Carl Linda Graham
Linda Graham

Anatole France says it well: “ Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Children are naturally drawn to animals. They desire to have them as companions. As a teacher of elementary and middle school aged children I have observed this often. It was very important to my students to talk about their pet, bring in photos of their pet or have their pet make a classroom visit. It was also important to have a pet share the classroom. Over the years my classroom saw a variety of creatures not one of them purchased for that purpose. All our classroom pets came from the homes of students due to unforeseen allergies, a lack of appreciation on the part of an adult, or an adult that could not bear to have an animal ignored, as it was no longer popular with their child. I never turned one away.

There are two schools of thought concerning pets in the classroom. The first encourages the idea. It is felt that classroom pets promote leadership, develop character in students, teach compassion, respect, empathy, responsibility, and relieve stress. Pets give their companions joy, purpose, and teach the cycle of life. It is not unusual for a child to grieve the loss of a pet prior to a relative.

The second school of thought discourages having pets in the classroom. According to PETA having pets in the classroom encourages breeders to continue providing smaller animals such as rats, hamsters, mice, lizards, etc. The animals live an unnatural life in small cages often poorly tended to. It is also felt that these animals have a higher chance of abuse.

I see merit on both sides of this issue. My fourteen-year-old son walked into his eighth grade science class to find the classroom mice being tossed from one end of the classroom to the other. Outraged he asked the teacher if he could take them home. All it took was a note from me and they were his. They ended up in my classroom as their nocturnal play kept him from getting his beauty sleep.

My students, after learning of the mice and their background studied how to care for and love them. On Halloween they gave them a small plastic pumpkin that the mice used as a sleeping spot…both curled up inside. The children loved to watch their friendship.

As the adult if you choose to teach the lessons of pet care, responsibility, empathy, etc. you have a huge responsibility to that pet. For all practical purposes this is your pet and responsibility. There will be expenses such as food, bedding, lodging, and perhaps vet care. I had a rabbit that required neutering and cold medicine. Don’t expect your school to financially support your efforts. The pet requires room to roam: do you have it? What happens on weekends or during breaks? It is stressful for the pet to be bounced from house to house during these times. The best option is that the pet has a second living area in your home. You must also consider the child with allergies. If such a child is enrolled in your class you may have to take the pet home for the school year. I discourage passing classroom pets on to students.

Over the years I have shared my classroom with many animals. There have been gerbils, hamsters, mice, fish, a rabbit, butterflies, and a dog sharing my classroom. Each brought a special aurora and unique experience to both my students and me. It is often the classroom pet my students remember.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 2.47.05 PMOver time I will write about our many classroom pet adventures. Today l would like to share with you the story of our Black Moor Goldfish. A kindergarten student left his Black Moor in the school aquarium upon moving. The addition went unnoticed as they all swam happily watching the students pass in the hall.

Unfortunately there was another addition to the tank. Evidently African Dwarf frogs were raised in a middle school science class and several found their way into this tank. These frogs are aquatic coming to the surface only to breath. They are tongueless, toothless and have webbed feet with long sharp claws. The claws are used to tear food apart as the feet force it into the mouth and down the throat. That is exactly what the frog did to the Moor’s eye. I noticed the one eyed Moor along with several students. In the circular pink depression in the side of his head we could see the optic nerve.

We were quite distressed and went back to the room to call the vet to see if the fish needed to be destroyed. The vet was not pleased by the situation but said the Moor was probably not in pain at this time but should be removed from the tank. The class discussed the situation and we decided we needed to move the fish into our classroom.

I acquired the necessary equipment and set up the tank. The next morning we were off to capture a fish. This was not an easy task due to the size of the tank but we were ultimately successful. After transitioning the fish we needed to think of a name.

The first suggestion was ‘Lucky’. Immediately everyone shouted yes.

“Why on Earth would we name this fish Lucky?” I asked.

A sweet little girl replied, “Because he is lucky to be living with us.”

I smiled, Lucky it was.

Lucky lived with us for four years. Eventually black-scaled skin covered the area where the eye was missing. He or she was a good swimmer and eater. Lucky spent the summers on my kitchen counter, which I enjoyed. The students new to my classroom looked forward to a year with Lucky and former students visited.

Finally it was Lucky’s time to pass. We discussed his difficulties and the fact that he was in the process of dying. It was quick, two or three days. We took Lucky out to the courtyard filled with warm sun, spring flowers, and sweet smells. A hole was dug, Lucky was placed in it and covered with soil. A stone was placed  on top of Lucky’s resting place to keep it from being disturbed. We each said something we loved about Lucky and stood there for a moment. We headed inside.

When we returned we got back to work without much fuss or sadness. I feel we all realized Lucky had a good life with us. I did notice over the year that students and their friends would visit the spot in the courtyard or say that that is where we buried Lucky. There is no end to what Lucky taught us about the cycle of life, compassion, healing, and love.

In conclusion I promote the idea of classroom pets on the condition the teacher is willing to take on the extensive responsibly of pet care. Their lives are literally in your hands. These animals, no matter how small, have sweet souls which as Anatole France says, ‘awakens part of our soul’.



Penguins In Jumpers Collect via facebook March 2014
Penguins In Jumpers
Collect via facebook March 2014

Who watched ‘Happy Feet’ and did not fall in love with penguins? They are truly endearing creatures hobbling on land or flying through the water.


Most scientists believe there are 19 species of penguins living on Earth today. Penguins are flightless aquatic birds whose range extends from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands. They spend the majority of their life in the water eating krill, small fish and squid. The largest penguin is the emperor penguin, the smallest the little penguin also known as the little blue penguin, blue penguin, little blue fairy penguin or just the fairy penguin. (It seems the names of penguins are lower case in the literature.)


It is the fairy penguin we are interested in today. The fairy penguin is 12-13 inches tall and weighs about 3.3 pounds. The feathers on its head and flippers are an aquamarine blue. In the wild they can live up to 6.5 years, in captivity up to 25 years. Most fairy penguins live in the waters surrounding southern Australia and New Zealand.


As with many aquatic animals the fairy penguins share the ocean waters with oil tankers. These tankers or ships carry oil from its point of extraction to refineries. These tankers move 2,000,000,000 metric tons of oil a year. For the most part the oil is moved safely, however, far too many spills have occurred. In addition, some ships illegally dump oil before they enter port. When oil pours out onto the water it is a death sentence for flora and fauna; life becomes coated with this viscous liquid.


A spot of oil the size of a thumb nail can kill a penguin. Oil mats the feathers allowing the cold to get to their skin – they die of exposure. Oil also makes the penguins heavy making it difficult for them to move leading to starvation.


In 2001 there was a major oil spill near Phillip Island off the coast of Australia. Four-hundred-thirty-eight fairy penguins were affected. Amazingly 96% were saved and released.


Cleaning penguins requires volunteers, warm water, mild detergent and scrubbing. Sounds simple but it is not. Some of the little penguins are too sick to be bathed immediately. Scrubbing can be stressful for the already stressed and sick animals. The penguins themselves want to be clean and begin to preen their feathers thus ingesting the oil. What to do?


The Penguin Foundation on Phillip Island near Melbourne, Australia came up with an idea, put the little fellows in jumpers or sweaters while they wait to be cleaned and as they wait for the natural oils removed during cleaning to return. Sounds like a great idea to me.


The Penguin Foundation along with other organizations put out a request for penguin sweaters. They received thousands many knit by Americans…myself included.


Over time the use of sweaters on penguins has come into question. Some feel the use of sweaters causes additional unnecessary stress. Many organizations have stopped using them satisfying the needs of penguins with modern technology. They continue to have very successful survival rates. Therefore for many organizations sweaters are just being stockpiled; some are sold to support penguin conservation. Foundations however are not discouraging the knitting of sweaters, as they will help one way or another. This author however feels the sweaters can still be helpful in keeping waiting penguins from preening their feathers, it just seems logical. The Penguin Foundation offers other ways to support penguin conservation. If you would like to support the penguins the Penguin Foundation suggests you adopt a Penguin or Donate. To do this use there website:Penguin Jumpers


Websites used to prepare for this article:

















It is the symbol of our great nation, the bald eagle, a mighty raptor. It is my good fortune to observe these magnificent creatures in the wild. I see them sitting on a tree limb overlooking the bay waiting for fish. In the spring I watch overhead as they perform their territorial dance. On lucky days they track my yellow jeep as it travels up the peninsula. Equally magnificent are the other raptors, not as easily recognized that share the area

Raptors, birds of prey by their very name are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. The Latin word rapere means to seize or take by force, which is exactly what a raptor does. Their excellent eyesight, magnificent feet and talons, and curved razor sharp beaks make this all possible.

As you might guess not everyone is a fan of raptors. Chicken farmers, small pet owners, among others feel these birds of prey threaten their pets and other small furry creatures living among us. I must say I was not thrilled the day I saw a hawk grab a bunny from the grass.

As hard as it may be this is the cycle of life. Without raptors we would be over run by rodents, snakes, rabbits, insects, just to name a few. Vultures clean the carrion ridding us of unwanted carcasses, the opportunity for larger predators or insects entering our living areas, and bacterial growth. A healthy ecosystem is a balanced ecosystem and raptors contribute to balance.

Unfortunately, as with our favorite rescues, cats and dogs, injured raptors also need rescuing. Humans cause most injuries. Raptors collide with cars, power lines, ingest poisons from dumps or lawn and garden chemicals, and are shot. Raptors are protected under the Endangered Species Act among others, but are still accidently or purposefully harmed.

Fortunately raptors have a rescuer in the Grand Traverse Area, specifically Empire, MI. Wings of Wonder a non-profit raptor sanctuary begun in 1990 by Rebecca Lessard comes to their rescue. In addition to raptor rescue their mission is to educate the public encouraging appreciation, respect, and honor for these great birds. They are licensed by the Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to admit injured, sick and orphaned raptors. Rebecca, her volunteers and nine local vets work hard to release these birds back into the wild. The birds that recover, but are not fit for release become educators and foster parents.

Rebecca and Doolin Photo by Christopher M Rieseer
Rebecca and Doolin
Photo by Christopher M Rieseer

It has been my pleasure to attend two of Rebecca’a educational programs. The multi-aged audience is packed, eager to learn and awed by her raptor ambassadors.

Visit Rebecca’s site: You will meet Pearl the Red Tailed Hawk, Doolin the Turkey Vulture (he has a mad crush on Rebecca), Rita the Peregrin Falcon, Florence the Long-Eared Owl, Ned the Saw Whet Owl (my favorite), Jaeda the American Kestrel, Arlo the Red Eastern Screech Owl, Gilda the Gray Eastern Screech Owl and Zenon the Snowy Owl. There is a photo of each bird with its back story.

I have saved my favorite for last: the release. If possible the raptors are released close to or at the location from which they were recovered. To continue the educational process Rebecca invites her followers etc. to attend these releases. You have not truly experienced the wonder of nature until you have seen a powerful animal fly into freedom.







Nature’s Predictions of Hope

CrocusAh, the New Year, 2016. For most, the New Year represents new beginnings full of hope. Nature confirms this. The winter solstice has passed bringing us minutes more light each day. The trees are resting buds waiting to bring new life and fruit. Very soon we will hear the first songbirds in the icy air and the joyous first sighting of a robin.

Nature does not limit its message of hope to the New Year but speaks to us daily. One of its most dramatic messages came to me in April 2011. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami slammed Japan March 11, 2011. It was the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan and the fourth most powerful in the world.

The quake damaged many cities and towns the town of Shiwa in the Iwate Prefecture among them. Shiwa is the home of one of my dearest friends Kozue, her family, extended family, and many of my acquaintances. Many, including my Kozue, temporarily moved out of their homes to safer grounds. I could hardly bare to think of her home and beautiful gardens covered in ash and trembling from the many after shocks. I kept in touch.

Kozue returned many times to check on her home. On one of her trips she found a lone crocus in the backyard pushing its way up through the ash reaching for the sun. Knowing its value she took a picture. It was a true sign of hope….life has and will continue to return. After some time Kozue’s family returned to live in their home.

For the last four years the treasured picture of the crocus has had a prominent place on my desktop. For me it is a symbol of hope for today and many days to come.






IMG_0608Pearl is the rescue  with whom we will spend our senior years. Sadly, her first family left her behind in an empty apartment. It was some time before she was discovered by a neighbor. Pearl was taken to a local cat rescue who in turn put her up for adoption at our local PetSmart store where we found her. Pearl waited several months before she found her forever home. The experience was so stressful for her she lost the fur on the bridge of her nose.

Today Pearl’s life is quite different. She has her own cat garden of  grass and catnip, a tent in the closet for privacy, favorite places to sleep on soft blankets, a screened deck to safely check out the world, and a fireplace for winter warmth.

Pearl’s story has a happy ending, but sadly this is not usually the case.

  • Three point four million cats enter shelters per year.
  • Ninety percent  of the animals entering shelters have not been spayed or neutered.
  • Of the cats entering shelters 37% are adopted, 41% are euthanized and 5% are returned to their owners.
  • Seventy million stray cats live in the United States. Most are family pets without identification

IMG_0323It is very important that we support the efforts of trusted organizations such as the ASPCA and our local rescues as they struggle to bring these concerns under control. We must promote responsible animal care such as, spaying and neutering our pets, having our pets chipped, updating the chip information as needed, and considering adopting a mature animal.

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