hour session within 20 miles of TevaLand is $200, including a link to professional photos. Ms. Ron said that the fully insured program can be adapted to audiences of any age; it touches on themes of farm life, homesteading, the care of animals, and civic responsibility. The program also is available for birthday parties.
In addition, Ms. Ron brings rescue animals along when she prepares students with special needs for their bar or bat mitzvah. “We work one on one, a couple of months to a couple of years prior to their ceremony,” she said. “With the help of the bunnies we do a lot of healing.”
For more information, go to tevaland.org, email TevaLand@TevaLand.org, or call (845) 533-4063.