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.
Although 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 evencolored 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!”
Now, 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.
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!