Sunday, January 24, 2010

Save Squirt

Nine years ago a teammate decided to buy a snake as a class pet. My class, of course, decided that they wanted a class pet too. I stalled a bit, but ultimately decided a class pet could be fun.... partly because of the person I am and partly because I remember being in fifth grade and having newts and crawfish as a pet and thinking it was the Best Week Ever when it was my turn to take care of them.

I turned it into a teachable moment of course....had the class list all the possible pets (nothing with fur or feathers- school rules), divided them into teams and made them do research and present their findings to their classmates....set up a voting both, made them research again once a winner was selected so that we could get all of the materials we needed to care for said pet and finally, when I had stretched it out as long as I could, bought the class pet- a leopard gecko:

We voted on a name too: Squirt (named after the turtle in Finding Nemo). So I'll admit--and not many people know this secret--Squirt #1 didn't last so long. She was sickly and died shortly after arriving in our classroom. The class never knew, I pretended I had brought her home and returned with a new Squirt.

Squirt #2 has now been with me for nine years. Many students have come and gone in my classroom and have had the opportunity to learn about Squirt and to care for her. Former students check in on her, and will even stop me in the hall to ask how she is doing.

I knew Squirt was special, but I didn't realize how special until she got sick. That's right, Squirt is sick. The first signs started a few months ago. She started having difficulty shedding, and needed help pulling some of her skin off. Her appetite dropped off a bit. I did my research, dropped a pretty penny at my local PetCo and she seemed to be improving. But, recently, her decline worsened. It got bad enough that even my students started thinking she didn't look good. I even had a chat with my class and, in as nice of terms as I could put it, I told them I wasn't so sure she'd make it through the year.

That very night, one of my parent's emailed me to let me know that her sister is a vet, and her old boss specialized in Leopard geckos. I reassured the mom that it wasn't necessary although I appreciated the offer and the mom promptly made an appointment. Two vet visits later Squirt is now on three different medications, has to soak two times a day in a lukewarm "bath", has to be force fed a meal of pureed cat food, Ensure and vitamins (which smells delicious by the way!) and had to have numerous (costly) changes to her habitat.

Crazier than that (because, yes, I know that is crazy) is the outpouring of support Squirt is receiving. My school psychologist emailed to check on Squirt, a special education teacher asked me about her at the start of a meeting, which then prompted a good five minute conversation with everyone at the table and, even more amazing, the parents in my classroom have stepped up to care for her. Two different moms have paid for her vet visits--one late enough at night that the poor mom had to hire a babysitter to stay with her other children and the second visit caused the student in my class to miss her Variety show rehearsal (quite the big deal, trust me!). Both refused to take money, insisting on spending a ridiculous amount to care for Squirt. One of my room parents sent out an email to all parents asking for help and financial support. She also emailed the PTA president and asked if a collection jar could be put in the front office....

All this for a leopard gecko. A very adorable leopard gecko, granted, but, a leopard gecko all the same. Just goes to show you that pets, big or small, furry or not, touch lives.

I just hope she lives.


Kelli said...

This is such a sweet story! I'm so impressed by the outpouring of love for Squirt. (And for your patience making that meal every day for her.)

I think it's so cool you did this for your classroom. I still remember the hamsters we had when I was in 5th grade - that's important stuff when you're little. Here's to Squirt's health!

vek b said...

Maybe it's the new mom part of me but this post made me teary. As a former teacher who also, shhhh, replaced a tree frog or two it is so sad when you realize they may not make it. These animals really do become part of your classroom community both as a member and a teacher. I remember scrubbing Writer's Workshop one time to teach how/why crickets (frog food) molt because one of ours was.

I am impressed with your class' and parents' devotion. That is quite the lucky leapord gecko.

Mrs.S said...

Go squirt , Go!
Love Mrs. S

Keetha said...

I love this story. Go Squirt! Who knewa leopard gecko could inspire such concern!

That's great. Let us know how Squirt is doing. He's our mascot now, you know.