Helping the Helpless Animals

Spring is here, and it’s a time of year when many baby animals are emerging from their winter hiding place. Some of those babies may be a little different.

Recently, Antler Ridge Sanctuary in New Jersey rescued a litter of eastern gray squirrels, but one of those squirrels had a pure white coat. The rare white fur means that the squirrel has a form of albinism.

A white coat with red eyes mIMG_0833 (1)eans that the animal is an albino. Some animals are leucistic;
these white-coated animals have their natural colored eyes but their lack of color makes them stand out from the other animals of the same species. Other animals are piebald; they have patches of albino white mixed with patches of their natural color.

The lack of color puts these special babies at risk. In a world of browns, greens, and greys the pure white is very hard to disguise from predators. Often albino animals, especially small prey animals such as squirrels are targeted by larger animals and don’t make it in the wild for very long.

Of course not all white animals have albinism, for example arctic animals such as polar bears and arctic foxes are white to blend with their surroundings.

However, without the help of rescuers many albino animals would have been lost in the wild, some of these animals are rehabilitated and then live out their days in zoos or aquariums.

To learn more read about the albino squirrel read the article here!

And…find out more about animal rehabilitators and the work zookeepers and aquarist in these books by author Jennifer Keats Curtis with the help of organizations around the country.

AnimalHelpersRehab_187Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators

Like humans, animals can get sick or hurt. People see doctors. Pets have veterinarians. What happens to wild animals when they are injured, become ill, or are orphaned? Often, wildlife rehabilitators are called to their rescue. This photographic journal takes readers “behind the scenes” at four different wildlife rehabilitation centers. Fall in love with these animals as they are nursed back to health and released back to the wild when possible. This is the first of a photographic series introducing the different ways and the many people who care for a wide variety of animals.

AH_Zoos_187Animal Helpers: Zoos

Zoos are amazing places to see and learn about the many native and exotic of animals that inhabit this world. Some animals are plentiful while others are threatened or in danger of extinction. Zookeepers not only feed and care for these animals, they may also be helping to conserve and protect whole species through breeding and “head start” programs. Follow the extraordinary duties of these unusual animal helpers in this behind-the-scenes photographic journal.

AH_Aquariums_187Animal Helpers: Aquariums

Where else could you stay dry while visiting aquatic animals from around the world? Only in an aquarium can you visit and learn about all these different local and exotic animals. Aquarium staff care for and teach about these animals, as well as work to conserve and protect threatened and endangered species. Follow this behind-the-scenes photographic journal as it leads you into the wondrous world of aquariums and the animal helpers who work there.


Are you an Animal Helper?

The pet industry is a billion dollar business and many Americans share homes with four-legged friends, or aquatic creatures. Each day people are taking care of their animals and enriching their lives just like the people featured in the Animal Helpers series.

In a recent interview, Author Jennifer Keats Curtis shared with Arbordale how zookeepers and rehabilitators have influenced her interactions with her own dog. Just like animals in zoos, pets need enrichment. Even the smallest fish can be trained.

So, here are a few training experiments that you can do at home to enrich the lives of your pets.


Your dog might have hi-five down or may love a game of fetch, but what about when you are away?

Newton26-27flatPlay a game of find and seek with treats or even your dog’s food. When you dog is in another room place small treats or a little food in simple hiding spaces around a room. Have your dog use it’s nose to seek out the food. For the first few times you may have to help your dog out, but they will quickly get the hint.

Take learning one step further with puzzles. Many local pet stores carry treat puzzles where dogs must use their nose to get the reward. This enrichment will entertain and tire out your pooch!


Cats may be a little harder to please, but they are easily trainable too! A happy cat has many toys to bat around, or even a bc_20-21fishing pole with a furry ball at the end can entertain a cat for hours, but many people have trained their cat to do much more.

Start out small with treats or a piece of food and hold it just above the cat’s nose. Lift the treat until the cat sits down. Repeat this several times and give the cat a treat as soon as it sits. Soon the cat will be siting each time you lift the treat.

Many cats scare easily so be sure to reward your cat and not stress it out. Scaredy cats are very difficult to train.


You can train your pet fish to recognize when it’s dinnertime. Flash a light and then goldfish_1feed the fish. Do this over several days feeding the fish the same amount of food each time and see what happens. Some fish put their mouths out of the water; others may swim in a pattern. This is a fun experiment in animal behavior just like Pavlov’s Dogs.

Do you want to learn how zookeepers entertain and train big cats, sharks or even a gorilla, check out Jennifer Keats Curtis’ series Animal Helpers and coming soon Primate School!

Animal Helpers: Saving Unwanted Pets of all Sizes

Author Jennifer Keats Curtis is an incredible Animal Helper, and today she writes about a family of very special animal helpers that she has met while visiting Joppa View Elementary in Maryland.

It’s not every day that you see a grown woman lugging two enormous turtles into school by way of a kids’ pull-along wagon but Melanie Neuhauser isn’t just any woman.

Sashimi and sushimi at JVE 1Over the past several years, Melanie and her children have fostered and adopted at least 25 animals, including kittens, puppies, birds, and turtles of all sizes. Those turtles—Sulcata tortoises weighing 27 and 35 pounds respectively—were both unwanted pets. Sushi, the smaller and sassier of the two, had been turned into a reptile rescue group. Melanie’s intent was simply to foster her; but, the turtle is so terrible—she rams furniture and the refrigerator when she’s hungry; gnaws on shoes; and even goes after wiring like it’s a tantalizing piece of cake—that Melanie and the kids completely fell in love with her. Sashimi, who is a bit better behaved, was found wandering a neighborhood. Melanie, well known as the resident rescuer, received a call about a big turtle meandering nearby lawns. And, she’s kept her ever since.

Melanie, with help from her twin sons, fifth graders Donovan and Marcus, hauled the massive tortoises into Joppa View Elementary School in Baltimore because they wanted author Jennifer Keats Curtis to meet the tortoises in person…or, er, is that in reptile?with donovan and turtles

Jennifer is a regular visitor to Joppa View Elementary School, where she waxes poetic about her books and her passion for the right way to treat critters, wild and domestic. Ever the animal lover, Jennifer was enamored with the Neuhausers’ passion for helping pets in need. (In fact, Donovan was featured as a future animal helper in a blog last year,

Taking care of so many pets, especially those really huge ones, is time-consuming and can be draining. Melanie knows that only too well; she works full-time as a vet tech. But, with the help of her kids, orphaned kittens get bottles; dogs are walked; bird cages are changed; and tortoises get fed. The food preparation for the turtles is considerable as those beastly critters love to eat—mostly orchard grass, but once a day they also get steamed sweet potatoes, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, zucchini, and even cactus. On occasion, they get strawberries and bananas, too.

sushi eatsThe Neuhausers, however, love it. They know what it takes to run a household full of growing animals and have decided they are in for the long haul.

If you are considering adopting, fostering, or buying a pet, please remember that caring for an animal in your home is a big responsibility. You may wish to carefully consider some important factors before you take on this commitment:

  • How large will the animal become as an adult? (Even those tremendous tortoises, who will one day weigh over 100 pounds and become the size of coffee tables, were once tiny hatchlings.)
  • Do you have room in your home for this animal?
  • How long will the animal live? (Sulcata tortoises can live to be 100.)
  • Do you have time for this pet?
  • What does this pet eat and can you provide that food? (Are you willing to steam sweet potatoes as food?)
  • Do you have someone who can help take care of the animals if you will be away?
  • Are you able to take the animal to a veterinarian if he or she gets sick? Vet visits are important and they can be costly if your pet becomes ill.

Learn more about the Animal Helpers series and Jennifer Keats Curtis at Arbordale Publishing.

Animal Helpers: Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center

If you have read the Animal Helpers series, now you are familiar with the work that it takes to help wild animals. Whether they are animals destined to live in captivity for their whole lives or they are wild animals being released back into their natural habitat each animal receives special care.

Today, we are featuring an interview with Ashley Dec

Einstein is our albino crow and education animal.  Albinism can actually be found in most species. Come meet Einstein at the Book Fair!

Einstein is our albino crow and education animal. Albinism can actually be found in most species. Come meet Einstein at the Book Fair!

ker the Day Manager at the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Stroudsburg, PA. Meet Ashley and the animals of the center at the Barnes & Noble in Easton, PA on Saturday May 31st for a Bookfair and to learn even more about the center!

Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center takes in over 1,000 animals every year, including, fawns, owls, hawks, squirrels, rabbits, songbirds, raccoons and bears. Which animals do you see the most of and what is your busiest time of year?

Spring is most definitely our busiest time of year! I would say we get almost ¾ of our animals from the year just in spring.  Picking the species that we see the most of is a little bit tricky.  The fact that we get most of our mammals of the year all at one time makes it seem like we see so many of them, but we also get a lot of songbirds coming into the center, just spread out through the year.   We complete an End of the Year report and fill out how many of each species we have had.  Last year we had approximately 40 raccoons, 50 opossums, 100 gray squirrels, 75 cottontail rabbits, 55 ducks, and 100 songbirds.  The numbers change around every year.

What kind of bears come into the center? Are they babies or adults? How do you care for them?  

The Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is the only center in Pennsylvania that is licensed to accept and rehabilitate black bears.  Due to the fact PA Game Commission makes black bears one of their top priorities; they will personally handle all black bear calls and decide how to proceed.  Adult black bears stay under their jurisdiction, but if they discover a baby black bear that needs to be cared for they will either try to foster it with another wild mother bear (always the first decision!) or they will bring it straight to our facility.  We have a newly built bear pen that is slightly separated from the rest of our facilities to keep human contact to a minimum and we have housed up to eight cubs at once.  Most cubs come in when they weigh an average of 10 pounds.  At that point they still need to receive feedings of bear cub formula multiple times a day (cross your fingers that they will drink out of a bowl to lessen human interaction). From there, we add fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even fish through a small opening on the side of the pen.  Black bears do not eat as much meat as a lot of people might think.  Almost all of their diet actually consists of vegetation.  Since we will typically only have bear cubs from May to August due to strict regulations, we try to fatten them up as much as possible and our bears get to enjoy the rare treat of baked goods donated from a local market.  We only had two bear cubs last year and they weighed the most out of all of the cubs we have rehabilitated.  A whopping 90 pounds!  PA Game Commission will arrive at the end of August to safely dart the cubs so that they may be weighed and tagged, and then they take them to private lands so that they can be released together.

Can you talk a bit about your outreach programs? Which animals accompany you during the programs? Why do you have those animals in your care? What do people ask about the animals during those visits?  

We try to make our Education Programs one of our top priorities (never more than animal care though!).  Any education ambassador that we have at the facility is still

Spike, our educational porcupine, is roughly 8 months old.  We can’t tell if Spike is a male or female as it is very hard to check!  Spike recently started educational programs the past two months and is already a big favorite.  Come meet him at the Book Fair!

Spike, our educational porcupine, is roughly 8 months old. We can’t tell if Spike is a male or female as it is very hard to check! Spike recently started educational programs the past two months and is already a big favorite. Come meet him at the Book Fair!

in our care due to permanent health restrictions that would keep them from successfully living in the wild.  Our ambassadors only include Pennsylvania species, like a Great Horned Owl, a skunk, and even an albino crow.  We are required to obtain and maintain licenses just to keep each of these education animals and all of them have annual exams at the vet.  During our programs we will talk about each animal and incorporate natural behaviors and adaptations.  We try to make them as educational as possible, while also keeping it fun! Nothing is worse than having a child grow bored even though there is a live Barn Owl in front of him.  This year I will also be starting a new program called Wild Times and Tales.  It is a story time that I create just for the group that requests it.  In advance, they will choose one of the children’s story books that I have in my collection and then I build an hour long program around their choice.  Since the books that I have match our education animals I will actually be bringing that animal with me.  During the hour we will read the story, talk about the animals’ history and natural behaviors, play games, and make crafts.  This is a work in progress, but I am very excited to start this program!  Questions that people ask are typically a clarification of something we talked about during the program, more information on natural history, or even questions about how they could co-exist with the animals in their own backyard.

At what age can people volunteer in your center? What are some volunteer responsibilities?  

The minimum age for a volunteer is 18.  Anyone younger is either doing work with a Boy Scout group or working on an Eagle Scout project.  Volunteers can work on answering phones, cleaning cages, animal care, capture and transport, animal fostering, or even labor projects around the property.  Volunteers are always needed!

It’s springtime and the busiest time for most animals. What should we watch out for to help determine if a wild animal really needs our assistance?  

First, if you find an animal you should always call your local wildlife center and let them know about the situation.  A lot of times it may seem like something is wrong, but in reality there isn’t.  Remember that we can never provide better care than a mother!  If you notice any of the following signs then the animal needs care right away:

Red fox kits.  We receive about seven foxes a year.  People find them alongside roads when the mother has been hit by a car.  The babies stick close to her body.  All of our foxes are released together at the end of the summer on beautiful properties far away from the public.  Interestingly, fox and coyote kits  look very much alike when they are just  weeks old.

Red fox kits. We receive about seven foxes a year. People find them alongside roads when the mother has been hit by a car. The babies stick close to her body. All of our foxes are released together at the end of the summer on beautiful properties far away from the public. Interestingly, fox and coyote kits
look very much alike when they are just
weeks old.

if the dead parent is nearby, the animal is crying out in distress, the animal is visibly wounded or bleeding, or even if your dog or cat brings it to you.  Other signs could vary for different species and this is where calling your local wildlife rehabilitator comes in.  Knowing natural behaviors helps us determine if the animal is truly orphaned or just waiting for mom to return.  Even though you haven’t seen the mom around, doesn’t mean that she won’t come back.  She will actually leave her young alone throughout the day to draw away predators and only return around dusk and dawn.  As wildlife rehabilitators, we are always happy to help provide accurate information.

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!

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!