Born and bred on Staten Island 83 years ago, Ernestine L., lovingly called Ernie by those who have known her, has been a pet rescuer for over 45 years. Often called “Mother Theresa Of Pets”, Ernie has never been known to turn down a request for help. I don’t think there is one animal person living on the Island who hasn’t heard of her undying devotion to pets from every walk of life. At 5 feet tall, weighing perhaps 90 pounds, Ernie is a formitable representative of what a pet person is all about.
She spent many many years in the “field” going out of her way to rescue strays in distress. No matter what time, day or night, if she received a phone call telling her that an animal needed help, she would be on her way immediately. Always keeping rescue cages in her car, along with cans of food, just in case she got the call. Sometimes she would spend hours upon hours in the middle of the night, waiting, hoping and praying that animal would enter the cage, and usually she was successful. The times she wasn’t would hurt her heart, and the next day or night she was out there again, hoping against all odds that there was a rescued baby in the cage she had left.
Today, Ernie no longer is out and about doing street rescues. Now people just bring the pets to her. So many times there have been knocks on her door in the middle of the night, and when she opened the door she would find a box of kittens, maybe two or three days old. The people who dropped the kittens off were nowhere to be found, but they knew the “cat lady down the block” would do everything in her power to make sure the babies were safe and well taken care of. Instances like these involve Ernie bottle feeding the babies every two hours around the clock. Over the many years this scenerio has taken place hundreds of times, and each time, she did what she had to do.
Ernie has been part of The Council For Animal Welfare since its inception in the eighties. They are a group of pet loving individuals who rescue animals throughout Staten Island. They provide medical care, foster homes and adoptions. Many of their cats can be seen at the local Petsmart in Staten Island. They do ask for a donation which covers spaying/altering and medical services, involving blood work, deworming and injections. Although a part of this organization, Ernie has been known to provide these services on her own. Living strictly on Social Security, this isn’t always an easy situation for her, but she does it. Her husband, Vincent who is 93, was recently placed in a nursing home, so between taking care of the many rescues that share her home, she spends most days visiting with Vincent as well.
There are so many stories I would like to share about Ernie’s heart, but one particular story stands out for me, and that was the rescue of Carol, a severely malnurished, burned, and badly beaten Pit Bull mix that Ernie found in the street tied on a 12 inch chain to a fence. She immediately untied the the dog, rushed her to an emergency veterinary clinic and was told that there was no hope. Ernie doesn’t pay attention to these kind of statements. She told the vet to treat the burns, administer antibiotics by injection, and keep what turned out to be a 5 or 6 month old puppy in intensive care for however long it would take for her to recover. After 3 weeks at the veterinarians office, Carol, whom Ernie named after an old feisty friend of hers, was taken home. After many more weeks of at home care and treatment, Carol survived to become the ambassador of Staten Island. She was, without a doubt, the most gentle and loving dog. Over the 13 years living with Ernie, Carol welcome all the rescues into her heart with opened paws. Unfortunately Carol had to be put to sleep a few months ago, and her kind and gentle nature will never be forgotten. She was the epitome of what love, compassion and gratefulness can be.
There are so many animals I remember that Ernie saved. There was Tripod, the 3 legged cat. There was Elsie, the cat with no ears. There was Timmy, the poodle tied to the Staten Island Expressway. There was the family of 4 black kittens and their mom, who Ernie rescued from a animal hoarder who was using black cats for religious rites and ceremonies. There was the little pug she found wandering the streets who was so undernourished that she had forgotten how to eat. Ernie spent days bottle feed and finger feeding the little angel until she was able to eat on her own. I can’t begin to tell you how many of the animals she rescued have shared her home and continue to do so.
I know Ernie will be embarrassed to know that I’ve written an article about her just as she was when I nominated her for Animal Planet’s Pet Hero Of The Year a few years ago, but it is important for people to know that there is a special lady doing special things for special pets every day of the year. She wants no recognition. She merely wants to provide a safe haven to God’s creatures who, do to circumstances beyond their control, have suffered greatly at the hands of heartless people. This tiny, gracious lady, is a force to be reckoned with. The care and nuturing of animals has been her life for years and years. May God grant her the ability to continue his work here on the Island of Staten. I’m honored to know her.