Singing softly, 4-year-old Brenna Windholz rocked the baby mouse, tiny and soft like a cotton ball, in the palm of her hand.
“I’m singing for him because he likes songs,” said Windholz.
Her big sister, Alisha Windholz, 11, explained, “She’s singing Captain Underpants, that’s her favorite show.”
It was Meet the Animals Day at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, 2000 Sternberg Drive. The hourlong summer program is held once a week each Friday morning in the Discovery Room from now through the end of July, said Alicia Gaede, the museum’s naturalist.
Friday's program was “mouses,” as Brenna Windholz says it.
“They’re called lab mice,” Gaede told the group of 25 or more children, noting the mice were just 6 days old. “Pigs are a kind of stage of mice that doesn’t have fur yet, but they’re fat.”
Gaede explains that these mice are genetically engineered, a cross between deer mice and house mice, so they don’t carry diseases and can be handled.
“You won’t find them out in the wilds,” she told the children gathered around.
Marissa Froelich, 16, and her two sisters, Afton, 11, and Joselin, 9, were there with Marissa’s friend Alea Maestas, 17.
“I just love animals so much, I can’t express it,” said Afton. The other girls were of the same mind.
“I like every animal, from a spider to cattle,” said Marissa, who has cleaned kennels at Big Creek Veterinary Services since she was 12. “I’ve loved animals since I was 2 or 3 years old. I love them all.”
She’s interested in learning how to keep animals from extinction, she says.
“Which ones are going extinct?” asked her sister Joselin.
“There’s the honeybees,” said Marissa, who said she used to want to be a vet when she grew up, but now she’s thinking of animal embryology.
Maestas’ dad owns a farm near the Colorado border with lots of different critters, including cows, horses and a donkey. Her love for animals is a hobby, and she likes best “the unconditional love” they offer.
It’s the first year for the Meet the Animals program, which began in June. It starts at 11 a.m. each Friday and lasts for one hour. Every week is a different animal.
“I just want people to meet our animals a little more,” Gaede said. “I want people to hold them and touch them. A lot of people are really afraid of these animals and they don’t need to be.”
As the naturalist at the museum, she laughed, “I take care of all the live animals, including the children.”
Gaede is always on the lookout for more volunteers to help with activities in the Discovery Room.
She has been with Sternberg for two years and has 15 volunteers. One, Malachi Chance, 11, has been helping the museum for seven years.
“I want to get paid,” he told Gaede with a laugh.
“He can’t accept that I got the job and he didn’t," Gaede teased him back.
It’s time for the cat and mouse game. Liz Noble, 12, a volunteer now for two years, tells the kids that a few will be cats, the rest are mice, and the mice have to find the styrofoam cheese blocks the cats hide, before getting tagged by the cats and turned into cats.
“We do it so the kids can have fun at the same time they’re learning, and getting exercise,” said Noble.
At games end, everybody gets a lollipop or two.
Noble began organizing the second round.
“Who wants to be the cats?” she asked the kids. “So you’re going to be a mouse? OK, you guys go hide your cheese. Do you guys want a sucker to tide you over? OK, cats, go hide.”
Noble also helped clean out the mice cages.
“But I just love working with kids,” she said.
Henry and Debby Armknecht, of Hays, brought their two granddaughters, Susan Estes, 12, and her sister Emily, 10. Their week’s stay at 2019 Gram’s Camp was set to end Saturday when they were to return home to Owasso, Okla.
“It’s going to be very quiet around our house,” said Debby.
Susan said she’ll miss Blacky, the cat. “We really like animals,” said Susan. “At home we have two birds and a dog.”
Next Friday’s program will be either toads or lizards, said Gaede. Chance voted for lizards. The Froelich girls and Maestas said they hope to make every session.
Sitting beside Noble was William, a little boy who volunteers that he’s 6½ years old. His opinion of Meet the Animals? “The reason I like it is because you get a sucker.”
Still holding her little mouse, Alisha Windholz said, “I think mine fell asleep.”
She starts at Hays Middle School in the fall.
“Well, I am an animals girl,” she said. “I just love animals, especially baby ones. I’m not really afraid of tarantulas, and I love snakes.”
“What do you want to name him?” Noble asked Brenna Windholz of her mouse.
“I want to name him Catboy,” Brenna said.