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2005-06-22 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

This is Part 2 of my retirement saga of the "Animal Planet" visitors who have passed through my elementary classroom in the last 32 years- all in the name of rescue or humane education. Last week profiled some of the "Birds & the Bees", now it’s time for select stories from the "Mammal" parade:

"The Dogs"- I am the unofficial school dog catcher. I keep a leash in my file cabinet for the next stray. Once I was paged off the playground by our funny man superintendent because there was a Poodle loose on a different playground. He didn’t realize I can only patrol one school at a time. For the last few weeks I’ve been on a first name basis with the Town highway department across from school while we tried to nab a handsome but scared German Shepherd in a humane trap. We caught him. Shepherd Rescue is helping me evaluate him while he’s at Brookhaven Shelter.

My canine guests included guide dogs and police dogs who worked at 9/11. Once I spared "Cowboy" an ex-racing Greyhound the flashback of the track when I stopped my principal from having a fire drill during his visit. I had visions of the poor dog bolting around the school and out the front door. My own Afghans would come each Christmas wearing their Santa suits. One time the principal stopped a first grader (whose reputation preceded him) from speeding down the hall. The boy defended himself saying, "you’d be running too if those 2 black bears were chasing you". I also brought tiny Tiffany dressed in a Mrs. Claus outfit. (Tiff was a Maltese we had taken out of the shelter several days before she had pups. ) My students were all excited. As I told one girl to go back to her seat, she ignored me, of course; but Tiffany did a perfect "Sit/Stay" on my reading table.

"The Cats"- The cats have been like Joe Cocker. The strays have come into school every which way- even through the bathroom window. I’ve also had my bottle fed foster kittens stashed in the back room of the library, our makeshift shelter. One year my kids were staging a very low budget "A Christmas Carol" when a friendly cat walked down the hall and into my room. After we exhausted the search for the cat’s owner, Dickens the tabby went to live with friends of our librarian.

"The Horses"- In 1994 a reading group wrote to Paul Moran of "Newsday" to verify facts in a children’s book about Exterminator the surprise winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby. He called to answer our questions and then quoted my kids in "Newsday". The same superintendent remarked that "only Anderson could get her class in a horse racing column." Then Mr. Moran called back to invite my whole class to Belmont for an early morning, private stable tour and to watch 2 former Derby winners exercise. We were thrilled but District Office wouldn’t let us go, saying the trip was not appropriate. My students’ parents protested en masse. One father offered to charter a bus himself. Still they wouldn’t let us go.

The Thoroughbred Racing Commission would not take no for an answer. They sent the mountain to Mohammed and arranged to have a miniature horse come to school . Abraham, the cutest horse you ever saw, posed for the third grade inside the library. They sent a jockey suit and film crew to tape a TV documentary about kids and horses that was shown during the pre-race show for the next Belmont Stakes.

"The Wolf"- If I had a horse inside the school, I figured I could up the ante, so the next year I arranged for a wolf….yes, a real live gray wolf to come to school. Koani was a captive born wolf that a biologist and photographer raised for educational programs. She was scheduled to visit at the Museum of Natural History but stopped at a few schools on LI first. Her owners were on tour with their children’s book called "There’s a Wolf in the Classroom!"

They had driven Koani and their German Shepherd here from Montana in an old VW bus. When they got to our school’s circular driveway I had to jump in the van with them because it’s impossible to explain how to cut through the neighborhood to unload in the back lot. So there I sat- in a an old VW bus driving around the block with 2 aging hippies, a dog and a real wolf. I knew the moment was surreal.

In teaching and in life there are few moments that are both precious and surreal, so when the surreal happens, you need to recognize and appreciate it as it unfolds. Remember that advice- because that’s the last lesson that I give anyone while I am still a classroom teacher.

No, I don’t have a wolf for adoption this week at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon but I do have "Sam Shepard", an aging hunk who looks so much like Koani the wolf who came to my school. "Sam", this older black sable German Shepherd in Cage 41 is a little weak in the back end but has a real sweetness and rubs you like a cat when you pet him. "Rex" is a neut. 4 year Pug/Chihuahua who has a skin allergy on his belly. He’s a lovable lap dog. See more shelter photos at Petfinder- Babylon is NY 275 and Islip is NY 586.

•Cats: a large selection of adults and kittens.

•Female Dogs: the dark brindle pup about 6 months old in Cage 85 that the SPCA removed from neglectful owners.; "Summer"- a nice Shepherd mix in Cage 93.

•Male Dogs: "Frankie"- the Beagle mix pup in Cage 43; a red Chow in Cage 7.

•Low Cost Spay/Neuter- (516)364-PAWS or Island Rescue at 968-8700.

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