About Rescue Island

Rescue Island is a not for profit organization designed to meet the needs for abandoned/mistreated/unwanted aquatic creatures and reptiles.  There is an overwhelming need for such a rescue, yet very few exist anywhere in the United States today.  Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the rescue hopes to meet needs world wide via this website. 

Rescue Island was created due to the obviousness of this need in the Milwaukee area.

About the founder

Dawn Rudoll, creator of Rescue Island, is a 33 yr old mother, and fish room staff member at Tropic Life Pets in Milwaukee, WI.  The inspiration for this rescue was born shortly after she began working at Tropic Life Pets.  In her own words, here is the story of how Rescue Island was born:

It was a busy evening at the pet store, myself and the other staff running about, trying to help all of the many customers who were waiting for our assistance.  As the crowd was beginning to thin, in walked a very tall, middle aged man, carrying a large box.  As he approached the packing table where I stood, I looked up and asked if I could help him.  He set the box down on the floor and said he had fish for us to take.  I wasn't sure yet what he had in the box, so I popped the top off to find two very large pacu.  My first reaction was shock, then disappointment at the way these poor fish had been transported.  There were 2 fish, the smaller one about 12 inches in length.  I went to consult with my manager, who came over to take a look.  As he was discussing the situation with this man, I sat near the fish and listened.  The man was asking for us to take the fish, as they had outgrown his aquarium and were getting expensive to feed, so he no longer wanted them.  My manager kindly explained to him that we had no place suitable to put them, but offered phone numbers to a few other pet stores in the area where he could find a safe place for them.  The man glanced down at the box and informed the staff members who had gathered to see the fish, that if we did not take them, he intended to carry the box out behind the building and put it in our dumpster, as is.  I looked down at the fish again, they were so big, the water level didn't allow them to stay upright in the box, and the water was extremely dirty.  Both already appeared to be suffering.  I asked the man to please simply call one of the other stores, and he complained about the hassle the fish had already caused him to bring them to us, he wasn't moving them any further.  I, myself began to call the other pet stores, seeking a place for these poor fish.  The hour was approaching closing, for our store and for the others locally, and here we sat with this man who had become irritated with the hold up.  I glanced around at my fellow staff members, asked if there wasn't something we could do, and all gave me the same sad reply.  As much as we all wanted to help, nobody had a place for fish of this size at that time.  Frustrated and angry, I finally told the man that I would take the fish home myself until I could find a place for them to stay long term.  Contented that they were off his hands, he quickly left.  The rest of the staff quickly helped me to rebox the fish, adding some clean water, raising the water level, and adding some aeration from our tanks in the back room.  The fish remained there until the store closed, at which time the whole fish room staff attempted to help me rebox them as properly as could be for the trip home.  I carried the box myself to my mini van, took them home, carried them inside, unsure where to put them.  I set the box in my basement and went in search of an enclosure large enough to hold them for a few days.  I ended up in my back yard in the dark, flashlight in hand, emptying and disassembling one of my treasured ponds.  I took the top 1/2 of the plastic pond into my basement, refilled it with water, added a heater borrowed from another tank in my house, and a filter from my oscar tank.  That night I was grateful to have the extra one in the house.  I filled the pond from the tap and various running tanks in my home, understanding the need for "cycled" water, and also added the contents of the box to the pond as well.  Once the pond was full, I began to acclimate the fish in what was left of their boxed water, until eventually transferring them over to the pond using my hands for lack of a net large enough to move them.  As I lifted them from the box, one at a time, my heart broke.  These fish were badly neglected, and I was unsure if they would survive the night.  Sadly, the smaller fish did not.  The next morning, after removing the dead fish, I began making calls to every pet store in the area.  I used whatever free time I could find all that day and the next, until finally I did find one who had plenty of room.  On the 3rd day, I boxed up the remaining fish properly, and drove it to the pet store across town, stayed through the acclimation to be assured it would have good care.  That fish went into a wonderful store display tank, until it was sold to someone with a similar situation in their home almost a year later.

This is the story of the poor pacu, and it still breaks my heart and makes me angry to remember.  On my way home from delivering that remaining fish, my mind swam with ideas on how to prevent such a thing from happening again.  My next day at work was a beginning for me and all of my fish friends.  I was determined to learn anything and everything I could learn to help them, to keep them from the needless suffering due to the general public's lack of education in aquarium keeping.  The pacu were only the beginning of my inspiration, and each time an unwanted creature was brought to our store, I took note as to why, and what types of things people were returning.  For the past 2+ years I have studied, gained experience, and studied some more.  I have researched anything and everything I can think to research during every moment of my free time.  My thoughts today are the same as back then...  We provide shelters for our unwanted dogs and cats, and there are even a few for birds, so why not for aquatic creatures and reptiles?  The need for such a rescue is no less than for other pets, just different.  I am amazed at how daily, after 2 yrs, more people come to us at the pet store for the first time, no knowledge of what they are doing, and fish are dying by the hundreds.  The 2 major causes I have found are lack of education and the pressure many stores put on selling products.  Living creatures are not "products", yet I am amazed at how many places sell them, and in some cases, don't even know what they are selling.

There was the customer with the 20 gallon tank who was sold the tank and 50 goldfish to get him started, a heater with no instructions on what temperature to keep his fish, so he just put the heater into the tank and plugged it in..... he came to our store for help after numerous fish had died.  When I asked the temperature of his water, his response was "about 90 degrees".  Goldfish are cold water fish, and 50 fish in a 20 gallon tank can only mean disaster at any temperature.  The customer was angry with the store who wasted his money, I was angry about the number of dead fish... the lives lost due to human ignorance and lack of caring.  I see examples of this every day, and I've found ways to conquer some of the problems.  When my customers come to me for help, they get a lesson in fish keeping.  Sometimes we learn together, if they should happen to ask a question I can't answer, I invite them to read with me from one of the many books, or we seek out another staff member who may have our answer.  I encourage everyone to learn because once you learn, you don't "unlearn", and the results can be incredibly rewarding. 

Recently in our reptile department I helped a customer and her two teenage daughters.  They had a baby burmese python at home and it was living in a wire rabbit cage, always escaping.  Along with often roaming the house freely, it had started to bite, and they were unsure what to do about it.  When we discussed the snake, my face was surely glowing, thoughts of my own 18 foot burmese python going through my mind.  I quickly shared my pet with this family, and asked them what long term plans they had for their snake.  I was greeted by a lot of shocked faces.  None of them was prepared for their snake to get to 18 feet.  It seemed to shock them more when I mentioned that this was still not full grown, and in fact, my snake is only about 7 yrs old.  The mother asked me where I keep my snake of that size, so I told her that we had built her an 8x4 foot enclosure into our attic so that she had her own room, and it was lined with no wax floor and mulch, heating from above, vented, and a 25 gallon mixing tub for a pool.  The reaction I received to this made me so happy.  This wonderful woman turned to me and said, "this is my daughter's snake, so if it's needs it's own room, it's own room it will get.  I am moving soon, and the extra bedroom will now be the snake room."  I sent her off with a staff member from the reptile department to look into proper housing for her pet, and while they were gone, I spent some time with her daughters.  We marked off on the tile floor and walked out 18 feet, so they could get a feel for what would some day be their responsibility.  We went to the store library and found 2 good books on burmese pythons, and I suggested they read them both, cover to cover, along with anything else they could find.  I told them if they were in need of a vet to let us know, we could provide them a number for one locally.  When this family left they were happy, excited, and learning.  All 3 thanked me for the time I had spent with them, and I am assured that this pet is being cared for properly.  The entire event took about 25 minutes. 

This rescue is my dream, it's an answer to so many problems, it's my chance to do what I love and feel the need to do.  Knowing that a bit of my time can help so much, and with a place to put those who are unwanted, injured and/or sick, and to teach through examples as I'm allowed to help those that I am able, it makes me feel complete.  I find an inner peace knowing that while there are only a few others out there like me, I am one of that select group.  At the pet store I work with others like me, and together we make the most incredible team nationwide... but we all recognize the fact that we can only do so much.  There are the interests of the business to consider at the store, which we all understand and accept.  Our inventory has been known to fluctuate because of the call for homes for unwanted reptiles, but merchandise needs space, as do the animals.  This rescue is the place for these creatures that so many people forget about.  I am the voice that they need to stop the abuse of a living, feeling, breathing being.  Abuse due to ignorance can be the most damaging of all... where does it end?  Many people don't intend to harm their fish, but unknowingly do so regularly, and have nobody to ask for help.  At the store they have our team of caring and wonderful people, but when the store closes, or the tanks are full, what then?  Where do they turn? 

Ask me where my inspiration came from .... spend 1 day with me at work, and you'll never find the need to ask it again!


At Tropic Life Pets Dawn is known as the "Fish Lady", and can be found there often teaching something new to a customer or playing in the over 300 aquariums now running at the store, giving advice, or consulting with coworkers.  What does Dawn do when she's not at the pet store?  Often she is there when she's not working, but she also has a family with 5 children (2 step children) and a house full of pets of her own.  In spare time Dawn enjoys reading, writing, website design (with 9 sites she has built over the past 4 yrs), music and dancing and various other activities.

We'll leave you here with Dawn's final thought:

"This rescue is going to be incredible, and it's going to help in so many different ways all at the same time!  This is a dream come true!"