4-H’ers get up-close look at Crazy Critters

CORTLAND — Gamera, Farfalle, Shaymin, Ziggy, Charolette, Red and Zion aren’t as scary as they may appear.

The first three — a leopard tortoise, a ball python and an African pygmy hedgehog — are owned by Bailey and Taylor Carter.

The second three — a ball python, a female tarantula and a male tarantula — are owned by Aniyah Jones.

If these young kids aren’t afraid to touch or hold them, then other people shouldn’t be, either.

That was the mindset behind the Cortland Crushers 4-H Club’s recent Crazy Critters program at the Hamilton Township Volunteer Fire Department in Cortland.

“I am always searching for unique experiences for our club members, and when parents Helen Carter and Amanda Jones approached me about their kiddos doing a presentation with their exotic pets, I jumped right at the chance to make that happen for the club,” said Vera Reichenbacker, leader of the 4-H club.

“When our members volunteer to do presentations for the group, that really sparks my excitement for leading this club because youth leadership is part of what 4-H is all about,” she said.

To prepare for the presentation, Bailey Carter, a freshman, said she made sure her snake was ready, typed up fact sheets for her fellow club members and gave herself a pep talk.

Taylor Carter, a fifth-grader, said she wrote down facts about hedgehogs for the 4-H’ers and made sure Shaymin was clean and his space was clean and safe. Their mother also helped with preparation, including soaking Gamera.

Jones, a first-grader, said she and her mother put all of their critters, including some Madagascar hissing cockroaches, in travel containers, and she was excited to show them to the club members.

After the 4-H’ers washed their hands, they were ready to handle and learn all about the animals.

“Aniyah was a rock star explaining to her 4-H friends about how to take care of and handle the hissing roaches,” Amanda said. “Her and her siblings, Aaliyah and Jordyn Jones, have always been into bugs and reptiles. Most people have dogs and cats, but we have seven tarantulas, a snake and bugs. Ziggy is like a puppy in the reptile world.”

Aniyah said she loves to tell people about her animals so they won’t be scared of them.

“My favorite part was telling people about the animals and sharing my bugs with my friends,” she said. “If you care for them right and handle them right, they are nice. I hope everyone learned that not all bugs and snakes and spiders are scary.”

Bailey said she was impressed by how fascinated the club members and their parents were, and Taylor enjoyed sharing their animals and knowledge.

“I loved getting to share my hedgehog and getting to tell everyone all the interesting information about hedgehogs, but really, I liked the whole thing,” Taylor said. “I hope everyone learned that exotic pets require specific care and that you should always handle any pet with great care, always making sure to clean up after them and washing your hands afterwards.”

Kindergartner Curry Klakamp said he loved the variety of animals.

“My favorite was the snake. I was excited to hold the snake,” he said. “I was a little scared of that hissing cockroach.”

Sophomore Delaney Thomasma said it was very cool listening to everyone talk about their animals.

“Also, seeing how that’s a pet to them, when to me, a pet is my dog,” she said. “I learned more about taking care of reptiles and how different they can be from what we think.”

Jaxon Reichenbacker, a third-grader, said he really liked petting all of the animals.

“I was a little scared about touching some of them, but it wasn’t too bad. This meeting was fun,” he said.

Fifth-grader Kylie Winn said she learned things she didn’t know before and saw new animals, too.

From a parents’ perspective, Melanie Klakamp said it helped Reichenbacker provided lots of information prior to the meeting.

“The animal presentation was fantastic. I loved seeing the smiles and curiosity on the faces of all the children,” she said. “These types of hands-on experiences are so valuable. My son, Curry, loved learning about the animals and holding them. We are so excited to join the Cortland Crushers.”

Stephanee Squires-Roberts, mother of kindergartner Jude Roberts, said it’s wonderful to expose kids at early ages to unique experiences and give them access to people and topics that may seem different to them.

“I was proud of the kids for being brave, and (they) were open to trying new things,” she said.

Helen Carter said she hopes those attending now have a better knowledge of a wider variety of amazing pets out there.

Thomasma agreed.

“It’s important to have 4-H club presentations because we have a lot of young kids in our group, and they like hands-on activities,” she said. “So when they get to learn and visually see and interact with reptiles, they enjoy this more and will participate more.”

Winn said it’s super important to do more presentations like this.

“People might have interesting stories they would love to share and teach others about things like pets, culture and their family,” she said. “It helps other kids learn those things and understand more about the world. I am looking forward to more.”