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Exotic animal shelter suffers setback

All kinds unwanted animals find shelter Settlers Pond Beecher.  |  DonnVickroy~Sun-Times Media

All kinds of unwanted animals find shelter at Settlers Pond in Beecher. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 21, 2014 6:37AM



For two decades, Aircolina “Pinky” Janota has been rescuing exotic animals from the dumb, naïve, heartless things that humans do.

They see a camel in a TV commercial and order one over the Internet, only to learn right away that raising a camel is like raising a bull. They see a movie about kangaroos and immediately have to have one. It arrives and immediately they no longer want it.

Or they simply get tired of taking care of their dog/horse/alpaca/fill in the blank.

And some of the animals end up at Janota’s Settlers Pond in Beecher.

As tough as it is to care for camels, kangaroos, monkeys that need incubators and horses with broken backs, Janota doesn’t mind tending to the animals’ needs. Her biggest challenge continues to come from humans.

For the second time in five years, someone stole a tractor from the 60-acre nonprofit shelter.

The thief broke into the barn sometime early Thursday and drove off with the $17,000 piece of equipment that Janota and her farmhand used daily to deliver water, bales of hay and bags of feed to the animals.

“Now we have to do it by hand,” she said. “That adds a good six hours to our workday, which is normally about 12 hours.”

She’s not complaining about the work load (after all, it’s a labor of love), but she’s worried about the additional amount of time the animals have to wait for food. Already one tortoise was thrown off schedule by the feeding change, laid eggs and then walked across them, smashing all.

Though volunteers showed up Friday to help, Janota wonders what she’ll do next week and the week after that.

“We just can’t afford to buy another tractor,” she said. “I feel violated, big time.”

Janota and her husband, Rolly, opened Settlers Pond on a small farm after someone left a skinned pig in a box at the end of her lane.

“I realized there was a need, that these kinds of animals had nowhere to go,” she said. “I was a beef farmer, and my husband and his family were dairy farmers. We sold everything and donated it all to the shelter.”

Six or seven years ago, they moved to their current location on Offner Road.

Rolly continues his day job at ComEd, where he’s worked for 42 years.

“He can’t retire because we have a lot of mouths to feed, a lot of responsibilities,” Janota said. “And neither one of us would have it any other way.”

Among those 350 mouths are three Dromedary camels, 15 baby kangaroos, a slew of giant tortoises, 49 dogs and a pen full of sheep, goats, alpacas, emus and horses. And also monkeys, rare Philippine porcupines, a bearded dragon lizard and a couple of kinkajous, which are small, raccoon-like mammals native to tropical forests.

And thanks to a man who dropped off a pillowcase during last fall’s pumpkin festival, they also now have an 8-foot, redtail boa constrictor.

Some of the animals are dropped off at the sanctuary, others are picked up. Chip, a dog that needs a walker to get around, came from Pennsylvania. The camels came from southern Illinois. Freddie, a Pomeranian who follows Janota relentlessly, was dropped off last Christmas Eve.

Many of the chickens and ducks have come from classroom projects or people who thought owning them was a good idea until winter rolled around.

Janota loves them all, pausing in her busy schedule to greet, pet and kiss almost all of them.

She travels to seven states to rescue abused, abandoned and unwanted animals. She tries to give each the care it needs. After the gates are closed for the day, many of the dogs are allowed to run free.

“Most of the animals here get along, not all but most,” she said.

It takes 30 bales of hay plus bags of feed to feed all of them. Without the tractor, Janota said she and her farmhand must haul the 70-pound bales by hand.

“We’re devastated that somebody thought that their needs were greater than those of 350 animals,” she said.

After their tractor was stolen five years ago, a generous donor named Joyce Dennehy bought them a new one and donated it to the shelter.

“We were very close to her. She was like my mom,” Janota said. “Most of these animals were rescued by her generosity. So when they stole that tractor, they didn’t just steal a piece of equipment, they stole a piece of our hearts.”

Settlers Pond does not breed or sell animals. Only some are available for adoption. And only established zoos are eligible to receive any of the exotic animals, Janota said.

Several times a year, it offers events that serve as fundraisers, including a May festival, a Halloween pumpkin patch and a Christmas tree sale.

For more information on, or to donate to, Settlers Pond, 1301 E. Offner Road, Beecher, call (708) 663-8103, visit settlerspondshelter.net or visit them on Facebook.



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