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Updated June 21, 2018
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Lisbon woman hopes to send Maine’s wandering emu to a safe home

LISBON — Janet Tuttle just wants to find Ralphie a proper home.

Ralphie, aka “The Bird,” is a 100-pound emu who is almost tall enough to look Tuttle in the eye. Tuttle has cared for Ralphie for about nine years. This month, he escaped, prompting local public safety officials to sound the alert. He was captured the next day.

Now, Tuttle is trying to raise $3,000 to transport Ralphie to a sanctuary in Georgia.

Ralphie, as it happens, was on the run in Bowdoinham when he first came into Tuttle’s possession. After the large, flightless bird was captured that time, it was given to Tuttle.

“They just dropped him here in my trailer. I said, ‘Uh, hey’,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about him.”

Tuttle said she agreed to keep Ralphie out of a love for animals. Her Rockin’ T Equine Sanctuary and Rescue in Lisbon is full of horses she cares about deeply. The sanctuary, which opened in 1993, has 33 horses, including many that have a history of neglect or abuse.

“I’m not a hoarder,” Tuttle said. “I’m a protector.”

Tuttle’s sanctuary and rescue operation relies on grants and a small staff, which includes her husband, daughter, one employee and occasional volunteers.

It was Ralphie’s most recent escape that prompted Tuttle to seek a better, safe home for the aging emu.

“I was nervous, because when he was on the run in Bowdoin and Bowdoinham it was three days,” she said. “I was scared of him at first. He’s really not a bad bird, but he’s getting older.”

Tuttle believes Ralphie is 19 years old, but said emus can reach up to 30 years old in captivity. Emus, a species native to Australia that are raised for their meat, eggs and leather, can live in many climates. They are the second-largest bird species, after the ostrich. Emus have powerful legs and can run as fast as 30 mph and jump up to 7 feet in the air, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Kicking is their main form of defense. That, combined with their size and knife-like toenails, means that caution should be used when dealing with an emu, just like any other large animal.

Tuttle wants Ralphie to be surrounded by other birds and have access to a veterinarian who can provide proper care. She is hoping to send the bird to Noah’s Arc Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, Georgia, where he would be with about 60 other emus.

Noah’s Arc has already agreed to take him, but $3,000 is needed to fund the trip south.

Tuttle contacted Pat Thompson of East Coast Equine Transport to move Ralphie.

“You could probably get somebody to haul him cheaper, but would they go directly with him, would they stop overnight?” she said. “I trust her. She’s got a nice trailer and she’d make a box stall in there for him.

“She’s not going to make big money on this trip, but nobody’s going to want their animal in with him,” added Tuttle. “He’ll ride good and I trust her. If people don’t want to send the money to us, that’s fine, send it to her.

“I know there’s a lot of people out there that care about animals,” said Tuttle. “I’m hoping they will help him out.”

In this file photo an emu named The Bird paces in its enclosure after being on the lam the day before. It escaped from Rockin’ T Equine Sanctuary and Rescue in Lisbon. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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