Fantastic pets and where to find them

Students, faculty discuss their unique animals


The amount of obscure pets owned by Jones students is almost unfathomable.

Maggie Trovato '19, School Staff

A king has found his kingdom on the top floor of the North Building; a California King Snake, that is. Pepe is the 13-year-old pet of science teacher Eric Hancock.

Pepe, who was recently brought to Jones as a new class pet, has lived with Hancock since he was in college.

But Hancock isn’t the only one at this school who has a unique pet. With Jones’ diverse population, it is no surprise that students and faculty have a wide variety of interesting pets and experiences with animals.

All Hail King Pepe

Slithering around in the  sixth floor AP Environmental Science classroom, Pepe has whipped up excitement within AP Environmental Science.

“I thought it would be exciting for the classroom. I thought it would give something for people to be interested in when they walked into the room. They could go see what Pepe was doing,” said Hancock. “It was also an opportunity to talk about some things that are relevant to the course.”

This king is not only in a new part of the city, but in a new castle as well. Hancock bought his pet a new habitat before bringing him to school. About six years ago, Pepe escaped due to a faulty terrarium, a glass container that many pet snakes live in.

“He was able to escape the terrarium and he lived in the walls of my apartment building for about four months. Eventually, it was my upstairs neighbors that found him in their bathroom.”

Pepe’s cold bloodedness allowed him to survive between the rooms of Hancock’s apartment for so long.

“Because they are cold blooded animals, they don’t have to eat nearly as often,” said Hancock.

Pepe’s cold blood isn’t the only interesting thing about him. King snakes got their name because, in the wild, they eat other snakes, but Pepe’s diet consists solely of frozen rats.

This new class pet has excited many AP Environmental Science students.

“I’ve been asking for [a class pet] since last year, so this is just my dream come true,” said Kate Berg ‘18.

Buddy the Squirrel

After finding a family of squirrels in a tree in their backyard, Jaden Deloria ‘19 and his family decided that they should feed them. Now, the Delorias consider one of those squirrels, Buddy, their pet.

“He started coming up to me and climbing on my shoulder,” Deloria said. “We took him in from there.”

Buddy has been living with the Delorias for about two years. But, it took a little while for them to get used to each other. One of the first times Buddy went into the house, things got out of hand.

“He went crazy. He was jumping off the walls and everything,” said Deloria. “There was just a giant mess in our house.”

But over the years, everyone has adapted to the arrangement.

“He kind of goes out by himself. He uses the bathroom outside, we just give him food and water,” said Deloria.

This laidback arrangement is one that Deloria favors. Much like his other pet, a shrimp, there isn’t too much work that comes along with taking care of a squirrel.

“We don’t have to walk him or anything,” Deloria said. “He’s super chill.”

Though Buddy has found a second family, he still spends time in the tree with his squirrel family. Buddy has children that live in the backyard.

“He did bring his kids over one time,” said Deloria. “So now the kids are coming up to our door.”

One Big Family

Living with a lot of pets doesn’t phase Avery Kaplan ‘19. Right now, she has five pets: a dog, a turtle, and three cats. For some people, this may seem like too many animals to handle. But Kaplan has had more.

“I think we had nine at one point,” she said. “It’s a zoo now, but it was really a zoo before.”

Kaplan has always had a lot of pets. She attributes this to her mom, who has taken in many animals who needed help.

“My mom has always done that. She’ll do it with injured birds that we find on road trips,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan’s aunt, a marine biologist, also takes in many animals that need help.

“We’re just a very pet-friendly family,” Kaplan said.

With so many animals, some crazy things have happened over the years.

“When I was little, I got a frog, and I tried to give it a bath in the bathtub. And when I was washing him off, he went down the drain,” Kaplan said. “So that was how I lost one of my first pets.”

Kaplan added, “My mom also found a hamster on the train one time. That was one of our pets for a while.”

Of the pets that Kaplan has right now, they all have unique backgrounds. They got their turtle from a turtle race at her old school.

“He was the winning turtle of this turtle race,” she said. “So we named him Flash.”

They rescued one of their cats, Simon, near an apartment where they stayed while they had work done on their house.

“My mom and my brother went outside in the middle of the winter,” Kaplan said. “They heard this little squeaking out of the gutter, and there was this stray cat. He was grey and he was real thin, so we took him into that apartment and then we took him home.”

Jones’ Birdman

When you open math teacher Kyle Eck’s freezer, you have to make sure that the bag you pull out has food in it and not a dead bird. While this may seem strange to most people, Eck doesn’t think much of it.

Eck’s wife, who studied wildlife ecology and was an environmental engineer, searches for injured birds throughout the city.

During migration season, many birds who fly through Chicago will hit skyscrapers because they aren’t used to them.

“Sometimes they’re stunned and sometimes they’re dead,” Eck said. “But no matter what, someone has to go get them. So, there’s this whole group called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors that my wife became a part of. She’s been doing it for about six years now. Every morning during migration season, they walk around just before sunrise and scoop up these birds.”

The live birds that she finds go to a rehabilitation center in the suburbs. The dead birds are taken to the field museum and used for science. But, on more occasions than one, Eck’s wife has taken birds home with her.

“Usually they get dropped off. But sometimes, if she finds a bird on the way home and doesn’t get a chance to drop it off, and it’s dead, she’ll bring it home, and it will go in our freezer.”

While it is only dead birds that make appearances in Eck’s home, live birds have visited a few times as well.

“Once we got a bird in a bag [to rescue it]. It had to live with us overnight before we could get it taken to the rehabilitation center. It lived in our bathroom, and our cats were very curious.”

Because of his wife’s frequent volunteering, Eck has learned a lot about birds.

“I now feel comfortable rescuing them by myself,” he said.

Recently, Eck rescued a bird that was injured outside of Jones.

“I guess everyone knows I’m the bird guy now,” he said.

Nothing Like Cats and Dogs

Eric Hancock is not the only person at Jones with a pet snake. Serena Lindsey ‘19 has had her snake, Ember, for 3 years.

Lindsey talks about Ember just like you would expect another student to talk about their dog or cat.

“She’s really cute. And on her belly, she has checkers, like a perfect checkered pattern, which is really cool because in nature, you wouldn’t expect to see that.”

But once Lindsey begins talking about Ember’s habits, it becomes clear just how different snakes are from dogs and cats.

“Snakes shed their skin about once a month, and in the middle of the night I’ll hear a crinkling, and she’ll have shed her skin. I’ve caught her trying to wriggle back into the skin, as if she was trying to put it back on, which is really, really weird,” she said. “It seems pretty unusual to me.”

While many can’t relate to their own pets doing this, Lindsey also has three cats and a fish tank full of fish at home.

With this medley of animals, comes conflict.

“The two smaller cats try to eat my snake and my fish a lot. They’ll jump up on top of my snake’s cage so it’s really bent now and it has cat hair on it because they’re always there. Sometimes I’ll hear it in the middle of the night and I’ll have to wake up and yell at them.”

The conflicts aren’t only between the animals, though. Once, Ember tried to bite Lindsey’s finger.

“I was holding her right before she was about to eat, so she was really hungry. I felt something on my thumb and I was like ‘She’s trying to eat me.’”

Even with the attempted bite, Lindsey remains amused by Ember.

“One time I was listening to music and singing along in my room. I looked over and her head was bobbing up and down to the beat of the music,” she said. “It was crazy, it was very exciting.”

A Queen and her Babies

Hidden in the front of a 5th floor biology room is a tupperware full of roly polies. While this isn’t out of the ordinary for a science room, it is out of the ordinary that biology teacher Nichole Lowery has been raising them for over a year.

Lowery decided to take in these creatures for the long term after ordering them from a biological supply company for an animal behavior lab in AP Biology.

¨We ordered them and I didn’t want to throw them out or have them die. So, I thought, why not keep them, see if we can raise them, and use them or their offspring every year.¨

A year later, Lowery’s feelings toward these crustaceans have contributed to how her students treat them.

¨Because I call them my babies – and I consider myself their queen – the students treat them very gently.”

Not completely sure how many “babies” there are, Lowery estimates there are over 100 living in the tupperware.

¨I had 150 ordered last year but they had babies and then I got 150 new ones this year so some from last year have probably died, but they are also currently reproducing, so who knows,¨ said Lowery.

Though there are a lot of them, roly polies are low maintenance. Lowery keeps them at school unless there is a long break. Usually she feeds them special dried flakes, but if they run out, food scraps suffice.

¨When I run out of [dried flakes] I can also just throw in leaves, potatoes, and random food scraps, and they’ll eat it. They are pretty good decomposers, so they’ll eat pretty much anything.¨

Their ability to eat just about anything isn’t the only reason why Lowery is fascinated by them.

“Roly polies, while they’re really common, are actually really interesting,” she said. “They’re not even insects, they’re actually crustaceans and they breath through gills, which is really cool. They live on land but breath through gills.”

Lowery, self-proclaimed queen, has created a kingdom that is expanding.

¨It’s just like this whole weird world in there now. They have babies, so there are tiny roly polies in there. There are mites in there that live off of them. So it’s kind of cool how even in this weird little tupperware box you can get this whole little world going.¨

Birds for Brothers

After 21 years, English teacher Ann Dernbach considers Winston, her African Grey Parrot, a member of the family.

Dernbach took Winston home with the understanding that he would live a lot longer than any cat or dog would. According to the Animal Diversity Web, a website through the University of Michigan, African Grey Parrots in captivity have a lifespan that ranges between 40 to 60 years.

“When we bought him my parents said ‘you realize this bird will outlive us.’”

Over the years, Dernbach has grown close to Winston. She is accustomed to his imitations of her father calling her name and of the TiVo’s “blip noise.”

“I joke, I say I’m an only child but I have a bird.”

When she was younger, Dernbach had another bird, a cockatiel named Gus, at the same time as Winston.

“I always joked that the birds were like my brothers, but maybe that’s just me being a weird only child,” she said.

In those days, Winston would often fool Dernbach’s friends.

“Behind the TV room was what we referred to as the bird room, because that’s where we kept the two birds. He would start talking like my dad, calling my name like my dad did. My friends would be tricked and they’d say, ‘Oh, Ann, I think your dad’s calling you,’ and I’d say ‘My dad’s not home, that’s the bird.’”

Dernbach enjoys having a bird for a pet.

“I think some sort of tropical bird would be like my patronus from “Harry Potter” because I feel like they’re very much like me. They’re kind of loud, they like to sing, but don’t do it well, they like to talk, and they’re slightly messy. And it’s fun to be like ‘Oh yeah, my pet’s a bird.’”