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Friday, January 21, 2011

Junior Animal Care Keepers Series Slithers to Life

Junior Animal Care Keepers
Series Slithers to Life:

Five-week program gives youths hands-on experience
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – They were bug-eyed with excitement about being in the company of feathery, slippery, crawly friends, and only too happy to assume even the most mundane of tasks in exchange for the close-up experience.

Thursday marked the opening day of Junior Animal Care Keepers, a five-week program offered by the Connecticut Audubon Society providing sixth- and seventh-graders with the opportunity to join staff in caring for and studying the animals housed at the center.

Program instructor Linnea McHenry, the center’s Animal Care Supervisor, said, “This is the third season we’re doing this. The last program was held Nov.-Dec. 2010 and had an incredible response, with 10 volunteers, which is a lot for this type of junior program. So we offered it again.”

McHenry explained, “The program teaches kids to be responsible and educates them about which animals are good pets and which are not. They learn that taking care of animals is a lot of work – and that there are factors you need to be aware of with a pet, like allergies in a family, feeding schedules, etc. This is also a great way for kids to start that are interested in being veterinarians one day. It’s very hands-on and they really learn how to handle these animals in the correct way – and to respect them.”

Today, the five participating students were assigned to clean the indoor raptor and mammal cages, though they also played a very visible role in supporting the center’s popular Creature Feature program, which was being conducted simultaneously. The latter is a free program that involves showing several animals up close to center visitors.

Eleven-year-old Matthew Yerushalmi, one of the Junior Animal Care Keepers, pitched in by loading hissing cockroaches into a portable container to show to visitors. He was surprisingly relaxed handling the multi-legged creatures.

“I don’t get scared of anything,” he said. “You can put a scorpion on me and I won’t care.”

Two steps behind him, Olivia Foley, 10, carried a similar container with a frog inside, while Olivia Groell, 11, toted a wooden box with a barn owl inside.

“After we finish our chores, we get to hold a favorite animal for a while and have fun with it,” said Yerushalmi. “I really enjoy that. My favorite is the bearded dragon.”

The majority of the animals used for education are contained in a toasty subterranean Animal Care Room at the center. There are typically about twenty to thirty animals there, ranging from snakes and birds to insects and turtles – even a hedgehog.

Helping McHenry guide the younger helpers on Thursdays is a team of five high school sophomores. About his junior counterparts, 15-year-old Will said, “We really try to get them interested so they can consider doing what we do as an option in the future.”

Said Foley, “I like working with the animals, and my favorites are the mice. I’m learning to handle animals that I really didn’t have any experience with before I started this program. I never imagined handling snakes and I realized they were pretty cool.”

The Connecticut Audubon Society is located at 2325 Burr St., Fairfield. For more information, contact 203-259-6305 or visit

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