Monday, June 24, 2013
Hedgehogs and Rabbits and Snakes…Oh My!
The Outreach Program was created to reach out to individuals who cannot easily visit the zoo. Trained docents, such as Norma Porter, Rose Marie Walker, and Marjorie Hawkins, bring small, live animals and other touchable items to nursing homes, schools for children with disabilities, hospitals, and daycare centers. Norma, who has been a docent with the zoo for sixteen years, explains, “It’s very hands-on. We encourage our audience to touch the items (including pelts and skulls from animals that died of natural causes) and to touch the animals as well. For seniors, it’s also a chance to reminisce, perhaps about an animal from their childhood.”
Francine Finkelstein, director of therapeutic activities at JEKMC, says, “This was a great opportunity for our residents to see the animals, touch them, and relate to them.” And relate to them they did! From the first presentation – actually a stuffed life-sized toy kangaroo complete with a “joey” in her pouch – the residents were engaged. Did you know that, when a kangaroo is born, it’s about the size of a walnut? This was the first of many interesting facts the docents shared.
During the first part of the program, residents had the opportunity to see and touch pelts from a coyote and an ocelot, as well as two pelts from reindeer (one lighter to blend in with snow and thicker to provide protection from the cold of winter). The residents learned how diet is related to jaw and tooth structure for various animals.
Then the fun really began as the live animals came out to meet the residents. First up: a black and white guinea pig, a popular pet in many homes. Handled by a docent, Gabby, as she is nicknamed for the noises she makes, was touched gently with two fingers by willing residents. Just stroking her fur brought smiles and laughter to the room. The rabbit was next, with everyone oohing and aahing over her incredibly soft fur. The hedgehog required thick gloves to be worn by the docent and provided a look at her adorable little face, but no touching! Lastly, the tortoise and the snake took their turn around the room, with some opting not to learn what the snake’s skin feels like.
The docents brought energy and obvious passion for their volunteer work to the event, and the residents responded to them and their charges with openness and wonder. “It was very interesting and so informative,” said resident Muriel Peregoff. For Paul Stark, his favorite part of the program was the rabbit. “I had rabbits, and my daughter has them now,” said Paul. “My rabbit would sometimes get out of his cage, but when I called him, he would come.”
The Zoo Outreach Program provided the Home’s residents with a visual and tactile experience, an opportunity to learn new information and ask questions, and a chance to connect with a few of the animals that share this world with us.