Lending a Healing Hand

A Coconut Creek high schooler saves local wildlife

It began with an abandoned baby opossum. In time, the list of wildlife Ella Dotan rescued grew to include injured squirrels, turtles and baby birds that had fallen out of their nest. The Coconut Creek resident has earned herself a reputation as champion of the neighborhood creatures, her house a magnet for animals in need.

Most remarkably, she’s only 14 years old.

“They seem to find our house,” jokes her mother, Mia, referring to the string of animals Ella has rescued over the years. “It’s almost like they know.”

Animals always have been Ella’s passion. She spends spare moments watching YouTube videos and learning about all different species. “If I have to read, I read something about animals,” she says. Exotics hold the most appeal, and she hopes to have a sugar glider (a nocturnal opossum) someday. But everyday animals hold a special place in Ella’s heart, especially ducklings. Fifteen ducklings to be exact.

Around Easter, a neighbor discovered a group of orphaned ducklings and brought them to Ella’s attention. She set to work, fashioning a temporary shelter for them, providing a heating pad for warmth and teddy bear for snuggling, its limbs acting as surrogates for their mother’s wings. They grew fond of Ella, following her around the yard in a line, as if she were their mother.

The Dotan residence, and the lake behind their yard, is a gathering point for much of the neighborhood wildlife, and it wasn’t long before an adult female duck wandered onto the scene. It took Ella multiple attempts to familiarize her with the ducklings, but eventually the duck adopted the orphaned bunch, taking them back to the wild. All are thriving and pop by daily for a visit and a scratch on their heads.

“The girls are the nicest,” Ella says. She knows all their habits, likes and personalities and has given each of them names. “The biggest is named Prince,” she says. “The smallest is Tiny.”

Her parents support her passion; Mia allowed the ducklings inside the house at night (in their box) during the early days. Her father, Ronen, drives to Davie to purchase special food for the brood. “She’s very compassionate,” Ronen says with pride about his eldest daughter.

They also make sure to maintain a healthy respect for each animal’s wild status. The family works closely with local wildlife agencies to ensure every rescue receives the proper professional care, and they are on a first-name basis with more than a few of the rescue workers.

Ella is in her freshman year at Monarch High School, and she is a member of both the Humane Society and Environmental clubs. She intends to volunteer at the Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital and Gumbo Limbo Nature Center … when she’s old enough, of course.

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