Top of the pet list would probably belong to my two dogs, Rocky and Frodo. Rocky is a Landseer Newfoundland, seven years old, and we adopted him from Wood Ridge Golden Retrievers more than five years back. As is the way with “Newfies,” Rocky is a gentle giant, and relaxed to the point of laziness. He rarely barks, only causes trouble when he gets into the trash can, and loves to eat bread. This is in sharp contrast to our newer dog, Frodo, a probable husky mix (you can see it in his two-toned eyes, I think). As the veterinarian said on one of his first appointments, “ooohhh … huskies are bad.”
That’s not to say that Frodo isn’t without his redeeming qualities, but causing trouble is high on his list of favorite things to do. He is constantly chewing prized items, bothering Rocky by nipping at his legs, leaping over him, and tearing around the house like a wild coyote. He’s also blasted straight through our screen door, tearing it off the track, even though he only weighs about 50 pounds (23 kilograms).
Little by little, Frodo is learning to be a good dog, and he does have a loving heart. We adopted him from Crossing Paths Animal Rescue, a wonderful organization based in Alabama that rescues stray dogs from high-kill animal shelters and prepares them for adoption. Since Frodo was probably on his own for his first year of life, he’s used to living like a wild animal, yet is definitely intelligent enough to learn a new routine. Crate-training, for example, was very easy to accomplish, mainly because Frodo shares Rocky’s obsession with bread!
Second on my list of pets would probably be my breeding group of Podarcis sicula klemmeri, a type of lizard that hails from Licosa, Italy. They are related to other types of Podarcis sicula on mainland Europe, but the Licosa form has a bluish coloration.
Interestingly, it also appears that we have a population of Podarcis sicula where I teach at Riverside Elementary School (see below). This type appears to be the mainland version, like one might see in other parts of Italy, France, Spain, and Greece. How they got there is a mystery, although they do appear to be established in Topeka, Kansas and Long Island, New York.
Podarcis sicula is fascinating because of a study released in 2008, which showed rapid evolution in lizards introduced to an uninhabited island in only 30 years. Interestingly, rapid evolution in lizards can also be seen in the group called “anoles,” as can be seen in the following video:
Now lizards seem to have some way of finding me, and it was in January of 2016 when I first came to meet an anole named Green Fruit Loop. She’d been found in a bundle of salad greens purchased at Whole Earth Center, a local organic market in Princeton. A kindergartener brought her into my classroom shortly thereafter, and the story literally spread around the world! I’m happy to say that Green Fruit Loop is still doing well, and I have considered the idea of returning her to south Florida, although green anoles are frequently eaten by all sorts of creatures down there…
Over the past several years, I have also adopted several snakes, and currently have three ball pythons,
two boa constrictors, a pair of corn snakes … and no, they don’t bite. Not once. Ever. In fact, all three of these species make excellent pets. They are extremely low maintenance (eat once a week, poop once a week), don’t need a lot of attention, and have never shown even the slightest bit of aggression. Of course, they aren’t exactly the most affectionate of animals, even though one of my boas is named “Cuddles” and the other is named “Hugs.” My ball pythons don’t have names, because they’ll never learn them, but the corn snakes are named Max and Elizabeth. My daughter is hoping that they might lay eggs some day.
Pets that require quite a bit more maintenance are the turtles and tortoises that I have taken in, most of them in the time since I started Teacher Turtles in 2015. There are Leo and Josephine, two leopard tortoises with badly deformed shells as a result of improper diet and humidity, as well as a two non-native box turtles (Albert and Confetti) that used to roam the Riverside School courtyard and have since been reunited with members of their own species. I also have Guacamole and Kathy, two red-eared sliders whose pictures I will post as soon as they let me get close enough, and Pinky, a pink-bellied sideneck turtle (pictured below) that I have had for the past eight years.
Last but not least is Rosey, the Chilean rose-haired tarantula that helped me overcome my fear of spiders. I’ll always owe her for that!