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Monday, March 19, 2012

A Dog Day Afternoon at Westport Police Headquarters

 A Dog Day Afternoon 
at Westport Police Headquarters
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Every dog has its day. For Lola the Police Dog, Wednesday was her last as a patrol canine for the Westport Police Department.

In a retirement ceremony conducted mid-afternoon in a second-floor conference room at police headquarters on Jesup Road, Lola, a black German Shepherd, was honored with a commendation presented by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff along with words of tribute from Westport Police Chief Dale Call and her handler Officer Marc Heinmiller.

Lola, who is 12, had served the force for over 10 years as a patrol dog. She was trained in narcotics detection, building searches, tracking, handler protection and apprehension. “She has medical issues,” said Officer Ryan Paulsson, as to the reason for her being retired. “It’s her time. Ten years is a long career for a police dog.”

Lola has been in the care of Heinmiller for the past five years and will continue to live with him as a family dog. “She’s got a lot of energy and high drive,” he said. “She’s been a great police dog but is also great with kids. She knows when it’s time to work and can turn it on. She’ll be hard to replace.”

The department is currently looking at a male dog from Hungary to replace Lola. “Prices for police dogs, now post 9/11, are about $10,000 or more,” said Paulsson. “We will look to fund through donations and will host a name-the-dog contest with input from area youth.”

Chief Call commented, “It’s nice when a dog makes it through a long career, and Lola still looks good for 12 years old. We should all look so good. But every good dog has its day and she’ll need to get used to sitting around the house.”

Though no retirement pension had been planned, Call joked “a biscuit a day” might be appropriate.

Kids Make MASKerpieces at Museum's Feb Vacation Program

 Kids Make Maskerpieces at Museum’s Feb Vacation Program
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – There was no masking the fun these kids were having at Fairfield Museum and History Center Wednesday morning as they participated in one of the facility’s February Vacation programs.

Titled “Mad Masks”, the session gave participants ages 6 to 10 a look at masks and costumes on display in the Museum’s current “Bravo!” exhibit, which inspired their own mask-making activities, led by Program Director Christine Newell.

Children could take a cue from costumes and creatures related to the mythology of Egypt and Rome as exemplified by exhibit displays of props from such productions as “Antony and Cleopatra”. Participants could also just use provided materials like pipe cleaners, felt and ribbon to create their own uniquely inspired masks.

“This is a great way for kids to use their imaginations and express themselves,” said Newell. “They can even tie in with Mardi Gras.”

Parent Jessica Lennon of Fairfield thought the program would be a productive use of her children’s time. “I wanted to get them out of the house and away from TV and technology to do something creative and fun,” she said. “We were thinking of going to New Hampshire, but there’s not much snow there and just as much to do here.”

Caroline Dayton, 10, of Fairfield, a fan of Egyptian culture, was particularly engaged in the activity. “My mask is of the Egyptian goddess Bas, who had cat features and was worshipped by the Egyptians,” she said. “It’s fun to make masks and interesting to learn about the history of them.”

Winter’s Absence Drives Ice Academy Attendance

 Winter’s Absence Drives 
Ice Academy Attendance
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The forecast for the latter half of School Vacation Week called for temperatures in the mid to high 50s. The warm spell was exemplary of an unseasonably mild winter that has area kids enjoying spring-like activities but also missing typical winter pursuits.

The mildness certainly hadn’t affected business over at Fairfield’s Ice Academy, in the Sportsplex at 85 Mill Plain Road, which was jam packed Wednesday morning. In fact, the absence of snow was making access easier and driving attendance. The first half of Vacation Week had seen over 100 kids per day visiting the Academy, according to Assistant Manager Laura Brennan.

“Traffic has been on par with last year, if not better,” said Tamara Guarino, the Ice Academy’s Managing Director. “Because the weather hasn’t been bad, people are able to make it here more easily, so our attendance has been more consistent. People are not staying indoors and are being active. And, technically, it’s still winter and skating is a winter sport.”

Guarino added, however, that the facility is a popular draw at any time because of its unique positioning. “Compared with other rinks, we’re small and personable,” she said. “The ratio of students to instructors is much smaller than other area rinks. Its downtown location is also convenient for local families. And skating is a great sport whether there’s snow on the ground or not.”

Kurt Anderson, a Fairfield parent whose son is in the Academy’s Mite Travel Hockey program, said the season had certainly been a different one compared with last year. “Normally this time of year, our family would be at ski areas like Southington or Mohawk, or sledding,” he said. “But due to the lack of snow and ice, we’re riding bikes and playing on the swingset. The only winter sports we’ve really been able to do are skating and hockey here at the Academy, or traveling way north for skiing on manmade snow. Last winter, we had snow measurable in feet and we were stuck in the house. This year, the daffodils are already pushing up in the yard.”

Another Mite hockey player parent, Matt Loguercio, of Easton, related a similar perspective. “This time last year, we were at Jiminy Peak and my son was in ski school,” he said. “This year, we’ve been playing soccer on the front lawn, whereas last year we were trying to find the front yard. There are no restrictions on activities this year. Of course, we’re doing more warm weather activities, but want to keep up my son’s skating skills. The Academy is a great alternative to the typical vacation camp.”

Anderson added, “Last year, the kids didn’t need an outlet because they were out of school so much. They really needed the break from school this year.”

Fairfielder Finula Milici, 12, skating with her sister Bella and friend Maddie, was glad to have an opportunity to enjoy a winter pursuit. “I really miss the snow,” she said. “We would be skiing or playing in the snow. It’s nice to be able to come to the Academy to do a winter sport.”

Catching Some Air at Jennings Skate Park

Catching Some Air 
at Jennings Skate Park
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – February. Connecticut. Winter. Perfect time for… skateboarding?

The season has been so mild and snow-less this year that local kids are flocking to activities normally reserved for warmer weather, like riding their longboards at Jennings Beach Skate Park.

Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen boarders were testing out the verticals, walls, steps and other features at the park, lightly dressed in sweat jackets in light of temperatures that pushed into the high 40s.

“Usually there’s snow,” said Henry Hathaway, 13, from Darien, “but since there’s none, we’re enjoying skateboarding. We’ve definitely skateboarded more this winter than any other.”

Hathaway’s friend Jack Droogan, also 13 and from Darien, added, “We would typically be snowboarding.”

The two had wanted to check out the park for a while and were greatly enjoying it, particularly the vertical ramps.

Sixteen-year-old Fairfielder Cody Nichols, joined by friend Margaux Cane, 15, and another boarder Justin Krauss, 15, from Westport, was also enjoying the park. “I love coming here and it’s close to my house,” he said. “All my buddies come down here. Last year, there was snow all over. We shoveled it so we could skate, but got yelled at. We’re here now at the same time of the year, and it’s been no problem.”

Nichols said he had been visiting the skate park three to four times a week throughout this winter period, which he said was unusual.

Fairfielders John Tortora and Jacob Russell were busy skating in another corner of the park. Tortora, 11, said he has been skating here five times a week this winter. “It’s insane,” he said. “I don’t miss the snow.”

Russell, 14, did miss snowboarding, but admitted, “It’s nice being able to longboard.”

“Paint with the Animals” at Beardsley Zoo Feb. 21-23

“Paint with the Animals” 
at Beardsley Zoo Feb. 21-23
By Mike Lauterborn

Bridgeport, CT – Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is a remarkable local resource, and now it’s offering an equally remarkable and exclusive program during the School Vacation Week.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 21-23, from 10am to Noon, a select few will be able to create a one-of-a-kind painting by collaborating with an animal artist in residence. “Paint with the Animals” is the first program of its kind in the country and is open by reservation only. The minimum age to participate is six years old; families are encouraged to paint together. The fee is $100 per canvas – multiple people can use the same canvas. Up to six canvases will be available each of the three days.

“This is something fun to do for kids and very exclusive as they get to go behind the scenes,” said Zoo Educator Denise Lukienchuk. “Participants will go first to our Research Station, get their canvas and create a background with washable paint. The canvases are taken to an animal’s area where the animals walk in paint, then across the canvas.”

Animals that have participated in the painting process before include an Andean bear, ocelots, tamarins, guinea hogs and alligators. Zookeepers choose the animals based on the day, the animals’ health and workload involved.

Art that has been created in the past as an enrichment exercise for the animals is available for purchase at the Zoo’s Carousel Annex. The revenue goes to support the American Association of Zookeepers. 

To register for the program, call 203-394-6563.

Beardsley Zoo is located at 1875 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport.