CHICAGO (CBS) — A new travelling Smithsonian exhibit about animals is on a tour of Chicago Park District Parks with stops scheduled through August 9. “Animal Connections: Our Journey Together” is built on an 18-wheel truck and features 1,000 square feet of space with displays that explore various aspects of the human-animal bond.
“What it really is about is to emphasize this connection between animals and people,” says Dr. Ron DeHaven, American Veterinary Medical Association Executive Vice President. “Everything we do in our everyday life is somehow impacted one way or the other by animals. This really highlights the role of veterinarians in caring for those animals and in doing so also taking care of people.”
The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service created “Animal Connections” to mark the 150th anniversary of the Schaumburg-based AVMA, which just wrapped up its annual conference in Chicago. The exhibit’s five sections focus on animals in the home, on the farm, at the zoo, in the wild and at the veterinary clinic.
“As people move further away from the farm and into suburban and urban environments, we’re losing that connection with animals other than our own pets,” says DeHaven. “That’s part of what this exhibit is about – that we need to focus on the role animals play in our lives, whether it’s for food, in wildlife or laboratory animals involved in medical breakthroughs. Virtually every part of our lives are affected by animals.”
The exhibit features a virtual clinic and interactive displays with touch screens to give young visitors a hands-on experience.
“First they are going to learn a little bit about how to handle their own pets at home,” says Jim Vella, Smithsonian Board Member and Ford Motor Company President. “There’s also some research you can do on yourself and find out what kind of pet you’re best suited to. When I did that it was a turtle.”
In the home section, visitors also learn about household items that can be dangerous for pets, including holiday decorations and human medications. In the farm section, the display features 15-gallon jugs of milk, which represents the amount of milk produced each day by a dairy cow.
Vella says “Animal Connections” delivers an important message.
“Animals are important, animals are part of our society and we need to take care of them. This is an opportunity for the Smithsonian to tell the story of our pets, of the importance of veterinarians in society and why it’s important to take care of them and not take them for granted.”
The veterinary clinic section features x-rays of items removed from the stomachs of pets by Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald of Denver, one of the stars of the t-v series “Emergency Vets” on Animal Planet.
“This is 30 years of what I cut out of dog’s stomachs,” says Fitzgerald. “This is an Irish Setter that swallowed a rope with a Master Lock attached.” Another x-ray showed a snake that swallowed an ornamental egg and a bird that swallowed screws.
In the wildlife area, Fitzgerald says visitors learn about the delicate balance between humans and animals, especially in urban settings pet owners have declared coyotes public enemy number one.
“There’s a lot of hysteria and so we need to be informed about them,” Fitzgerald says. “Keeping your animal in at night and not letting them range free is important. As we sprawl with our urban habitat into their territories, what are they supposed to do?”
“One of the important things about this exhibition is that it’s on wheels and we can take it to basically anybody,” says Vella. “That’s a big part of what the Smithsonian is trying to do, is to tell the story to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to go and hear it somewhere.”
The exhibition is aimed at sixth, seventh and eighth graders who might someday want to become a veterinarian. Youngsters like Cora from Tennessee who hopes people learn the most important thing about animals.
“Animals can’t speak for themselves. It can’t feed itself. It can’t pet itself and it needs care and love.”
“Animal Connections: Our Journey Together” makes stops at Chicago Park District parks through August 9. The exhibit is at Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside Avenue, Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Chicago Schedule: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
July 27-28 at Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside
July 30 at Humboldt Park Boathouse, 1359 N. Sacramento
July 31 at Humboldt Park Day Camp and Summer Dance
August 2 at Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento
August 3 at Amundsen Park, 6200 Bloomingdale
August 5-6 at Cornell Square, 1809 W. 50th
August 8 at Jackson Park, 6401 S. Stony Island
August 9 at Ridge Park, 9625 S. Longwood
The exhibit is sponsored by Zoetis, one of the leading global companies involved in animal health and research. For more information, visit www.animalconnections.com