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2005-06-15 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

A week to go before I retire from teaching. I’ve already thrown a plan book like a bride’s bouquet to encourage others to join me. While I reminisce about my odd school animal encounters over the last 32 years, I realize that I may not have animal magnetism but I am an animal magnet. Because of my rescue work, a menagerie has paraded through my classrooms . There are too many tales, so I’m dividing my Noah’s Ark memoirs into 2 columns. This week highlighting some of the unusual "Birds & Bees" and next week I’ll move onto the "Mammals". First "The Birds":

** "The Killdeer"- Killdeer are ground nesters that look like the endangered piping plovers. Actually they don’t make nests at all. Their eggs are camouflaged against pebbles. Many years my room overlooked the cafeteria roof. For 7 years in a row we had a Mama killdeer return to the same spot on the roof to lay her eggs and raise her chicks. The gravel on the roof matched her eggs. The problem was that she’d push her chicks off the roof before they learned to fly so they could reach sea level.

Some didn’t make it. Survivors were separated because of a courtyard and a parking lot. She’d scream for them but not be able to reunite them. After the first fiasco , we intervened. A custodian and I would go up on the roof with a bucket each spring and collect the brood to deposit safely in the courtyard. Killdeer moms feign a broken wing to deflect predators’ attention to them rather than their young. We were wise to her tricks. Then she’d screech at her babies in the sheltered courtyard until they were old enough to fly away with her. Killdeer migrate to Peru in the winter. One year the district tarred the roof. Mama must have had a time share. She recognized the exact spot , now black, on the roof the next March and drove us crazy again.

** "Quackster" was a duckling I hatched in a Styrofoam cooler incubator 28 years ago. His brother went to live with a couple who had a pet peacock. Their home overlooked the lake at the Coral House in Baldwin. Quackster was adopted by my art teacher . A few weeks ago Newsday featured a painting he did of his son as a boy holding Quackster. I’d recognize my duck anywhere.

** "Egghead" was a fledgling robin given an academic name who was found by the buses next to the bodies of his siblings. I’d take him back and forth to school every day because he needed hand feeding. He even went with me to get my car inspected. At night he’d practice flying in my TV room because he had to stay away from my blonde Afghans who would have inhaled him in a nanosecond. As his surrogate mom, I had to teach him to eat worms from the ground, not above like the eyedropper’s manna from heaven. This was a slow process. Bait store worms lived in my frig. Egghead was released from Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary in Oyster Bay. He needed a fancy zip code because he used to land on my head so freedom would never have worked near my hunting hounds.

** "The Flamingo Funeral"- Flamingos have long been my trademark- a throwback to a humanities professor who used to make midnight raids planting plastic ones on the lawns of tacky homes. My house had a Pepto Bismol pink interior when we moved there in 1979. Friends and students have showered me with flamingo gifts ever since. No thank you. I don’t want any more.

My classroom was now downstairs on the courtyard. I had planted a plastic flamingo "Pink Floyd’ there but it was murdered during a garden dedication. My students launched an investigation to locate the perpetrator. We wrote mysteries; we offered rewards. We found the culprit. Then it was time to grieve.

We planned an elaborate state funeral. All the district dignitaries were invited. While balanced on one leg we sang the score of "The Lion King" at the graveside service. My girls in pink veils handed out tissues to the mourners. My boys in black and pink armbands were stoic. The band teacher played taps. After the burial, we celebrated with an array of pink food- including tons of strawberry ice cream and an elaborate sheet cake baked by a father who only spoke Greek. He lent me his Pink Floyd tapes too.

"The Bees":

* "The 2nd Generation"- Our 3rd grades study the life cycle of painted lady butterflies. About 30 caterpillars come to each class from California. They’re shipped with a plant pabulum, only enough for the 30. Two years ago something was wrong with the batch and most died. While the only survivors were visiting my room, their eggs hatched. Thousands of them. I made a net enclosure but they were tiny enough to get through the mesh. They needed natural food- hollyhocks. In less than a week they devoured about $100 worth. I bought every insecticide free hollyhock on LI. The plants would disappear before our eyes.

The hungry, ungrateful caterpillars started to escape in search of more grub. People were finding them all over the school, and unfortunately returning them to us. Somehow they even inched their way down to the office and kindergarten. On the last day of school we hung their chrysalises outside to let some other poor sap pay the 3rd generation’s grocery bill.

** "The Slug Fashion Show"- One year my students were lamenting the fact that people tend to care more about saving the "good looking" species like pandas and tigers. We decided to elevate the status of the maligned slug by holding a Slug Fashion Show at a project fair. Our stage was a washing machine box. Our slug stick puppet modeled their ensembles while a student inside the box played a keyboard. Real slugs were in our audience.

My student pianist- Gregory- just happened to be a musical protégée. That year he had won a young composers contest at Hofstra for a classical piece he wrote for his baby sister. The Slug Fashion Show was a hot night and he felt faint in the box. I made him stick it out because the "Show Must Go On." He still thanks me. I’ve seen him perform at Carnegie Hall twice. He’s in college now and his musical accomplishments are mind boggling. When Gregory visits school to give my current students impromptu viola concerts, he tells them how I gave him his start in a washing machine box.

** To be continued… Next week "The Mammals".

•Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon has some "good looking" pets for adoption. This handsome tri-color Sheltie is in Cage 29. "Frankie" is a 9 month Beagle/Hound mix in Cage 17. See more of our pets online at Petfinder NY 275; Islip Shelter at NY 586.

•Males: "Gary"- the sweet black Lab mix in Cage 15.

•Females: a small golden Rottie mix in Cage 93; "Summer"- the Shepherd mix in Cage 89 and featured dog on the Petfinder website.

"** Low Cost Spay/Neuter- (516) 364-PAWS; Island Rescue at 968-8700.

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