As water flooded his Libertyville farm, Robert Moro refused to leave until he knew his animals would be safe.
The 59-year-old suffers from ALS and uses a wheelchair. The overflowing Des Plaines River quickly had engulfed his farm – known as Zekos farm – overnight on July 15, turning his home into an island. Two barns, an outbuilding and numerous vehicles were submerged in water.
A couple dozen chickens and a dozen bunnies already had drowned. And two dogs – a Yorkie Maltese mix named Rusty and a Chihuahua named Tinker – were missing.
The rest of the animals – a miniature horse named Olive, two goats (Lucky and Charm), five rabbits, two chickens and a duck – needed saving.
That’s when HARPS, the Hooved Animal Rescue & Protection Society, arrived on the scene. The Barrington Hills-based rescuers not only saved an anxious Olive, coaxing her through high waters reaching a depth of at least 4 feet, but they took in all the surviving animals, even ferrying some of them by boat on the morning of July 16.
“We’re mainly hooved animals, but in an emergency, we’ll take everything,” said Donna Ewing, HARP’s president and founder, who was among those wading in wet gear that morning. The animals’ heads needed to be held up not only to prevent drowning, but to keep them from drinking the water, likely riddled with oils and other contaminants.
“It’s a little extra work for us [to keep all of the animals] … but they’re so sweet and gentle,” Ewing said. “That made me realize they must have spent a lot of time communicating with them. They took good care of them.”
It’s a bittersweet story as all those involved try to focus on the positive amid so much negative, with flooding continuing to affect so many throughout the area.
The “good-hearted” rescuers were swift, said Moro’s daughter-in-law Anisa Ivanov, and soon his family was able to convince him to save himself as they placed his wheelchair on a boat and brought him to safety. He’s now staying in a nearby hotel.
The animals were his first addition to the 10-acre farm he bought two years ago, fulfilling his dream to have a place where his 25 grandchildren could visit.
“The animals are everything for him,” said Ivanov, who lived in the home with her four children and husband, Angela Komarov, one of Moro’s 10 children. The family had moved in to care for Moro after his ALS diagnosis about two years ago. They’d named all of the animals and played with them daily.
“They were spread throughout the farm. It was so beautiful because they were just running all around. … That was our little getaway from reality,” said Ivanov, who cried as she recalled having to watch, along with her children, as some of the animals drowned while rising waters trapped them in the home. The family’s pet dogs have yet to be found.
After Moro’s diagnosis of ALS about two months after he bought the farm, the family had to drastically cut costs. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Moro was given two to five years to live as the disease would take away his ability to speak, eat, move and eventually breathe.
To pay for mounting medical bills, the farm’s flood insurance policy was one of many costs that had to go, Ivanov said. The family has created a GoFundMe page, knowing they can’t afford to live in a hotel very long. They aren’t sure if or when they’ll be able to return to the farm. The high waters have left behind mold and damage, and further rain could bring more flooding.
Five cars, all of the farming equipment and machinery, a workshop and the barn are destroyed. Through the GoFundMe page, more than $24,000 of a $50,000 fundraising goal has been met.
“We’re living a nightmare,” Ivanov said, “but there are a lot of people out there willing to give their everything.”
Family and friends already have promised to help them clean up the farm once the water clears, she said. And in the meantime, HARPS will keep the animals safe.
“We’ll do the best we can to keep these animals together for the grandchildren,” said Ewing, who was making plans to build a cage for the rabbits.
“This just takes me back to when I was a 10-year-old child when my dad bought us a farm and we had pigs, rabbits and chickens, and it was the highlight of my life,” she said. “Everything here is happy, and we’re happy to help them out in this crisis.”