It would be more interesting if he left a present for Diane Sawyer.
Grooming a Weatherman for His TV Debut, and Hoping He Doesn’t Bite the Host
Chuck the groundhog at the home of Douglas Schwartz, his trainer. Chuck is scheduled to make a number of personal appearances next month. Photo by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
By ANDY NEWMAN
Published: January 12, 2007
Chuck the groundhog waddled out of his open carrier and onto the desk in the tiny reception office in the Staten Island Zoo. He walked onto the phone and stepped on a few buttons. A house line rang. “Thank you for calling the Staten Island Zoo,” the female voice said on the speaker. “You have reached the director’s office.”
Chuck left no message, or rather, he left a long, blank message, which is typical Chuck. It was just after 4 on Thursday last week, and Chuck was waiting to clock out and catch the bus.
Every weekend, Chuck, a strapping young hog born in April, goes home with his trainer, Douglas Schwartz, who works Sundays to Thursdays. This allows him to spend as much time with Mr. Schwartz as possible, and on the hourlong trip on public transit (Mr. Schwartz doesn’t drive), to get used to the prying eyes of strangers.
The hope is that when he makes his big debut next month he will not bite Regis in the face, or leave something unfortunate on Diane Sawyer
’s desk, or, worst of all, see his shadow in the klieg lights and shrink back into his pet carrier for six weeks. “On Groundhog Day itself,” Mr. Schwartz said, “the limo just appears and whizzes us off to wherever. He has to always be on point.”
The clock struck 5. Mr. Schwartz, Chuck and the other working stiffs filed out into the fading winter light. The S53 bus came lumbering, somewhat groundhog-like, down Broadway. Usually, Mr. Schwartz said, the driver makes an announcement along the lines of, “Ladies and gentlemen, Chuck has boarded the bus.” On this day, though, he just made small talk with Mr. Schwartz.
“Seems quiet,” the driver said.
“Yeah, he’s sleeping today,” Mr. Schwartz replied. Inside the carrier, Chuck lay on his back, paws on chest, buck teeth smiling blissfully.
A middle-aged woman sat beside Chuck and began shoveling Oreos into her mouth as she stole glances at the carrier with “Ground Hog” written in Magic Marker on the front. Chuck slept through. The woman got off, and an older woman replaced her. She peeked in.
“Oh, the cat’s sleeping,” she said.
“No, it’s a groundhog,” Mr. Schwartz said. The woman scowled and turned away.
“One time someone on the bus called the zoo and complained that he smelled terrible, and I had to stop doing it for a year,” Mr. Schwartz recalled. “Then we got a new director who said go ahead and do it, and the guy called again, and the director told him where he could stick his opinion.”
This Chuck is the sixth groundhog Mr. Schwartz has trained for the role since 1995 — his predecessor died last spring. Because he was born in captivity (in a zoo in New Jersey), he has been relatively easy to socialize — relatively being the key word.
“The patience involved is staggering,” Mr. Schwartz said. “He’s got a brain the size of a cashew, so you really don’t have much to work with.” And, he added: “They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. His natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly.””
The rest of this New York Times article is HERE