MIDDLETOWN – Even when Karen Cohen is on vacation with her family, her heart is still at home with the residents of King James Care Center on Route 36.
So it didn’t come as any surprise to Recreation Director Cathy Kane when Karen called from Assateaque Island to see whether the nursing home wanted to adopt a wild pony!
Cohen, a recreation aide at the nursing home and rehabilitation center for the past six years, explained to Kane that it’s possible to ‘adopt’ the feral animals that live on this island off Virginia and Maryland. Domestic animals that reverted to a wild state through decades of living there on their own, the horses are tough enough to survive heat, bugs, hurricanes, and poor quality food on a barrier island. How they arrived on the island is still a matter of debate; some say they were survivors of a 17th century ship wreck, others that they were brought there by mainland owners and farmers to avoid fencing laws and livestock taxation.
Either way, they are a popular tourist attraction on the land managed by the National Park Service and a number of the animals, on the Virginia side of the island, are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company through a special use permit with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Interested persons are invited to review photos of several of the horses and make donations to ‘adopt’ them, the funds going for the upkeep and protection of the animals.
When Cohen explained the program to the residents, they immediately set about organizing a fund raiser to raise the money themselves for the adoption of “Giggles.” When Cohen came back to work, she presented the new owners with a color photograph of Giggles, a certificate of thanks and appreciation, and an account of the mare’s life, showing she was born in 2011 and living free on Assateague ever since.
But the adoption program did not end there. “This program was successful on many levels,” Kane said. “The residents experienced a sense of accomplishment in helping to raise the money to foster Giggles. They also enjoyed games and creative art programs while learning about the wild ponies. They created paintings and decoupage of Giggles, and all their artwork, pictures and a story were on exhibition in the care center lobby for a week, giving our residents the opportunity to tell their visitors once again about the contributions they made.”