When Jill Rappaport got a tip back in 1995 that “a little tiny log cabin on six acres with nothing around it” had just come on the market in Water Mill, she high-tailed it to the property in the middle of a snow storm.
“I was with my friend Christie Brinkley and I was told about this bank foreclosure on this winding driveway that we literally almost drove into the trees — it’s so long and very steep,” Rappaport recalls. “It needed a lot of work but Christie looked at me and she says, ‘This is unbelievable — if you don’t get it, I’m taking it.’”
Not only did Rappaport, an award-winning and passionate animal advocate, television host and best-selling author, podcaster and e-commerce maven, take it, she bought the two lots on either side of the foreclosed property that were also available. Much to her surprise and delight, they were surrounded by 18-plus acres of protected land and a pond.
“It’s truly, I think, a one-of-a-kind property in the Hamptons,” Rappaport says. “I don’t think this type of land and privacy exists anymore, it’s very unusual … it’s very rare.”
When Rappaport told Brinkley she was naming the property “The Last Buck Ranch,” Rappaport remembers Brinkley’s response: “She said, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet, you named it after the deer,’ and I said ‘No, it’s my last buck. Literally.'”
Today, Rappaport lives on her “dream property,” an artful, Western-inspired paradise she designed and created for herself and her “fur children” — five horses and three rescue dogs. Sadly three other rescue dogs passed this year.
A drive through the electronic gates to the stunning and serene compound makes you blink twice and wonder, “Is this a horse farm or a movie set?” It’s that dramatic.
“People come here and they feel like they have gone to the West without getting on a plane — and that’s what I love about it,” she says. “It’s total escapism in a place where you can’t believe it exists here on Long Island.”
If it wasn’t so peaceful, you might call it “The Wild West of Water Mill.”
Stables. Red Barns. Split-rail fence. Pasture. A riding ring. The original small cabin. And, of course, the over-the-top Western-themed main house, a log cabin with a wrap-around porch with bucolic views, that Rappaport designed and decorated. A “true labor of love,” she says, and a project where she “could put all her artistic efforts.”
Rappaport, who grew up in Michigan, says she “fell in love with the West” in Tucson, Arizona, after spending all of her childhood vacations there. When it came time to create her oasis, she poured her creative soul into every detail. It paid off.
“I was always obsessed with log cabins but I never liked the way they looked,” she says. “I thought they looked like ski lodges and I did not want a ski lodge log cabin, I wanted a country farmhouse log cabin and there weren’t that many of them and I don’t know to this day if there are any of them quite like this.”
She worked with a log cabin company in Montana called Pioneer Log Homes, and then brought in artists whose work she admired to create her vision; four different handmade stone fireplaces, unique Western and vintage furniture, painted sinks surrounded by tiles from Santa Fe, decorative Western walls made from log cabin cutouts, reclaimed wood that found its way into railings, chairs and mantels, doors from abandoned barns in the Hamptons and Navajo artwork and jewelry. Oh, let’s not forget the log cabin dog bed.
The task of designing the structure was both daunting and a leap of faith.
“I was like an amateur architect,” she says, “I sketched what I wanted on pieces of paper and on a little napkin,” and then she went back and forth for months with the log cabin company, whose job, she says, was “to figure out a way where it can stay standing.”
After two years of designing from a distance, her house was ready for shipment.
“How it works is they put this solid structure together without windows on their land. Then you sign off on it and they take it apart and they come with several trucks and you do what’s called an ‘erection.’ I said, ‘Oh, good, we’ll have an erection party!” she laughs. “‘I love it … this is my kind of house!’”
Once the house was “erected” on her property, the company cuts out all the spaces for windows. “It’s unbelievable,” she says.
All humor aside, if there is a window to Rappaport’s soul, it is through the animals. Her love and devotion to animals and her commitment to animal rescue is truly at the center of her life, her home and her career.
I’m all about the underdogs of the shelter world, the special needs, the seniors and the pit bulls — those are the ones nobody wants,” says Rappaport who has been awarded a record eight Genesis Awards (the Oscars of the animal world) from the Humane Society of the United States, as well as the coveted ASPCA Presidential service award for media excellence.
She is constantly developing and launching pet projects and products through her e-commerce line, the Jill Rappaport Rescued Me Collection: pet food, clothing, dog beds, a Shelter Shake toy for shy dogs and a leash line with clever sayings like “Opt to Adopt,” “Bless You for My Rescue” and “I’m a Pound Hound.”
She is a tireless voice for the voiceless, and she adores her canine companions.
“During COVID, and even now, I never felt alone with my rescue pooches,” she says. Losing three of her six rescues in the span of less than a year has been a devastating loss that she says she is “still processing.”
Her ability to shine a national and international light on her rescue mission has been bolstered by her media career, which started right out of college.
After graduating from Boston University, she landed a job as a movie publicist for United Artists in San Francisco. While escorting celebrities in limos from movie studios to television shows in the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest, Rappaport found she enjoyed chatting up talent and doing interviews. She thought, “I want to do that for a living.”
Her good “rap” led to a job as the local entertainment television reporter in the Bay Area, the fifth largest market in the country, and when the number one market in the country, New York, came calling, she jumped coasts.
After local reporting jobs at NBC and CBS, Rappaport landed the big gig, entertainment reporter at the TODAY Show, where she “interviewed every major celebrity,” often asking them about their pets. It proved to be “the greatest icebreaker,” she says “that made my interviews so special.”
From 1996 to 2007, Rappaport was the “Red Carpet Queen.”
“Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Tonys — I did every award show and it was fun,” she says, “but it was a job.”
Her career pivoted in a big way in 2007, when her beloved German Shepherd, Jack, was diagnosed with bone cancer. After Jack survived a leg amputation and chemo, Rappaport asked her NBC boss, Jim Bell, if she could do a profile on Jack’s resilience on TODAY. Bell agreed and when the segment aired and people from around the world reached out to her, she knew she was on to something. She went back to her boss.
“I said, ‘Stars don’t need my help, animals do.’ Jim said, ‘Great, you can be our pet reporter,’ and I said, ‘I prefer animal advocate.’” And like that, she had a new beat.
For the next seven-and-a-half years, Rappaport wowed TV audiences with her transformative “Bow to Wow” rescue series which led to 100% of the dogs featured being adopted. Countless other television shows, specials and rescue segments followed.
“I went from the red carpet to the wee wee pad,” says Rappaport, laughing. “I couldn’t be more thrilled now to make a difference for animals in need.”
In 2020, when COVID hit, she launched her podcast “Rappaport to the Rescue,” combining what worked for her in her early career: celebrities and animal welfare.
“Meredith Vieira, Tina Fey, Christie Brinkley, Alexa Joel, Kristen Bell, Emmylou Harris, Isaac Mizrahi — I got the most amazing people and everybody would be on Zoom and we talk about their love of animals.”
For Rappaport, telling stories of hope and rescue and how animals have changed people’s lives is her “oxygen.”
As for The Last Buck Ranch — would she ever buck it for a change of scenery?
“I absolutely adore the Hamptons … but I’ve never been about the parties and the people. I’ve been about the place and this is really just heaven on earth for me to live here,” she says. “I just feel like I’m living in the great outdoors in a very glamorous way.”
Jill Rappaport’s podcast “Rappaport to the Rescue” reaches over 250 million people worldwide and is available on-demand from PetLifeRadio.com and at over 30 podcast distributors including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Pandora and Audacy. Jill Rappaport’s Rescued Me Collection is available at hotdogcollars.com. For the Shelter Shake toy, email [email protected].
This article appeared in the Labor Day issue of Behind The Hedges magazine. Read the digital edition here.