Jack has a knack with animals

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Nov 30, 2013 in Rat News | Subscribe

JOHNSTOWN – The Rubilotta family first noticed their son, Jack, had a special ability to uniquely communicate with animals when he was 2. Three years later, a television network has taken notice, too.

A Boston-based crew from Animal Planet visited the East Clinton Street home of James and Alyssa Rubilotta Monday to view first-hand the interplay between their son, Jack, and his pets.

The 5-year-old Warren Street Elementary School pre-kindergartner contracted severe lead poisoning a few years ago, but the behavioral problems associated with the condition were tempered by his exchanges with the animals, his parents said.

“He started talking more,” Alyssa Rubilotta said. “People were piqued by what he was saying.”

She said Jack now has several pets, including two rats, two mice, two turtles, two dogs, a tortoise, two newts and several fish, which help him therapeutically, as well as with his growth.

“He’s been fairly connected with animals since he was a young age,” James Rubilotta said.

On Friday, Jack said he was excited about the visit by the Animal Planet crew, who will film a segment for “Pets 101.”

“I just like to have pets and animals because they love me,” he said.

His two favorites are his two male rats – Rochelle and Powder.

His mother said Jack’s odyssey into the animal kingdom dates back to when Jack was 2 and contracted lead poisoning. She said Jack was diagnosed by an Amsterdam pediatrician, Dr. Emily Etzkorn, and became a “different child” – quiet, with behavioral problems.

Alyssa Rubilotta said Jack – one of their four sons – didn’t have a learning disability but did have speech problems. He also saw a hearing specialist. But he began to express a desire for pets, and after more animals were introduced into the household, “he really came out of his shell,” his mother said.

When Jack asked for mice and rats, Alyssa Rubilotta said the family initially was taken aback. But they changed their minds after seeing an ad for Mainely Rat Rescue, a Maine-based non-profit that finds homes for unwanted domestic pet rats,

“It’s amazing how it runs, and they care,” Alyssa said. “We’ve been very good friends. They love Jack.”

Through that agency, she said, Animal Planet learned of Jack’s ability to communicate with animals and use them as therapy. Animal Planet officials didn’t return a call for comment.

The Rubilottas are friends with former Johnstown resident Carl Ackerbauer, who owns an exotic pet store. Alyssa Rubilotta says Jack considers it a treat to go to the Syracuse store and catch up with some of the strange pets. She said the boy never misses a chance to interact with other people’s animals at their homes.

She said the family had a special cockatiel bird that often stays with Jack only, nestling up with him. He also has had a sugar glider, a small possum that would wrap its squirrellike body into Jack’s pockets to help him through his troubling times, she said.

Jack said one of his favorite pets was a mouse named Pet-Pet, who died a few days ago. His mother said the mouse had been very aggressive toward other people, except Jack.

Even though Jack’s lead levels have fallen from 38 to a still-elevated 13, Alyssa Rubilotta said animals will continue to be a big part of his life.

“Animals cling to Jack,” she says. “It’s been really, really weird.”

Michael Anich is a reporter for The Leader-Herald of Gloversville.

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