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.
Over 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?
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, https://arbordalekids.wordpress.com/2014/03/.)
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.
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.