Stepping Stones unites kids, animals
by DELANEY WALKER, Banner Staff Writer
Feb 21, 2013 | 1114 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Journey into the wild
SAWYER THE COATIMUNDI made a big splash at Stepping Stones, a child care center. Children waited patiently to pet the exotic animal. Banner Photo, DELANEY WALKER
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Children at Stepping Stones child care and preschool are welcoming Deanna Phillips and her furry friends with open arms and squeals of delight.

So far, children have met Sawyer the coatimundi and Toby the fox. They are eagerly awaiting Rowdy the cockatoo and his fellow winged friends.

Sawyer initially paved the way.

“He never offered to bite them even though one child stepped on his tail and another kid pulled on his tail,” Phillips said.

Every visit begins with a lesson. The children sit in a semicircle on the ground as Phillips lays out the facts. She explained Sawyer’s species is found in Central and South America, as well as Mexico. The small animal has migrated as far north as Arizona. Phillips said Sawyer was originally sold to a couple at an exotic pet expo before being placed in her care.

The children learned Sawyer is an omnivore. He will eat almost anything from small rodents and birds to fruits and vegetables. His daily diet consists of dog food and three various fruits and vegetables. Phillips said she usually gives him carrot sticks, grapes, and either pineapple, papaya or mango.

Next, the children guessed who Sawyer was related to in the animal kingdom.

“They actually got pretty close,” Phillips said. “One child mentioned a racoon and the other mentioned a lemur. The coatimundi are distantly related to the lemur.”

Another child piped up to say Sawyer reminded her of an anteater. Phillips said she was not sure she even knew what a lemur was until she was an adult.

Caregivers handed out marshmallows for the children to feed Sawyer. Big smiles spread across their faces as they held their hands out flat. Sawyer scampered over to snuffle the little hands for goodies.

He later scoured the day-care room for secrets after tiring of marshmallows.

“He is very curious. He is like a racoon, which is his closest relative,” Phillips said. “The main difference is if you notice where his tail is more like a cat’s, whereas a racoon has a thick, fluffy tail.”

A coatimundi also has claws like a bear versus the racoon’s fragile little fingers. The claws allow the animal to dig for insects in the wild.

Sawyer waited patiently as little hands rubbed his back and patted his head. He shuffled along as children took turns holding his leash. Phillips stayed close to watch Sawyer and the children.

“If he wanted to hurt you, he could,” Phillips said of Sawyer. “He has 2-inch incisors, but he has never offered to bite anyone, no matter the provocation.”

Angie Jay, Stepping Stones owner/director, said the children are excited about Phillips’ return.

“I would walk in and they would say, ‘Ms. Angie, when is the fox coming? How much longer until Toby is coming?’” Jay said. “They are loving it and asking questions.”

The children light up when they hear someone is coming to visit.

“I want to get a lot of visitors coming in. Usually, we have the fire department and police officers come in. They love it when people visit,” Jay said.

Jay said having Phillips come in is just as much about new experiences as it is about teaching children responsibility.

“I just want them to learn about the humane treatment of animals, how they need to be cared for — I would like to get a vet in here, as well. I want them to learn about responsible pet ownership,” Jay said.

She said Toby the silver Siberian fox was a smash and the children are looking forward to meeting Rowdy the cockatoo.