LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — A Utah woman’s work to save domesticated, abandoned waterfowl across the Wasatch Front has earned her the international title of “Duck Defender.” Adison Smith is the president of Wasatch Wanderers, an animal rescue that was founded in September 2021. She will continue her work to improve animals’ lives, but she hopes the rescue will also help break down the stigmas surrounding autism.  

Smith spends hours each week at Canyon Entrance Park in Logan feeding the ducks. The public isn’t allowed to do so, but she has a good reason. While most of the ducks are wild, a handful are domestic and were dumped at the park illegally. If they are not caught, they will most likely die. Smith has already removed a handful of ducks from the area but is working on catching the remaining three.   

“Most of it is just because of irresponsibility,” Smith told ABC4. “Just lack of education on the owner’s part or they get in a tricky situation.”  

Smith is the president and co-founder of Wasatch Wanderers Animal Rescue. The rescue was founded about 16 months ago and in that time, it has rescued more than 650 animals. The first big rescue was at Weber State University. Volunteers removed dozens of domestic waterfowl that had been dropped off at the university’s pond. For those who’ve been to WSU, they know this pond usually serves as a home for wild birds as well.  

“We have about 400 to 500 waterfowl waiting to be rescued,” Smith stated. Whether it’s in Payson or Logan, Smith said the rescue is working with cities and parks across the Wasatch Front to remove hundreds of dumped ducks. She told ABC4 that on any given day, the rescue gets about half a dozen calls that report new cases.  

“We are 100% foster-based, so in order to be able to rescue these animals, we have to have people who are willing to house them at their house until we can find them forever homes,” Smith stated. She explained that the rescue currently has about 30 fosters. Many are people who live on farms and can take in dozens of animals at a time. However, to rescue all the animals that are waiting to be rescued, they need more fosters.  

It’s this work that has earned Smith “the inaugural Duck Defender Award from Duck Defenders, an international project of animal welfare charity Humane Long Island.”  

In a release to ABC4, Duck Defenders President and anthrozoologist John Di Leonardo said, “Adison is the definition of an unsung hero, diving into lakes and speaking up at city meetings for Utah’s ducks while also being a mom to her own infant child. Adison’s Wasatch Wanderers Animal Rescue is one the most effective organizations advocating for waterfowl in North America, and it is my pleasure to award her with Duck Defenders’ highest honor.” 

Smith told ABC4 she is honored to be recognized for the work Wasatch Wanderers is doing. She will continue to work to improve the lives of animals in Utah. Nonetheless, the rescue is growing in size and in purpose.  

Smith, and her family of three, recently moved in with her parents in Cache County. They did this in order to save up to build a sanctuary. The sanctuary will serve animals and people alike.  

About a year ago, Smith (who was 24 at the time) was diagnosed with autism. “Getting the diagnosis was like a stab in the heart but it was also one of the best things to happen,” she added.  

 Smith said she has struggled with her mental health for as long as she can remember. She knew there was something more going on than what doctors were telling her. With the diagnosis, she has more tools to better address her mental health, better communicate with others, and have more patience with herself.  

Wasatch Wanderers has three board members (including Smith). She told ABC4 that all three are neurodivergent.

“Because we’re neurodivergent, our passion for animals goes above and beyond what a typical person’s would look like,” she added. She said she believes that is the reason the rescue is doing so well and growing so quickly. Smith explained that the rescue will begin sharing more about what it means to have autism or be neurodivergent. She said they hope this will help break down stigmas, show others that they can be successful and achieve their goals regardless of their circumstances, “and also to help people who are afraid to get diagnosed because of the stigma that they can get diagnosed and it’ll be okay.” 

When the sanctuary is completed, Smith said they hope it will improve the way in which they are able to save animals in Utah and be a place where people can come to work with those animals as well as medical professionals to address their own mental health needs.