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Zoo Mom: The Life of Arlene Scheunemann

Posted on 08 May 2014 by robwas66

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Arlene Scheunemann was sometimes referred to as a “velvet hammer.” Her patience, perseverance, tenacity, and never-ending dedication ensured survival for many of the animals she cared for and helped make Como Zoo what it is today. The book about her was published this month.

Can you imagine taking a gorilla on a road trip? Or sharing your dinner table with a growing orangutan? Or walking a lion cub on a leash? The late Arlene Scheunemann did it all in her early years as a Como Zoo docent, responsible for the care and feeding of hundreds of zoo babies at her own home in the 1960s and 1970s, before Como had the facilities to care for infant animals.  Scheunemann’s “wild” family life, raising teenagers and primates in the same house, is the subject of “Zoo Mom: The Life of Arlene Scheunemann,” a new biography that will be released on May 8.

Arlene Scheunemann was the beloved “Zoo Mom” of Como Zoo. It began one significant day in 1968, when a small lion cub named Janice came to stay in the Scheunemann home. Spanning 45 years, Arlene was mother to four human children and foster mom to over 200 wild animals. She was a tireless advocate for improving the lives and safety of animals, procuring funding for zoo improvements, and promoting sustainability on the campus of the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

Arlene was on the ground floor of establishing the Docent program to promote awareness of Como Zoo and helped establish foster-care standards for the animals she would come to care for—including Bruno, an orangutan who loved tipping over the dining room chairs; Turkey, a parrot who put Arlene in a potentially precarious situation; José, a jaguar who accompanied the family on vacations; and, Tamoo, a lowland gorilla who taught herself to open the refrigerator and retrieve her favorite, strawberry yogurt.

Sometimes referred to as a “velvet hammer,” Arlene’s patience, perseverance, tenacity, and never-ending dedication ensured survival for many of the animals she cared for and helped make Como Zoo what it is today.

Scheunemann was a board member of Como Friends and was also vital to the 2013 addition of Gorilla Forest to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. She was a strong advocate of Como’s shift toward operant conditioning training, a progressive approach to animal care that keeps animals from becoming bored, and encourages them to participate in their own health care.

You can get your copy of “Zoo Mom: The Life of Arlene Scheunemann,” by calling Garden Safari Gifts at 651-487-8222. Proceeds from the book will be donated to Como Friends, the non-profit partner of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

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