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South Valley Journal

Wasatch Wanderers rescue abandoned exotic pets, ducks and geese

Oct 19, 2022 03:54PM ● By Peri Kinder

When people think of animal rescue, they usually think about the thousands of abandoned dogs or cats waiting to be placed in forever homes. But Wasatch Wanderers rescue a different type of animal.

Although Adison Smith and co-founder Kade Tyler have been rescuing animals for more than 10 years, it wasn’t until last September that they created the nonprofit Wasatch Wanderers to help domestic waterfowl, farm animals and exotic pets. 

“I’ve always been very passionate about helping animals because they don’t have a voice for themselves,” Smith said. “We just recognized there was a big need for farm and exotic animal rescue.”

Last fall, Smith was contacted by Weber State University to rescue more than 60 ducks and geese stranded at the school’s campus. Water for the animals was drying up and the waterfowl were being attacked by dogs. 

Geese had been at WSU for several years, but as the birds reproduced, and as people dropped off their pet geese and ducks on campus, the number of birds had increased, creating a problem at the school. 

“For years, these geese had been seen as the Weber State unintentional mascot. They’d put the geese on shirts and hats and COVID masks,” Smith said. “I organized a rescue team and found a home for the geese.”

That’s when she decided to create Wasatch Wanderers, and during the last year, the organization has rescued more than 500 domestic waterfowl.

Smith said people don’t realize pet ducks and geese have been genetically altered with wings too small for their bodies. They get too fat to fly to safety. Because they can’t sustain flight, they don’t migrate and get stuck in ponds when the water freezes. 

“They rely on humans to keep them alive. You’ll see a lot of dead waterfowl because they can't leave and they’ve become an easy target for predators,” Smith said. “People just don’t know they can’t fly or forage on their own.”

The goal of Wasatch Wanderers is to remove domestic waterfowl from places that aren’t safe and put them in forever homes. But it’s not just geese and ducks rescued by the group, they also take in pigs, chickens, cows, hamsters, turtles and fish.

Smith is often contacted by shelters across the state who have a rooster, pig or duck that’s going to be euthanized. She takes those animals and gives them to one of the 50 foster homes willing to take in farm animals. 

They recently saved a pig from a shelter near Vernal and rescued an additional four pigs from California. Wasatch Wanderers paid for a volunteer to transport the pigs to a foster home and got the animals medical care, including one pig that had eight babies after it was rescued. 

“We travel basically everywhere in Utah where there’s a need,” she said. “Wasatch Wanderers focuses on abandoned, neglected and unwanted animals. Our goal is to educate the public and get them to treat and see animals differently.”

It can get overwhelming when so many animals need a home. There are currently 85 roosters in the group’s care, more than 150 waterfowl, lots of guinea pigs and hamsters, and they’ve stopped accepting rabbits because they can’t afford the medical care for all the rabbits they receive. 

Wasatch Wanderers also rescues abandoned turtles and goldfish. In the last year, the group has saved nearly 70 turtles that have been abandoned in waterways. Smith said people don’t know that goldfish and turtles are an invasive species and damaging to wildlife. 

“These are living beings and they have needs and if you can’t meet those, don’t buy them,” Smith said. “Not only is it harmful and cruel to that animal to do that, it’s also illegal. It’s actually a crime in the state of Utah to abandon any domestic animal, even something as small as a goldfish.”

Currently, the organization is 100% foster-based, but Smith and Tyler hope to purchase property to create an animal sanctuary when land becomes more affordable. All the money for medical care, food and transportation comes out-of-pocket or through donations.

To contribute to Wasatch Wanderers, to become a foster or for more information, visit WasatchWanderers.org. 

“There is a resource available to pet owners who are in over their head. Don’t abandon, reach out to a rescue,” Smith said. “The biggest change we want to make is educating the public and preventing the problem at the source. Prevent those impulsive buys because that’s what so many do when they abandon their animal. Make more responsible decisions. That’s what adults are supposed to do.”