Meet Donovan, a Future Animal Helper

Arbordale Author Jennifer Keats Curtis regularly visits schools to talk about how she researches and writes her books about animals. During these visits, kids are often quite excited to share their own animal stories with her. Jennifer was particularly thrilled to hear about this 4th grader’s intriguing pastime.

Donovan Neuhaser with Sushi the sulcataAlthough he’s not quite 10, Donovan Neuhauser knows a lot about animals.

Perhaps it’s because the Joppa View Elementary School fourth grader is surrounded by them. (Literally, he’s surrounded. Look at the picture of Sushi, his Sulcata tortoise, climbing up into his lap so she can listen to the story he’s reading.)

Introduced to his first pet—a dog named Lowery—at the ripe old age of one, Donovan now shares his home with two dogs, three different kinds of turtles, a parakeet, and a hamster.

Sushi, the six-year-old Sulcata, is particularly sassy. Donovan’s mom, Melanie, was just supposed to foster the 27-pound African spurred tortoise, whom she’d received from a reptile rescue. But, the tortoise had such a bad attitude that the Neuhausers decided they had to keep her. When Sushi is hungry and apparently desperate for cherry tomatoes and broccoli, she rams the refrigerator. She’ll also push furniture…and other pets and people given the chance. The feisty reptile has also taken over the dogs’ bed, where she sleeps most of the time. At least Jake, the younger dog, shares. When he’s tired, he hops in and snuggles with her.

Because of her penchant for bright colors that may look like her favorite foods, Sushi has also been known to try to eat shoes and evensushi the six year old sulcata tortoise with jake the dogcolored toenails. Fortunately, she licks before she bites, giving her possible treats fair warning…and time to leap out of the way.

In captivity, Sushi will live about 60 years and will continue to grow. She could reach 100 pounds in her lifetime.

Unfortunately, Sushi is not a big fan of the other household tortoise, Sheldon, who is considerably smaller. At 20 years old and only a few pounds, the Russian tortoise is full-grown. To keep Sheldon safe, the Neuhausers make sure he is happy in his big box and away from Sushi.

The Neuhausers’ other turtle is aquatic; he’s a baby snapper whom Donovan rescued from a cat’s mouth last fall. Donovan carefully feeds Gimli mealworms every day, and may release him once he gets bigger.

As if the turtles don’t keep him busy enough, Donovan also cares for Ralph the hamster and Kernel the parakeet. Currently, the only phrase Kernel utters, in his high squeaky voice, is “Hi, Sushi!”

gimli the baby snapperNow, most kids might be wondering how in the world Donovan talked his mom into having so many pets. The truth is, he didn’t. Donovan’s mom, Melanie, also loves animals, and despite the hard work, especially cleaning up after them, they enjoy taking care of the animals together.

If you are considering getting a pet, or trying to talk your parents into letting you get one, Donovan offers some wonderful advice: “Research every animal before your bring it home. He visits his school library almost every week to check out a nonfiction book.”

When he grows up, Donovan would like to continue being around animals and to work in a veterinary clinic, like his mom.

sheldon the russian tortoise


Thank you Jennifer and Donovan for sharing this story with our readers. It looks like Donovan has a great head start on a career helping animals one day!

Make your own shape creations!

Here is a fun rainy day activity for The Shape Family Babies fans. Create shape animals, shape objects, and even shape people out of paper with a few simple steps.

It’s easy to do if you have a pair of scissors, some felt, a pencil, a ruler, and a sheet of cardstock or paper.



Take the ruler and measure a square on the paper, make sure that each of the sides is seven inches long. Next, draw a diagonal line from the bottom corner to the top, opposite corner. We’ll call this line, line one. This line turns the square into two large triangles.


The second line you’ll need to draw should be parallel to line one, but two inches away from where line one meets the top corner of the square.


Line three should start at the other bottom corner (the opposite of line one) and go through line one, like you’re going to make a big “X,” but stop at line two.


Next, draw a short, diagonal line from the point where lines three and two meet, down to line one. This should create a small triangle as well as a parallelogram.


The last line should start at the opposite side of line one, starting at line two and stopping at line three. This will create a square and one more triangle. Lastly, cut along the lines to separate the shapes.

Once you have cut out all of the different shapes, arrange them on the felt to make a person, or a house, or anything your imagination comes up with! Once you make one creation, you can easily rearrange and make new ones.


Can you fit the smaller shapes together to create one big shape?

How many different shapes are there? How many are the same shapes but different sizes?


Read more about shapes in our new book, The Shape Family Babies.

Buffalo’s most influential Bears!

In the small village of Point Lay, on the edge of Alaska, a teacher  snapped pictures of Kali as he was brought into their town, after being rescued from a den in the wild. She generously shared those pictures and stories with author Jennifer Keats Curtis which helped to make Kali’s Story take shape.

Luna and CaitlynAs Kali and Luna have become stars in Buffalo,  the kids of Point Lay and one class in particular have followed his journey. Author Jennifer Keats Curtis passed along a few questions to Kali and Luna’s keeper, Caitlyn. And she gives us the inside scoop on how these two bears have grown up and become  “a happy light for many, many people here!”

Class: Is Kali getting along well with Luna?

Caitlyn: Kali and Luna are the best of friends!

When we initially put them together back in May (after Kali got here he spent a little time getting settled in) they spent a while being a little nervous around each other. Neither of them quite knew what to make of the other… but as soon as they realized that the other little white thing that was looking at them was actually something that would be able to play back, they fell in love!

Ever since then, all they do each and every day is play together. And after play time is over and they come inside off exhibit for the night, they can always be found snuggled up next to each other while they sleep.

Kali especially seemed to need Luna a lot when he first got here. She has always been a very confident bear, even when she was by herself. When Kali first arrived, he was a little unsure of everything. He had been through a lot in thefriends first few months of his life and seemed anxious.

After he was put together with Luna, he obviously found A LOT of comfort in her, and followed her everywhere. Now that he’s older and much more confident in himself, he will venture off and explore and play on his own sometimes. This is something we love to see, that means he’s a happy and well adjusted bear! Even though he will sometimes play by himself, like I said before, the majority of his time is spent playing and making big messes on exhibit with Luna.

Class: How big was he when he arrived at the zoo? How big is he now (and how much bigger than Luna)?

HeadShotCaitlyn: When Kali first got to the Buffalo Zoo, he was about 65 lbs. Believe it or not, now, he is about 450 lbs! It has only been about 10 months and he has gained almost 400 lbs!

Even though we estimate Luna to be about a month older than Kali is, Luna only weighs about 295 lbs.

This is because of their difference in gender.  Luna is probably slightly more than half of what she will weigh when she is an adult in a couple years; however Kali still has a lot of growing to do! I have a feeling he is going to be a big guy when he is an adult. I weigh them weekly and keep a very close eye on their body score to make sure they neither bear is gaining too much or too little weight.

Class: What do they like to do together?

Caitlyn: The bears love playing in their pool together (even when the temperature is -5 degrees!). I ordered them a toy called a “pool pickle” which is a durable plastic pool toy that looks like a GIANT three foot long pickle and it is definitely one of their favorites.  play

If they aren’t playing with toys or wrestling with each other, one of their other favorite activities is to make as big of a mess on exhibit as they possibly can!  Now that the ground is frozen and snow covered, it’s a little harder for them.  Before there was snow though, they would grab a clump of grass, carry them to the pool, drop them in, and then go off and find another clump to drop in. Or after a good rainfall, they would find a good spot to lie down, and roll around in until they’ve made their own personal mud puddles.

Class: What do they eat?

Caitlyn: Right now, the bears eat meat (it is a brand that is specially produced for zoos, for carnivores to consume) as well as formula. Even though they look big, they are still considered babies since they still have so much growing to do.  The formula is important for them due to the calcium they get from it which helps in proper development of their bones.

They way that I administer the formula to them is through a big 60 ml medical syringe (obviously with no needle on the end).  I stick the end of the syringe through the caging in their holding area and they drink the formula right out of it from there, just like they would be nursing from mom.

trainingThe formula syringe is also a great tool for training. I train each bear daily to do a variety of things. Kali, for instance, knows how to sit, target (touch the end of a poll with his nose at varying heights and spots) and station in one spot for weighing. Luna can sit, present the bottoms of either of her front paws depending on which I ask for, and lay down, target and station for weighing.

They will probably stay on the formula until they are at least a year and a half old, since that’s usually the earliest a mother bear would wean her babies naturally. Once a week I give them a BIG bone to chew on, which helps keep their teeth clean.  Other than these items that they get regularly, they will get frozen Gatorade or chicken broth as enrichment treats.

And just because we can’t get enough of these cute bears here are a few more pictures of Kali and Luna at play!

Learn more about Kali’s Story here or plan a visit to the Buffalo Zoo to see them in action!

Swimming with Sharks at the Tennessee Aquarium

How does an aquarium take care of such a wide variety of aquatic creatures?

Well, the Tennessee Aquarium shares with us videos from the volunteers that work to keep their aquatic animals clean happy and healthy.

Retired TV weatherman Thom Benson is lucky to work at the Tennessee Aquarium; but, even a job there doesn’t guarantee a dive. He shares that honor with 175 volunteer divers who also deliver educational programs, help feed some of the animals and maintain exhibits. He usually only dives once a month during regularly scheduled “scrub nights.” “The volunteer divers are the ones who really deserve praise for what they do to support the Aquarium,” Thom noted.

Shark diving:


Feeding Red Tail Catfish:  

Feeding Giant Australian Freshwater Stingrays:  

Author Jennifer Keats Curtis worked with the Tennessee Aquarium and four other Aquariums to show young readers what daily life is like under the water and behind the scenes.

For more information about the book visit the book’s homepage at

Also, visit the Tennessee Aquarium’s website to learn more or visit!