One Voice for the Koi: The mission of the koi whisperer

Our mission: import, rescue, heal, adopt and educate.
Our mission: import, rescue, heal, adopt and educate.

It doesn’t take much to be the difference. It just takes a deep breath and a commitment to do what is right. The koi needed a voice, and it seemed that in an unforeseen moment, the Koi Whisperer was revealed. Today, The Koi Whisperer Sanctuary & Japanese Gardens has developed into an international Nishikigoi Zen Living design center, including a new retail living gallery specifically designed for the sale of imported Japanese koi, a retail store and a design studio for Japanese Gardens — including a library for clients and guests. With the extraordinary success of the Koi Whisperer’s Adopt a Koi and Kids for Koi programs, the koi are being recognized and the hobby itself is being transformed into a deep and meaningful responsibility and lifestyle. People travel to the center, located on two acres on the Fox River in St. Charles, Ill., because they care about the koi … and that is what is making the difference. We welcome visitors and Koi Keepers from across the globe and last year enjoyed guests from England, Turkey and Japan.

Humble Beginnings: A Single Koi Rescued

In 2010, I had been working with my own koi that I imported from Japan for five years when I began to see that people were frustrated in the keeping of their koi. I was running a full-time fine art photography gallery, and as a Japanese Garden designer, I was working on my property — which included a courtyard pond and a 600-gallon interior koi pond.
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Several photography collectors began to tell their friends that I had koi, and the fine art collectors soon became living art buyers that wanted me to import high-grade koi for them from Japan. It was not until I was volunteering my time at a retail garden center that everything changed. Everything.

It was known by many Koi Keepers that I had a deep understanding of koi and an extensive background in Japanese design. One morning, I had arrived at Aquascape to take care of the koi when an employee alerted me that there had been a terrible accident. Koi had been jumping out of their tanks during the night! Upon opening the bin where the escaped koi were disposed, I noticed something. The first one, lying on top of all the dead koi, had something about it that told me instinctively that it was alive. I immediately went into a rescue mode and worked to revive the koi.

This koi was beautiful. A blue and white Kumonryu about 17 inches in length, it was an extraordinary beauty. I was focusing totally on him until I realized that customers were arriving and beginning to gather around me, watching me work on the koi.

Rescuing Colonel from icy waters at Fabyan Japanese Gardens in Geneva, Ill.
Rescuing Colonel from icy waters at Fabyan Japanese Gardens in Geneva, Ill.

45 minutes later, the koi began to show life and was able to hold its own body weight in an upright position. Meanwhile, I continued to talk to the koi and force aeration into its gill plates. Then I heard the voice of a woman telling people, “She’s a Koi Whisperer.” The crowd continued to grow, and nearly two hours later, the koi was swimming happily in the bowl when I set him free in their large pond.

From that day on, the people came looking for me, even leaving notes on my door at my home: “Koi Whisperer, I need your help with my koi.”

The Koi Whisperer

I did not go searching for this mission. It came to me. I have an amazing connection with the koi, the same communicative energy that I have when working with infrared light. It is beyond the visible. It is at a deeper level. It is my honor and privilege to help these beautiful creatures that have no voice.

As ripples on top of water spread across the surface, so did the work that I was doing for the koi. I traveled throughout the United States and England for my studies and documentary photography work, visiting the San Francisco Japanese Tea Gardens and the Portland Japanese Gardens in Oregon. Each and every day the koi calls kept coming. The koi needed help and so did their keepers. The fine art photography gallery, design studio and darkroom were slowly packed away as more room was needed to care for the koi. Looking back over the past four years, I realize that it’s not that there are people in the koi industry who do not have the same knowledge that I have. I am no different; it is just that I have a mission and a determination to speak for what is right for the koi.

The Kids for Koi program educates the next generation of koi keepers.
The Kids for Koi program educates the next generation of koi keepers.

Speaking for the Koi

First, do no harm. I began to ask the right questions, and was determined to give the koi the proper water environment that they needed to live happy and healthy lives. Water is the key to keeping koi, and if that means that stones need to be removed from the bottom of the pond, and I am the one who is willing to speak up and say that, so be it.

From 2010 until today, I have rescued over 1,200 koi in need. “Koi quarantined, healed and adopted into new home ponds” has become the essence of the sanctuary. Every koi that has needed medical attention has been documented, and we have a proven record of conditions that were positive or negative to the lifestyle of the koi. I have been called out to tragedies such as chemical poisoning, koi released in sewers, koi struck by lightning — we even retrieved hundreds of babies from a filtration system. It was my greatest honor to rescue Colonel, the famous 19-year-old koi that graced the Fabyan Japanese Gardens in Geneva, Ill., from frozen waters. Through sun and rain, we rescue koi large and small, domestic and imported … even koi that were attacked by predators and needed assistance. One koi at a time.

An imported Showa koi shows off her beauty.
An imported Showa koi shows off her beauty.

The Koi Whisperer koi rescues have also been successful for many koi in other states, thanks to volunteers who have dedicated their time and compassion to do the rescue work. From the winter of 2012 to the spring of 2013, we cared for 427 rescued koi that were housed here throughout the winter and 10 koi in our Winter Koi Spa Housing for koi that needed to be brought inside for the winter. Every koi was cared for and improved, both in health and friendliness, due to the dedication and the mission set in place here at The Koi Whisperer Sanctuary. Last year, we saw our lowest drop in koi rescue calls for sick koi, thanks to the success of educating the Koi Keepers on our Holistic Koi Care and the responsibility that we have to do what is right for the koi. Since we have partnered with The International Nishikigoi Promotional Center in Japan, the stories are kept alive on the history and legacy of the koi and the Japanese koi breeders. This privilege includes public lectures for groups such as the Eastern Iowa Pond Society, Northern Illinois International Pond and Water Garden Society and Fabyan Japanese Gardens in Ill. It is my greatest honor to have received a personal letter from the President of INPS in Japan, thanking me for my service and dedication to the koi. This year I look forward to the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands, Belgium and soon, Japan.

The Koi Whisperer Sanctuary.
The Koi Whisperer Sanctuary.

Global Whispers

The tale of the Koi Whisperer continues to inspire and reach thousands of people and children across the globe. In the awareness of each and every koi — whether it is a Showa from a rescue that needs to be adopted or a grade 4 imported Ginrin Kohaku that was selected for a client — each koi is respected and treated the same. To me, it is not all about making money, but rather that I give with the heart — that we not only serve our clients, but also give attention and service to the koi, for the koi. I believe in transparency within this industry … that the stories told to the clients and the facts that are given should include a natural, organic and holistic approach to the koi’s diet and their home pond care, as opposed to chemical dependency. Education is the key, and in this awareness, the koi will have a voice. This has inspired hundreds of children with our Kids for Koi program in the schools, which educates, inspires and enlightens kids through the enjoyment and experience of koi. The approach to taking care of the koi takes care of the whole, too — and that is the core of Zen Living.

The Koi Whisperer Sanctuary has a newly designed Nishikigoi Gallery, a living art gallery that has taken imported Japanese koi selection to a higher level. I am thrilled to be importing Karashigoi, which is a variety that is not common here in the United States but is known to be the friendliest of koi. In my appreciation of koi as treasured jewels, my interpretation of Nishikigoi as truly living art has raised the bar as to the presentation, lighting, water conditions and design concept of their environment that is beyond the ordinary in koi selection. From the contemporary design of white walls and silver fixtures to black porcelain trim on the 550-gallon tanks, viewing the koi in their true light is extraordinary. I am so blessed to have Mike White from White Water Filters in Ill. build the gallery tanks and install the new filtration systems, including receiving a continual, daily 10 percent water change. With the custom daylight lighting, I was determined to give the koi the very best light and water quality possible for these three indoor tanks. The lead designer of the entire project is Toni Jacobs Lopez of Yoshino Koi Foods and Decorations in the Netherlands. His amazing vision complimented my Zen Living design concept, which was critical for this living art gallery of koi. The expert knowledge and contributions given by these men are immeasurable and I am so very grateful for their time, dedication and generosity in the donations that they have given to make this dream a reality for the koi.

As The Koi Whisperer Sanctuary & Japanese Gardens continues the work that was placed gently in my hands, I could not be doing what I am today if not for the continual support and contributions from people throughout the world. The unconditional love that I have for the koi is only a reflection of what is felt in every country, in every Koi Keeper’s hands and in every child’s heart. I see it each and every day in the faces of those that the koi have touched. And in those quiet moments, when I whisper goodnight to the koi and turn the lights off, I know their voices are heard.

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