Critter Chronicles : A look at the pets of CDC

Are you partial to a laid-back fish? Or maybe a more affectionate bunny. Or is a scaly amphibian more your speed? Visit a few of our CDC sites and you’ll find a veritable menagerie of animals chosen to appeal to different groups of kids in different communities with often very different opinions on all things pet.

Many centers are home to a “class pet.” You’ll recognize the tell-tale cage as you enter the room, or the unobtrusive fish tank in the corner, or the…wait, is that a giant lizard?!

Indeed, Del Norte CDC is home to Rango, who has been part of the Del Norte family for years. He’s one of many lizards that have taken up CDC residence across the state. When kids get to make the choice, it seems they often gravitate toward the scaly and sedate. The same CDC is also home to Freddy the frog, goldfish named after teachers, Abraham, Guille, Sandra, Keri, and Lourdes as well as countless (and thus, nameless) walking sticks. “The children learn by having responsibilities but at the same time they learn empathy toward animals,” points out Site Supervisor Jennifer E.  “We at Del Norte teach the children that every animal, insects, and even, spiders have a purpose in the world. If we see a child who wants to step on a bug outside, teachers engage with the child before the child steps on the bug and asks why they would step on the bug. Teacher and child have a discussion about the bug and where the bug might be traveling and wonder if they are they going home? Do they have a family? Were they visiting other bugs? Once these questions are asked, the child seems to rethink stepping on them but end up having more questions and curiosity about them.”

Del Norte is no exception – each animal at CDC across the state is chosen to be the best match to a specific group of kids. Some prefer something they can cuddle; others prefer something that’s just really cool. Others prefer no animal in the class at all. CDC makes every effort to create a place that reflects the needs of their community, their families and their kids, and the process involved in bringing a pet into the family is no exception.

Sometimes the kids themselves force the issue. At Vista Verde CDC, students Sabrina and Sarah wrote a compelling letter to regional leadership to make the case for a “room three pet” as rooms one and two already had theirs. Sabrina and Sarah pointed out that an “interactive pet” would teach responsibility and improve behavior and create good habits. In the end, they did indeed get a room three pet –Hunter the bearded dragon (continuing the theme that, yes, lizards are always an awesome addition to the family), who joins other center pets like Rosie, a magnificent tarantula and ten-year site veteran.

Bearded dragons are a particularly popular choice for site pets. At Tafoya CDC in Woodland, D.J. and Squiggy are the resident pets. “I have tried a number of other center pets and have come to love reptiles because they are quiet, easy care, minimum smell and still something the children can handle and actively engage with,” says Site Supervisor Tana R.E. “Bearded dragons in particular are very responsive to people, so when the children walk up to their enclosures and talk with them, the Beardies will tilt their heads and look at them etc. Plus, they are just fun!”

In the realm of the “more fluff, fewer scales,” we have Del Mar CDC which just saw the hatching of a nest of incubated chicks. “This long-term project came about because the children are interested in chickens and chicks,” says Site Supervisor Sonia G.R. “They are also interested in animals that get adopted. Our dramatic area is a pet adoption agency. We had the opportunity to borrow an incubator and some eggs, that would eventually go back to the ranch that they had come from. Since we were talking about adoption, we simply explained the eggs would be with us till they hatched, then they would be adopted and stay at their forever home after.” (Del Mar is also home to a collection of sea slugs – hey, they can’t all be adorable!)

Whether they fly, crawl, hop or…whatever it is that sea slugs do exactly, animals are very much a part of many CDCs. They help kids learn responsibility and empathy and provide a connection to another living creature. Not every group of students feel the need for an animal in their midst, but for those who do, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll find one at their local CDC.