On a recent Friday afternoon at the Simpsonville home of Angel Durham and Greg Askew, Durham is busy working at her kitchen island. She meticulously tends to an injured baby bunny rabbit, while two pigeons look on from atop cabinets.
The bunny, which had been bitten by a cat, sits calmly in a blanket while Durham flushes its wounds with a cleanser and water before spraying it with an antibacterial spray and giving it antibiotics.
After the work is done, Durham gets up to leave the room as one pigeon flies just over her head.
“Petri likes to buzz people,” Durham says with a smile.
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On her way to a guest bedroom, Durham passes by King, a 162-pound rescued rottweiler, who is peacefully lying in the living room. Durham arrives at the bedroom to check on the current guests, a group of baby raccoons.
Meanwhile, Askew is in the backyard with the goats, turkeys, chickens, raccoons, ducks, geese and donkeys. And on the back deck, the couple’s 5-year-old daughter Izzie looks at the baby ducks, who had just spent a week under a heat lamp in the couple’s bathtub, before she pets a baby opossum.
In other words, it’s just a typical day at Izzie’s Pond.
An accidental sanctuary
The scene was much different when Durham and Askew moved here five years ago.
Aside from the couple’s dogs, there were no other animals living here when Durham brought home four baby ducks to live on the six-acre property’s pond.
“We actually got them for my daughter Shelby,” Durham said.
Much like her mother, Shelby Durham, who’s now 21, always had a love for animals.
Another animal lover joined the family just before they moved here when Angel gave birth to Izzie, who will gleefully tell first-time visitors what Izzie’s Pond exactly is.
“We take care of animals when they are sick or hurt and make them better,” she exclaims.
Shortly after getting the ducks, one was injured after being attacked by an owl. Durham said she couldn’t find anyone who could care for it, especially since the injury occurred at night.
After finally finding a veterinarian in Anderson who could help, Durham realized that if she was going to have pet ducks, she needed to learn how to take care of them.
“That’s when we joined Wildlife Rehab of Greenville and started taking classes,” Durham said.
As more waterfowl made their way to Izzie’s Pond, she noticed that the majority were not wild animals at all. They were domestic animals that had been dumped somewhere by their owners.
“We nurse them back to health and then try to adopt them out to good homes,” Durham said. “We started out with the four pet ducks, then that kind of turned into a waterfowl rescue, and then we started doing a little wildlife rehab.”
When word got around that they were rescuing animals, more started showing up, she said.
“We went from ducks and geese and swans to chickens, turkeys, goats, possums, squirrels and raccoons,” Durham said.
A good example of how animals typically arrive at Izzie’s Pond can be seen in the baby raccoons, which stay in encased, blanket-covered heating pads because if they get cold they could die. A farmer accidentally knocked over a tree that killed the raccoons’ mother, so he gathered the babies and brought them to Durham.
The name Izzie’s Pond came about through car rides with Izzie, when she got big enough to see out the side window.
We would drive down our road and when we’d come around the curve where the pond just comes into view, she’d go, ‘my pond!,’” Durham said.
Early on, word of mouth and social media helped spread the word that Durham could care for injured or neglected animals. Her contact information is listed with other state rehabbers on the S.C. Department of Natural Resources website, and she’s a member of several wildlife groups.
In addition to the training the couple received on how to care for the animals, they also learned how to release the wild ones back into their natural habitat.
“We don’t feed them in the living room and then just dump them out in the woods somewhere when we decide it’s time,” Durham said. “There’s a process.”
Day by day, Durham gets more and different animals to care for. There may be anywhere from 200-350 animals at Izzie’s Pond on a given day.
Caring for that many animals can prove expensive.
“We spend about $260 a week on food and anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 a year on vet bills,” Durham said. “A lot of things I can take care of myself, but many of our owner-surrendered animals have injuries that I can’t.
“The first two years, we paid for it out of pocket. After that, it became way more than we could afford. We have people that donate money, thank goodness, or otherwise we couldn’t do this.”
While Izzie’s Pond has grown to become one of the only animal rescue sanctuaries of its kind in the Upstate, Durham and Askew have regular jobs in addition to their parental duties.
“It’s upsetting that I can’t say yes to everything. … The hardest thing to deal with has become people that expect us to drop everything we’re doing and come get an animal for them,” Durham said. “We’re not animal control. We’re not DNR. We’re volunteers. There’s no state funding or anything like that.
“We probably get 30 animal calls a day.”
Durham said she could not take on as many animals as they do without help from numerous volunteers.
Durham calls 10-year-old Bennett Van Every one of her most dependable volunteers. Van Every’s father, Patrick, can attest to his son’s visits.
“He’s my son, but I have to come here to see him,” joked Van Every. “He loves it and it’s been a neat opportunity for him. As a parent, we just let him flourish with it.”
Marlene Smith used to spend her lunch breaks feeding a duck and a goose that had taken up residence at a pond outside her office. When word came down about three years ago that her bosses no longer wanted the animals around, she began looking for someone who could take them.
That’s when she got in touch with Durham and then discovered Izzie’s Pond, which she had no idea was less than five minutes from her house.
“I fell in love with Izzie immediately, of course,” Smith said. “After seeing the overwhelming volume of what they are trying to do, I started trying to raise money for them and then I started feeding the animals.
“Then we started a volunteer network to get other people to come feed the animals because Angel was doing it all every day, 24/7.”
Izzie’s Pond not only proves beneficial for animals, but also for those animal lovers who work there, Smith said. She’s partial to ducks.
“Once you hold a duck, you’ll never eat another one,” Smith said with a laugh. “They’re just so warm and affectionate. I can’t have ducks at my house, so I go to Izzie’s Pond two days a week.”
A bigger vision
Durham said sometimes it’s overwhelming as most of the animals she cares for have lost their mother or been abandoned by human owners who gave up trying to domesticate a wild animal.
“People are expecting a cat- or dog-type of behavior, which many of these animals aren’t going to have,” Durham said. “We have a lot of animals that have personality disorders, if you want to call it that. They don’t know what they are because they’ve been raised incorrectly.”
But many of the rescues prove to be rewarding and fulfilling. Such is the case with the gamecocks that reside at Izzie’s Pond, who were part of a large cockfighting ring that was busted.
“These animals aren’t aggressive,” Askew said as he stroked the feathers of one while it rested in his arms. “They’re trained and provoked to fight.”
When she’s not at her job or at home taking care of the animals, Durham is usually on the road picking up animals in need or releasing those that’ve been nursed back to health.
The work they’ve done with Izzie’s Pond has centered the couple and taught them to be less materialistic and less self-involved, she said. When she ponders why they do what they do, the answer is simple.
“Somebody has to do it because the animals need help,” Durham said.
While the family does it because they love it, they’re unsure if they can take on anymore animals at this point.
“Each year as we grow, we have a little bit more animals, and we have quickly outgrown the six acres that we have,” Durham said. “We want a larger property so that we can expand our rescue.”
Durham said her family is looking for about a 75-acre location. Wherever they end up will surely have water, another pond for Izzie to claim.
For more information on Izzie’s Pond, an animal rescue sanctuary in Simpsonville, visit IzziesPond.com