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2011-04-06 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

When the Egyptian cobra escaped at the Bronx Zoo last month, the Reptile House was shut down as the search ensued. New Yorkers were warned to watch their ankles. Twitter fans chronicled her imaginary odyssey around the Big Apple, but all the while, unlike Elvis, the viper never “left the building.”

A week later her keepers sniffed her out of hiding with rodent-scented wood shavings that offer an enticing whiff of mouse morsel. Twenty inches long, weighing three ounces, the month-old cobra was truly a needle in a haystack. Now that the danger is over, the Bronx Zoo is sponsoring a naming contest. However, I will not reveal my entry (unless it wins). In the same venomous vein, the recent snake saga is reminiscent of a comical Bronx Zoo encounter that occurred exactly 20 years ago during a “typical” day of teaching elementary school.

Before reading this resurrected “Pets” first published on 4/4/91, keep in mind that two decades ago classrooms did not have outside phone lines or computers. Addresses were not at your Googling finger tips. Also be advised that a fabulous student was the source of the phone numbers described below. She was the kind of kid that teachers would duel colleagues to the death, merely for the privilege of having her younger sisters in their class. All this puts the silliness of the following scenario in perspective. Here’s my old column:

“Flee-opatra” the cobra adorns “Flea-opatra” the Afghan Hound “Flee-opatra” the cobra adorns “Flea-opatra” the Afghan Hound • • •

It started innocently enough. I inadvertently stumbled on a top secret phone number at the Bronx Zoo when I thought I was calling public relations, and I got chewed out.

I was calling on behalf of my third graders who had written the zoo a letter to find out how the keepers weighed the elephants so the children could compare a current method to the way an ancient Chinese boy in their reading book solved the weighing problem via displacement. We needed an address and hopefully a name for the letter. Our school had no city phone books. A student said her father worked in the Bronx and could get us the address. Instead, she brought in a paper with three information phone numbers.

“Ciggy” ~ Chow mix “Ciggy” ~ Chow mix Calling the city is an ordeal from school. The district switchboard must dial for you. Then you have to wait for it to ring back. This can take some time. I was desperate for an address for the kids, so I waited for call backs that never came, sat through the zoo’s info tape several times, and when I was about to give up, tried the last number labeled “public relations”.

When it did ring back, a woman answered but didn’t identify herself. I asked if I had reached the Bronx Zoo. She blurted: “Yes.” She started yelling: “But who are you? How did you get this number? This is the poisonous snake emergency line. Don’t you EVER call again.”

“Tito” ~ slim Rottie mix “Tito” ~ slim Rottie mix All this screeching was even before I could have told her I cornered a copperhead. After I briefly explained my mission, the graduate from the DMV Charm School rattled off an address at the speed of light. She said I should address the letter to the education department, re-emphasizing that I should never call back (what if I am bitten?), and promptly hung up.

My distress turned to amusement. How dare she

April 6, 2011, AMITYVILLE RECORD • 13 yell at me! I doubt if she has a tie line with Bronx EMTs or police. I may be the only one who has ever called. As one of my students remarked: “How many calls could she get? It’s not like we live in the jungle.” I envisioned a dormant cobra-shaped phone, hissing alive in some dusty basement. I probably woke the operator from a venom-induced coma.

So if you want the secret number, contact me. I will gladly hand it over. Yes, I did see last week’s Rescue 911 with the guy who survived the bite from his pet cobra, but it serves him right for keeping such an absurd pet. If you ever have the need to call the zoo’s cheery Cleopatra, let’s hope she has had her daily dose of anti-venom serum. Don’t tell her where you got the number; and whatever you do, don’t ever call again.

• • •

OK, you twisted my arm; you had to “asp” me. My suggestion in the Bronx Zoo “Name the Cobra Contest” is “Flee-opatra”…If it makes the nominations; please vote for “Flee-opatra” at

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Sorry, there are no poisonous snakes for adoption this week, but there are many wonderful dogs and cats. “Tito” #93947 seems to be a nice family dog. This slim Rottie mix with a ring tail is friendly, and knows all sorts of commands. It even looks like he responds to hand signals. He was turned in by people who were moving. “Tito” did live with kids; as did “Ciggy” #93919, a handsome Chow mix, now homeless because of a divorce.

Female dogs:“Lydia”&“Trixie”fromthePitcollection; “Jennie Craig” # 93966 from the over-sized Pit collection; “Ali” #93828 –brindle pup; “Lexi” #93976-Husky mix.

Cats: “Mikey” in C-3- adorable 5 month old kitty and many others.

• View more Babylon Shelter pet photos on Petfinder NY275 or Facebook- Friends of Babylon Animal Shelter.

Free “Responsible Dog Owners” class (people are welcome; dogs stay home) on Wed. 4/13 from 6 to 8:30 pm at Town of Islip Safety Office, 100 Carleton Ave. E. Islip. You need not be a Town of Islip resident, but must reserve a spot by calling 631-224-5660 or email:

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