Meet the Woman Who’s Nursed Hundreds of NJ Bats Back to Health

Jackie Kashmer has nursed at least 300 virus-stricken bats at her NJ Bat Sanctuary in Alexandria Township. Photo by Matt Rainey

Thanks to Jackie Kashmer, hundreds of formerly injured, now thriving bats fly over the Hunterdon County farmlands. All it takes is a bat barn, about $250 a month in live mealworms, and Kashmer’s total dedication.

Kashmer has been rehabilitating wildlife for 30 years; for the last 18, she has focused on bats at her New Jersey Bat Sanctuary in Alexandria Township.

People who find an injured bat often call Kashmer for advice. In many cases, she travels to pick up the affected bat, restore it to health, and return it to the wild when possible. June is her busiest season, when baby bats have a tendency to fall onto the floors of barns, separating them from their mothers.

Several times a year, Kashmer gives tours of her nonprofit sanctuary to groups of students or scouts. Donations and her job as a court reporter at the U.S. District Court in Newark, support her work. On occasion, she brings a small heated terrarium of baby bats to the courthouse. The imperiled bats need feeding every few hours.

Kashmer helped during the most serious wildlife epidemic in American history, white nose syndrome, a fungus that attacked hibernating bats, waking them up, injuring their wings, and causing them to starve. The Hibernia Mine in Rockaway Township, the state’s largest known hibernaculum—or hibernation place—used to shelter 30,000 bats. Since the fungus reached it in 2009, 90 percent died. Kashmer nursed at least 300 afflicted bats; most survived and were released back to the wild. Four survivors are still living with her.

“They wiped out my retirement,” Kashmer jokes as she tends to the surviving little brown bats. This entails tweezing off the heads of the mealworms before she feeds the bats, so the worms don’t bite and choke the bats on the way down.

MacKenzie Hall, a bat specialist at the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, calls Kashmer “incredibly dedicated,” adding, “We still find bats that are banded who came through her facility.”

As for the virus, Hall says, “We are cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind [the affected species] and that the surviving bats will continue to do well and slowly build their numbers back up.”

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How a Jersey Couple Harnessed the Healing Power of Horses

Veteran Kevin Henry takes comfort in Shiloh, a rescued mustang at the Unbridled Heroes Project. Courtesy of Amy McCambridge-Steppe

When Amy McCambridge-Steppe and Mark Steppe married in 2009, they shared a dream of opening a sanctuary for abused animals. That vision was realized in September 2018 when they founded the Unbridled Heroes Project in Allendale—but first, they had their own healing to handle.

Amy, 39, and Mark, 36, military veterans living in Ridgewood, were dealing with Mark’s post-traumatic stress. His unit had lost 18 men during one year in Iraq. “The war had come home with him,” says Amy. “I couldn’t help him forget what he had been through.” To make matters worse, Mark was in constant pain from lesions on his spine, caused in part, they believe, by military use of depleted uranium. No medication worked, so Mark numbed the pain with alcohol.

During Mark’s ordeal, Amy worked as a soccer trainer and cared for the couple’s sons, Jack, now 10, and Torin, 17, from Amy’s prior marriage. Then hardship struck again. Amy’s debilitating headaches were traced to a benign brain tumor.

Just when things seemed hopeless, Amy visited a rescue in Mahwah, where she met Phoenix, a horse so traumatized that no one could get near her. Amy visited every day, talking to Phoenix. It took five months before she could touch the horse, but during this time, Amy’s headaches eased. Doctors are taking a wait-and-watch approach to Amy’s tumor; she says Phoenix made her feel like getting out of bed every morning. 

“We want to revive the unbridled spirit in both our rescued horses and our heroes.” —Amy McCambridge-Steppe

While Amy was spending time with Phoenix, Mark met Saturn, another rescue. Saturn was considered dangerous—but not for Mark, who gained a feeling of calm as he bonded with the horse.  

The time seemed right for Amy and Mark to chase their dream. They rented pastureland and launched the Unbridled Heroes Project with three wild mustangs obtained from other rescue and training facilities. 

The Steppes now are helping others heal. Clients include two veterans, two EMTs and several children who have experienced trauma. Kevin Bombace, 22, a Marine who has leukemia, says that Hope, one of the Steppes’ mustangs, made a difference in his life. “She took away negative thoughts so I can live in the moment,” he says. “We formed a real bond.”

“We want to revive the unbridled spirit in both our rescued horses and our heroes,” says Amy, so they can “find solace in each other.”

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Our Second Annual Top Dog Contest Winner

Photo by Joe Polillio

Two paws up for Nessie, winner of the second annual New Jersey Monthly Top Dog Contest, sponsored by Purr’n Pooch Pet Resorts. Our judges chose Nessie as Top Dog from 15 finalists.

Nessie is a 1 ½-year-old Nederlandse Kooikerhondje. Her owners, Ashley and Rob McKee, of Washington Township, Bergen County, connected with Nessie the instant they met, when Nessie was just eight weeks old. They describe her as loving and playful.

“Anywhere we are, she comes with us,” says Rob. That includes hiking, one of Nessie’s favorite activities. In fact, the picture that won the judges’ hearts was taken on a trail in River Vale.

Nessie, who came from an Indiana breeder,  has impressive bloodlines. Her father, Ayrie, ranked first in an agility competition in 2018. Her mother, Bree, competed in this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in the sporting group. It was the breed’s first time in the competition. 

Only about 9,000 Kooikerhondjes exist worldwide, and the breed remains extremely rare in the United States. Ashley hopes that Nessie’s Top Dog victory will inspire others to welcome the unique breed into their homes.

The winner of our Second Annual Top Dog Contest was chosen in a two-step process. A total of 399 photos were entered in the contest from October 22-November 30, 2018, at Fifteen finalists were chosen in an online vote from December 3-16; a total of 10,036 votes were cast. A panel of five experts chose the winning dog from the finalists based on five criteria: appeal of the pet; pose; composition of the photo; quality of image; and originality.

Our judges:

Mary Anne Broderick, pet photographer, Millstone Township; John Emerson, photographer, Montclair; Joe Polillio, photographer/vidoegrapher, Denville; Alessandra Sawick, pet photographer, North Arlington; and Amanda Smith, franchise owner, Bubba Rose Biscuit Co., Morristown. New Jersey Monthly donated a portion of the proceeds from the contest to benefit Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter.

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