Program in North Aurora gets adults in touch with animals

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Janet Nicholson of North Aurora stopped in at Messenger Public Library in the village on Saturday to hang out with something far different than books.
“I love animals. I have a cat at home,” Nicholson said at a special adults-only Wild World Animal Show at the library offered by a Chicago-area group known as AnimalQuest. “I know they have a python here and lizards. I love them too. When we used to live in Singapore, we had lizards that crawled all over inside the houses and I liked them. I want to learn more about these animals.”
The meeting room inside Messenger Public Library had a zoo-type feel about it this past weekend thanks to the event.
AnimalQuest founders Steve and Jessica Reedy began their efforts to educate the public about animals back in September 2011 with 15 small animals – primarily reptiles – that lived with the couple in a small apartment.
More than a decade later, the couple oversee over 150 mostly rescue animals on their five-acre property and have performed at many shows throughout the Midwest.
Jessica Reedy said the couple do “a lot of adult shows – especially for adult birthday parties, corporate parties and for senior groups.”
“We also do employee picnics and employee appreciation-day type of things,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun because we can target different age groups and with adults talk about different things. We get a lot of good questions and interaction with them.”
Dawn Ritter, head of Adult Services at the library, said the adults-only animal exhibit was an effort on the part of the library to cater to some of the needs and requests of adult patrons.
“There has been a lot of interest by adults in some of our youth programs, and so we decided to have some of their programming just for adults to attend,” Ritter said. “We picked different animals from what Youth Services picked to kind of mix it up a little bit.”
The adult show, which kicked off at 1 p.m. Saturday, was held after an earlier show was presented by the AnimalQuest group for a mixed-age audience.
“We have a python and some other animals and we wanted to have something different for adults since they want to do fun things too,” Ritter said. “We hope adults will know we are doing a wide variety of programs and trying to create fun experiences for those who might not have family to bring with them.”
A total of eight animals were selected for the Saturday programs and included a Burmese python as well as a Flemish giant rabbit, an African pygmy hedgehog and a Patagonian cavy – a rabbit-like rodent native to Argentina.
Jessica Reedy said that for pretty much all adult groups the snakes provide the greatest “wow” and fear factors.
“Usually, people are excited to see them but sometimes there is a person with an odd phobia that has to leave the room, but that doesn’t happen much,” she said. “We have people who touch them for the first time and that’s the best. You have a person who is nervous, a little scared of them, but they want to get over their fears. They touch one and think, that’s really cool and it changes their perspective entirely. We want to bring awareness to people and turn their mindset around.”
Saturday’s show for adults was actually led by AnimalQuest employees Ben Larkin, 19, of Lake Villa, and Joanne McGraw, 47, of Addison.
Both showed off a 14-year-old Albino Burmese python named Jig that measured 10 feet in length.
Despite the animal looking docile, Larkin explained the “snake was angry and trying to squeeze me right now.”
“I can feel the pressure around the back of my neck,” he said while holding the snake. “Jig is definitely upset.”
Linda and Jim Tarmichael of North Aurora were among the 30 who attended the show and said they both like animals.
“We’ve had cats and dogs and a bearded dragon and an iguana as well as a box turtle,” Linda Tarmichael said. “When I was young I had a chicken.”
When asked about possibly petting the python, Jim Tarmichael’s answer was succinct.
“I suppose it’s OK. As long as he doesn’t wrap around you, you’re fine,” he said.
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.

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