Animal lovers everywhere are sure to appreciate these two delightful details:
- A penguin visited a nursing home on Wednesday.
- The penguin’s name is ROAST BEEF.
Roast Beef, a 13-year-old African penguin, is specially trained to make appearances at community events — but those appearances usually involve youths. This was Roast Beef’s first-ever visit to a nursing home. The 5-pound little guy wowed about 60 residents of the Hannah Duston Rehabilitation Center in Haverhill, Mass., and deeply moved nursing-home staffers, visitors and his own aquarium handlers at the same time.
“Upon leaving, our penguin biologist ran into a person who has both parents [in the nursing home] for Alzheimer’s,” said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium where Roast Beef lives. “That person told the biologist, ‘I saw a sparkle in my parents’ eyes that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.’ ”
Workers at the New England Aquarium got the idea to visit the Hannah Duston Rehabilitation Center after receiving a letter and artwork from one of its residents. Sandra Sterling, a former Miss Massachusetts from the 1950s, painted a poster of several species of penguins and wrote about how much she loved the tuxedoed birds.
LaCasse said Sterling’s letter and paintings ultimately led to a “Eureka” moment at the aquarium. “Everybody loves penguins — it doesn’t matter how old you are!” he said.
Sterling got to meet Roast Beef on Wednesday — (“She looks stunning,” LaCasse noted) — and dozens of other residents and onlookers got to see the cheerful bird up close. LaCasse explained what it takes for aquarium workers to get Roast Beef ready for an outing:
“When it’s time to go, he’ll swim right over and hop right into a plastic carrier — like the kind you put a cat in,” LaCasse said. “He’ll be quite happy about it. And then we assemble his mobile cube.”
For the duration of his outings, Roast Beef stays inside a special, air-conditioned cubicle with toys inside to keep him occupied. Handlers don’t let him leave the cubicle during community events.
“It’s for people’s safety,” LaCasse said. “Penguins are adorable, but they have sharp beaks and they can projectile poop at any time. When we go out into the public we don’t want that to happen to anybody.”
Laura T. Coffey is a TODAY.com writer, editor and producer who cannot resist stories about penguins, especially when the penguins in question are wearing sweaters or are named Roast Beef. Read more of Laura's stories at LauraTCoffey.com.
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