Backing slowly out of a cage

You know what’s scary? This thing was living in a house in Massachusetts:

Meh, just a 14-foot anaconda. NBD.

Fortunately, this guy is now safely tucked away at Animal Adventures in Bolton, MA, a facility that can take on animals that NEVER should have lived in a house to begin with.

I first went to AA last year with a photographer friend who understood my overappreciation of animals. We took a group tour, and quickly realized we were the only adults there without children. This became awkward when we started shoving kids out of the way so we could take a turn petting skunks and alligators. So this time I splurged for the Extreme Adventure Tour, which promises a personal guide and quality time with animals.

And because no one wants to pets snakes alone, I thought it would be the perfect reunion with my BFF from college. I mean, anyone can meet up over a glass of wine. But where is the fun in that? And I think Lisa really enjoyed herself.

This is what Lisa gets after a 10-year break from me.
It may be another 10 years before Lisa wants to hang out with me again.

Per the website, the mission is to “rescue abandoned, orphaned and neglected animals and provide them with a high-quality life while using them to inspire and educate you.” And that is exactly what they do at AA. Danielle was our excellent tour guide. She has an obvious ease with the animals and provided lots of information about each one as we made our way through the hodgepodge of buildings. Allow me to introduce a few new friends:

1. Petra!

Danielle and Petra
Danielle and Petra

One of two Eurasian eagle owls at AA, Petra is beautiful and pretty chill and allowed us to pet her back.

Those eyes! Incredible.
Those eyes! Incredible.

2. Naomi!

Leading up to this visit, people at work half-interestedly asked whether I had weekend plans. Used to hearing me talk about lounging in jammies and watching Colin Firth movies, they were, I believe, impressed when I exclaimed, “I’m going to pet a kangaroo!” And while, yes, I sound like I’m six, I daydreamed all week about this moment.

Naomi was a little shy and very soft.

“She’s a boxer,” Danielle said as we stepped into Naomi’s room. “So you don’t want to get in front of her.” I was curious about what that would look like, but provoking a boxing match with an animal probably would have cut the tour short. And I couldn’t do that to Lisa.

3. Tank!

Past Josie . . .

This girl is high octane.

and Boo . . .

Boo, the African crested porcupine, is a rather difficult chap to take a proper picture of because his body is very confusing. Take my word for it.

and Piglet . . .

I want to cuddle with a wallaby *kicks dirt*
I want to cuddle with a wallaby *kicks dirt*

is a special room. This room is not for everyone.


That’s because everything in this room moves. The tool boxes in the foreground? Something inside was scratching (critters were boxed up for a tv appearance; they don’t live in tool boxes). The drawers? Don’t open them. Trust me.

Aside from all the scary stuff, however, is an African spur thigh tortoise named Tank.

I love this guy.

According to the facebook page, Tank is 140 pounds. Danielle explained that a tortoise will grow as big as its diet and surroundings allow. The shell grows with it. If Tank continues to grow, the edges of the shell will slowly creep up onto his back and new edges will grow.

Here are a couple of his buds eating. They eat better than I do.

Right above Tank was a Cool Whip container.


Inside the once-innocent Cool Whip container is a pile of scorpion and tarantula molts.

Grape Nut pudding will never be the same.
Grape Nut pudding will never be the same.

4. Samson!

Outside, past the pygmy goats, the pot-belly pigs, and The Land of the Giants, are a few permanent outdoor animals, including this lovely little lady.


And across the way is the Canadian lynx, Samson.

In all his glory
In all his glory

Danielle called out to one of her colleagues to come into the cage with us. He came over wearing a tshirt and jeans. Like old biddies, Lisa and I suggested several times that he go grab a coat. He assured us he was fine.

As we entered the cage, Danielle told us what parts of the cat we could touch (bum) and what parts are less than ideal (tummy). She also told us we might want to exit the cage later by backing out because the lynx knows that the back of the neck is the most vulnerable spot. This did not sound encouraging to Lisa. I zipped my coat up as far as it would go.

The tshirt guy went in ahead of us and unexpectedly kicked a shoe off for Samson to sniff. Samson was enamored with the shoe, rubbing his face all over it. He then started rubbing against the guy’s shoeless foot. To get Samson over to us, the guy then proceeded to take a work glove off and toss is our way for Samson to sniff. Worried that the strip show might go on, I went in for petting and bum scratches (of Samson, not the almost naked guy). Samson was awesome. And he PURRS!

Samson3 Samson2

I was enthralled. I could have sat there and watched him for three days, but Lisa was planning her moonwalk out of the cage and the almost naked guy was probably starting to get a chill. So we made our backward exit. I would pay just to get into the cage with Samson. Totally worth it.

"Lisa, smile like you're enjoying yourself. That's better."
“Lisa, smile like you’re enjoying yourself. That’s better.”

Here’s Samson batting around a glove and accepting a bum scratch (and it’s okay to laugh, as my friends did, at my Boston accent back in full swing).

Sometimes I go to mom and pop animal places and think sad zoo. I cringe at walls painted to mimic the environment the animal should be in. And I’ve seen animals that are clearly depressed, which isn’t fun for anyone. The Extreme Tour at AA is not like that. While it’s confusing to see an alligator and know that it was someone’s pet at one point (so, so very wrong), it is uplifting to see all of the incredible produce being prepped in the kitchen and the relationships the staff have with the animals. And to pet a kangaroo, an owl, a lynx (!), well, that will sustain me for a little while.


Let’s get this party started

New year, new blog! And my promise to you: more regular posts. Of course the regular blog-as-I-go vacations, but also monthly adventures and musings.

And while we’re here, I send out a sincere thanks to all of you for reading and reaching out about the original blog where this all started. Your encouragement means the world to me.

In the meantime, don’t mind the ongoing construction as I get this to look just right.

Cheers and Happy New Year to you all.