Friday, January 19, 2018

Protecting Fire Island’s Creatures

December 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s not unusual for John McCollum to be riding his bike on Fire Island with deer following behind. As president of The Fire Island Welfare Animal Society (its motto is “Preserve and Protect”), he’s been a hero to the animals of Fire Island for 35 years.

He works with his wife, Shoshanna McCollum, the editor of Fire Island News, who takes care of the business end of the Society — though she says that she’s “changed a litter box or two.” Along with the efforts of the Society’s board of directors, calls to action come from the police, dock masters, and concerned citizens that range from kittens in distress to foxes with mange.

McCollum, retired from the Town of Islip Meals on Wheels Program and the Fire Island School District, remains active in the Ocean Beach Volunteer Fire Department. He works hand-in-hand with the Ocean Beach Police Department, responding to officers’ calls about animals in trouble. He recalls the evening a call came in to him about a mother duck with nine ducklings, two of which were entangled in seaweed by Ocean Beach Bay.

“The north wind was blowing all off the flat land,” relates Henry Prolo, dock master of Houser’s Hotel, who was working alongside fellow dock master Peter Jensen to assist the little ones. Things grew even direr when one duckling wound up in the water and was stuck under the dock’s bulkhead. A boat was approaching, but Jensen freed the little one just in the nick of time. Thereafter, Prolo and Jensen kept the duck warm and safe until a duck rehabber came to take it.

Help comes from many specialists in the wildlife animal community of helpers, on and off of Fire Island. “For every creature, there is a rehabilitator on Long Island,” McCollum notes.

As elsewhere, the wildlife on Fire Island get sick and need medicine, often administered by McCollum.

Residents and visitors often point out to him critters they believe are in distress due to a disability, but he stresses that, just like humans, deer and other wildlife that look helpless may be coping and even thriving, and have every right to live. However, he doesn’t discourage the calls, as the Society wants to help those who need assistance.

Society board member Frank X. Fischer, Jr., a former chief of the Ocean Beach Fire Department and a U.S. Marine veteran, assists with animal care. Like so many concerned about vulnerable creatures, Fischer has taken in and adopted some special needs cats.

McCollum attributes his sensitivity as well as his special appreciation and love of animals to his parents (both lost their hearing when they were children).Rising before the sun is overhead to feed his feral cat colonies, he also handles all necessary care including trapping, spaying, and neutering. He cares for the sick and injured, bottle feeds kittens, and arranges for fostering, and adoption to loving homes when they’re ready.

Horseshoe crabs are another “pet” project of McCollum. His wife shares that “he has been late for more than one appointment in his efforts to aid stranded ones on the beach.” The Society’s Facebook page offers this advice: If you find one washed up on its back, help it out and turn it right side up again. They can’t do it on their own. While you’re at it, bring her back in to the water line if it’s low tide — fear not, they don’t bite.

Fire Island natives and long-time residents aren’t concerned when they see deer chasing McCollum on his bike. But to others worried he’s in peril, he exclaims, “Don’t worry, all is fine! I’m in no danger from them. Wild animals don’t want any trouble from humans.”

Saddened, McCollum adds that animals should fear humans to a much greater degree. “Habitat destruction by humans is the main cause of the animal population diminishing.”

For more information about the Fire Island Welfare Society, visit

Author’s note: The Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island in West Islip is a 24-hour, emergency and multi-specialty practice that takes in both injured domestic animals and wildlife. Staff member Tara Smith says that if an animal is brought in that is found not to need medical attention, the Good Samaritan is instructed as to where to bring the animal, or how to rerelease it.

By Rebecca Hoey


lives on Long Island’s East End with her teenage daughter. They dedicate much of their time to animal rescue. She began a writing career as a contributor/blogger for Her greatest escape is baking.

Comments are closed.