Dream Realized: Collin College Alumnus Creates Wildlife Sanctuary

June 04, 2024

Heather Darrow

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Not every person is living the life of his or her dreams. But Simon McNeny is not just any person. When you step into this ornithophile’s backyard wonderland you can hear the call of an African hadada ibis, watch a three-foot tall Abyssinian ground hornbill hop around, and experience the majesty of an American bald eagle. With a three-acre property boasting more than 60 animals, many of which are exotic birds, McNeny’s childhood dream of owning his own zoo and raising awareness about wildlife — like his hero “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin — has come to fruition.

Simon and his wife, Lindsey, are co-founders and president/vice president of the nonprofit Window to the Wild. Together, they started their wildlife education company in 2014 with the goals to help rescue and avoid euthanizing birds, educate the community, and promote wildlife conservation. To date they have rescued 48 birds and provided approximately 1,500 educational programs throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

“We decided to create Window to the Wild because we saw the need for education,” Simon said. “There are a lot of kids who have no idea what local wildlife we have around us. I think my favorite thing about my job and our company is seeing people’s excitement. People have a passion for wildlife, but they just don’t typically get the opportunity to see it up close.”Simon McNeny

Simon began his path toward achieving his dream at Collin College. He enrolled in dual credit classes at 16 years old and earned an Associate of Science degree at 19 years old. After transferring to Texas A&M University, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science, and then worked for the Dallas Zoo prior to starting the 501(c)(3). 

“Collin College is an excellent institution,” Simon said. “It has quality classes, amazing professors, and you can get a much more hands-on approach and the one-on-one attention that you’re not going to necessarily receive at a university. I had some of the best professors in my college career there.”

All three of Simon’s siblings have attended Collin College. His older brother, Ian, took film and video classes and earned an Associate of Arts degree. His sister, Paris, took early childhood education classes, and his youngest sister, Malia, is currently in the Dental Hygiene program.

The nonprofit, Window to the Wild, is much more than a business to Simon and Lindsey. In addition to being knowledgeable caretakers, the couple has developed personal relationships with the animals, a fact which is immediately evident to people who schedule tours and get an up-close view of a variety of birds ranging from peregrine falcons to trumpeter hornbills. 

“The hadada ibis is a water bird that eats crawfish, and we ask him to go into the crate rather than forcing him into the crate,” Simon said, sharing the framework for their daily practice of positive reinforcement as the bird emerged from its crate.

“Our goal is for the animals to always go into their crates or enclosures without any hesitation,” Lindsey adds. “These birds bond with us. I have a lot of bird boyfriends, and Simon has to share me,” she said, laughing. 

According to Simon, there are many rules and regulations for people who work with birds, but the couple’s zoo backgrounds helped them acquire permits from U.S. Fish and Game, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the United States Department of Agriculture. 

“We partner with a lot of local rehabilitation centers, but we had to get permits in order to work with these birds,” Simon said. “A lot of these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Act. Having our zoo background enables us to partner with different zoos around the U.S. They trust us, and we can rehome a lot of their birds as well.”

The nonprofit has more than 25 separate enclosures including a greenhouse for parrots. Window to the Wild is also home to dogs, cats, donkey’s, chickens, tortoises that can live to be 90 years old, and blue and gold macaws that can live to be 110.

Given the lifespan of some of their animals, to say Simon and Lindsey have a commitment to wildlife may be an understatement, but there is no doubt that this couple is up for the challenge. If you visit this nonprofit and speak to these experts, you will undoubtedly discover that they are only in the beginning phases of making an impact in the world.

For more information about dual credit classes at Collin College, visit www.collin.edu/express/dualcredit. For more information about Collin College alumni, visit www.collin.edu/alumni.