Inside one classroom is a tank holding a bearded dragon, who patiently waits on his hot rock for the next delivery of crickets. Just outside another classroom stroll two laying hens, whose eggs provide a monthly fresh omelet breakfast for the teachers and their young students. Plenty of wild squirrels also frequent the grounds; they recently dined on pumpkins left over from the school's Halloween celebration. A giant tortoise munches the green grass in the shady central courtyard, and near the drinking fountain are Snickers and Oreo, two soft, fluffy rabbits, and their next door neighbors, a pair of snow-white geese.
And then there's Doc.
Doc is a turkey. For those unaccustomed to encountering turkeys not yet in sandwich form, Doc's appearance is shocking. He bristles when anyone comes near, fanning out his feathers aggressively, and turning his blood-red, scaly, alien looking head towards you, a head that is covered in sagging, dangling, wrinkled flesh that looks like something that should be photographed for a medical textbook or at least hidden behind bandages. His beady eyes peer from circles of cyanotic skin, and an obscene-looking growth sways down from the center of his forehead, dangling over his dagger-like beak and dripping down to his scrotal throat. Dewlap, wattle, snood, caruncles: even the proper names of these supposedly healthy structures sound like diseases.
"His body is funny but his head is scary," said one four-year-old.
"He tries to scare me all the time," said another child.
"He scared me. He scared me when he said gobble gobble," said another.
"Well, if you get down on your knees and get to their height..." says Granada Preschool teacher Miss Kathy, trying to explain the children's response to the turkey.
"But I'm scared of him now, at my current height," I reply.
"He's a baby!" Miss Kathy said of the turkey's temperment. He's never hurt anyone. I can pick him up. He's aggressive with the other animals, and he wants to be first to get the food, but he's never, ever hurt a child or me. He's a male, and when he puts the feathers up he's just trying to show off."
Kathy tells me Doc is a Royal Palm, which is not the breed of turkey we baste in butter and smother with giblet gravy. Those varieties, when Granada Preschool has housed them, rarely make it much past a year old before they succumb to problems inherent in their breeding, such as arthritis of the legs. In other words, they're not bred for living, they're bred for Thanksgiving. Doc, by contrast, is a robust specimen, and he's been here happily frightening small children for about seven years.
Any Safran-Foerian guilt I might have begun to develop upon learning that this shriveled red alien is actually just a docile barnyard creature is mitigated when I learn that the more edible variety of turkeys are ones who are the jerks. "One of them chased one of our teachers all the way down the street," Kathy says. But then again, if the only thing I had to look forward to in life was being plucked, gutted, and stuffed full of bread crumbs I'd probably be something of an jerk myself.
Doc is a rescue turkey, which means he has a lot to be thankful for -- a peaceful existence with plenty of food and companionship, and no butcher knives. "It's been really a joy having him, because we've had him for so long, and he's such a character," says Kathy Mitchell, director of the school. "He's very very curious. Whenever we read stories, he's right at the fence. A lot of people keep them as pets, because they're so curious, and they're so interesting."
Alright, Doc. I won't kill you. Yet.