Roosevelt Islanders

Rossana Ceruzzi, Wildlife's Best Friend on Roosevelt Island

Updated 47 weeks ago David Stone
A Rescued Squirrel Rebuilding Strength
A Rescued Squirrel Rebuilding Strength
Photo Courtesy: Wildlife Freedom Foundation

"Hi, David," she calls, pedaling by on the West Promenade, the last syllable trailing behind her. It's Rossana Ceruzzi, off on her daily animal rehab assignment. Long before RIOC bungled its attempt to shut down the Southpoint cat sanctuary or admitted serving up contaminated water, Roosevelt Island's best friend for animals was doing her work.

Rossana Ceruzzi has whizzed past me more times than I can count over the years. I first met her over ten years ago as she coasted under the Queensboro Bridge on her way to a lawn behind Goldwater Hospital.

Cornell Tech was not on anyone's radar yet.

Rossana Ceruzzi, Wildlife's Best Friend on Roosevelt Island

"I heard there's an animal rehabilitator on Roosevelt Island," my editor said. "See if you can find her." 

Not such a tough assignment, as it turned out. I googled and found Ceruzzi, a founding member of the now defunct Island Cats, featured in his newspaper.

After a short introduction, we arranged to meet while she worked her rounds, a couple of days later.

An Italian teacher at Parliamo Italiano, now part of Hunter College, Ceruzzi spent much of whatever hours she could spare to ministering to injured and abandoned animals on Roosevelt Island. Her bike, basket filled with donated supplies, enabled her to cover ground quickly.

On this chilly, gray morning, Ceruzzi had no time to waste.

I barely introduced myself, getting to know her as something more than a subject before she ordered me to stand back across the road with her bike.

She walked quickly toward a lone Canada goose in a grassy area near the lower loop road.

I was aware of this flock, chasing them out of the road when out on early morning runs. Daily News delivery trucks whipped past what later became Southpoint, neither careful nor worried about PSD patrols before daybreak.

Later over coffee, Ceruzzi tells me that she saw this bird limping a few weeks ago and began treating her with the voluntary support of caring veterinarians.

"She probably had a hard landing on the road."

Before she completed her mission, Ceruzzi persuaded a groundskeeper with a large mower to pause long enough for her to do her work. He stood by while she nonchalantly approached the bird, tossing her two chunks of bread which are eaten immediately.

“One is an anti-inflammatory. The other is the antibiotic,” Ceruzzi explained. “I try to get close enough to get a look and see how the swelling is.”

Next she tossed handfuls of delicious seeds which were seized by the goose along with a small army of pigeons.

"It builds  trust," and will make her next visit easier.

Free to talk, Ceruzzi recalls growing up near Bologna and Rome in a family that loved animals. She came to the U. S. in 1992 and made Roosevelt Island her home in 2001.

While we chatted, the mower's path closed in on the goose until, finally, she spread her wings and after a running start floated over the promenade and into the river.

"Her mate is waiting in the water," I was told, and we heard the squawking of a happy reunion as she rejoined her clan.

Ceruzzi rescued and treated countless animals in her, by then, fifteen years on Roosevelt Island. Many of her rehabilitations involved, not unexpectedly, squirrels, known for their zany antics but spurred to heights of recklessness in mating season.

She's also saved the life of a chicken, a possum and a groundhog.

In 2016, the Roosevelt Islander blog told the story of a kestrel bird she rescued and rehabilitated back to nature.

Now, Ceruzzi has formed the Wildlife Freedom Foundation. Its mission is "to help protect and conserve wildlife and other animals in New York City."

With its base of operations on Roosevelt island, WFF aims to continue and extend her efforts. They can use your help. To continue helping animals, they need food, blankets, vet care, volunteers and foster homes. If you can help, click here.

And for the overall mission of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, money donations always helpful. Do what you can by clicking here.

Rossana Ceruzzi has been doing her part for years in making life better for vulnerable wildlife, even as local habitats have shrunk dramatically. If you can pitch in, she and the animals will love you for it.


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