For the Love of Wildlife
A family of red-shouldered hawks perching on a pasture fence. Swallows chattering away in the barn rafters. Nuthatches, cardinals, and blue jays, among dozens of other birds, feeding at a half-dozen backyard feeders as well as finding safe haven in some 15 bird houses.
These are just some of the visitors that Daniel Savoie has enjoyed at his rural southern Massachusetts home. They inspire him to reflect on how people can live in harmony with wildlife.
“Finding a balance with nature is important; we're all interconnected,” he said. “If we endanger or lose species because of habitat loss, we lose as humans—and of course that loss has a ripple effect on everything else.” Wild creatures “don’t have a voice” to protest human actions that could threaten their survival, he added. “It’s up to us to speak for them.”
Savoie is now extending that philosophy through a recent gift to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. His endowed fund will support wildlife research, and specifically a student engaged in summer research that directly supports and enhances the health of wildlife native to New England.
“Dan’s thoughtful investment will benefit our students, and wildlife, for years to come,” said Cummings School Dean Alastair Cribb. Its focus on research, he said, also reinforces the school’s focus on One Health, an interdisciplinary approach to the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
“Wild animals are often the sentinels that signal things are out of balance,” Cribb said. “One Health issues are complicated and depend on a close understanding of animals and their behavior,” he said. “Through wildlife research, we can add valuable insights into how to find the balance between animals and people.”
Maureen Murray, V03, director of the Wildlife Clinic, also appreciates the far-reaching potential of the endowed fund for research. “On a daily basis, at the Wildlife Clinic, we witness the obstacles our wildlife face in today’s environment. This gift will add to ongoing areas of research into wildlife health while at the same time engaging and training our veterinary students, who we hope will become future leaders in the field of conservation medicine.”
Savoie grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where his father, a 1939 graduate of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, had a dental practice. His childhood was informed by his mother’s affection for animals. “She would always feed the birds, and we always had cats and dogs,” he said.
When Savoie was raising his own family, animals, including golden retrievers and horses, and an “abundance of guinea pigs,” continued to be a center of gravity. His two daughters became accomplished equestrians, competing in show jumping events on warmbloods.
The dogs and the horses would ultimately bring the family to Grafton in search of the school’s expertise. “Everything about the Cummings School was exceptional,” said Savoie. “I don’t think you go into that profession unless you’re incredibly dedicated to animals and the people who love them.”
Savoie, a retired civil engineer, recently started thinking in earnest about meaningful philanthropy. His thoughts naturally gravitated toward wildlife. He had served on his town’s conservation commission for 10 years and had watched with dismay as golf courses gave way to housing developments.
“We used to have a herring run in town,” he said. (River herring return from the sea each year to lay their eggs in inland ponds and rivers.) The herring numbers declined in recent years due to overfishing, pollution, and new housing, he explained.
“With more houses came more fertilizers being applied to lawns,” Savoie said. Chemicals from the fertilizers enter local waterways, contributing to an increase in the density of algae, and those “algae blooms have made it virtually impossible for the fish to survive.”
Savoie’s appreciation for wildlife has evolved over the years. Back when his four-acre property was a “mini horse farm,” he kept the barn window open for barn swallows who “talked to me while I was mucking out,” he said. “And they kept the mosquitos down too,” he added.
His connection to wildlife goes even deeper, though. “I think wildlife made me more reflective about the sacredness of life,” an introspection that translates into a reverence for all creatures. “If I fished, I always did catch and release,” he said. “And today, if I have a bug in the house, and if I can catch it, I release it outside.”
He is pleased that his gift now provides veterinary students with a passion for wildlife research the chance to advance wildlife health. “I'm grateful to be able to be in a position where I can give back,” he said. “When I thought about what I wanted to do, I felt compelled to do what I can for wildlife, and that brings me a great sense of accomplishment and hope.”