date published: September 22, 2008

An animal lover’s guide to the Hub
by Josh B. Wardrop

When you see a squirrel run through your yard, can you rattle off its kingdom, subkingdom, phylum and subphylum? Do you know Jeff Corwin’s favorite food and Cesar Millan’s astrological sign? When you meet a new person, is your instinct not to shake their hand, but sniff it? If any of these (or, heaven help you, all of them) apply, then you’re officially an animal lover. And if you are, then you’ll feel right at home in Boston, a bustling metropolis that nonetheless offers plenty of opportunities to see live animals of all denominations. Whether you want to come face to face with a gorilla or giraffe, or just find the perfect place where your dog can mingle with other pooches, Boston is a veritable urban jungle.

It’s All Happening at the Zoo Lovers of all things furry and feathered will want to start their exploration of Wild Boston at the Franklin Park Zoo (refer to wildlife listing). Established in 1912, the zoo is located in the heart of picturesque Franklin Park—part of the Emerald Necklace park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. This 72-acre site in the heart of the city is home to all variety of exotic animals, including tigers, zebras, Masai giraffes and the king of the jungle himself, Christopher, an African lion. One of the zoo’s prime attractions is its Tropical Forest, home to its collection of western lowland gorillas and their recently renovated, state-of-the-art habitat. Add in the kangaroos and emus of Outback Trail, the ostriches and wildebeest of the Serengeti Crossing and the amazing Bird’s World aviary, and you’ve got a family-friendly spot that gets you up close to some of the most amazing animals this planet has to offer.

The Franklin Park Zoo’s sister institution, the Stone Zoo (refer to wildlife listing) in nearby suburban Stoneham, is a smaller 26-acre zoo that boasts an entirely different set of wondrous wildlife. Visitors can check out reindeer, meerkats, otters, Mexican gray wolves, flamingos and impressive big cats like cougars, snow leopards and jaguars—including the newest member of the family, a female jaguar cub born on May 31. Stone Zoo’s highest-profile arrivals of 2008, though, have to be Smoky and Bubba, a pair of adolescent black bears who arrived from Tennessee this spring.

Something Fishy
When it comes to animal kingdom adoration, fish and aquatic mammals are people, too (well, not really, but you get the idea). That’s why a trip to the New England Aquarium (refer to wildlife listing) is a must for anyone who delights in discovering the denizens of the deep blue sea. A premiere visitor attraction since 1969, the Aquarium boasts a vast collection of aquatic birds, mammals, crustaceans and fish—many of which live in the Aquarium’s central exhibit, the four-story-tall, 200,000 gallon Giant Ocean Tank, which is home to sharks, sea turtles, moray eels, barracuda and more. The Aquarium also boasts a collection of 75 African, rockhopper and blue penguins; a collection of adorable Atlantic harbor seals, who greet visitors before they come through the gates; and a new exhibit, a shark and ray touch tank which opened this summer, giving people the ability to actually reach out and make contact with small sharks and a variety of sleek and graceful rays.

Animals on Exhibit
Museums, for all their wondrous artifacts and historical treasures, aren’t always considered the most lively places. But if you think the only examples of animal life you can find in a museum are million-year-old fossilized animal skeletons or stuffed wooly mammoth replicas, you’re wrong. Several Boston-area museums offer opportunities to see an array of decidedly un-stuffed, live and kicking animals in the flesh (or feathers, or scales).

The Museum of Science (refer to museum listing) is home to close to 120 animals representing more than 50 species—ranging from amphibians like poison dart frogs and toads, to reptiles like boa constrictors and alligators, to small mammals like ferrets, meerkats, woodchucks and even tamarin monkeys—who reside in the Live Animal Center on the lower level of the museum’s Red Wing. The museum hosts live animal presentations several times a day, educating visitors about different animals and how they survive and thrive in different environments. In addition, the museum boasts a Butterfly Garden conservatory, overlooking the Charles River. Guests can admire the varied beauty of these winged wonders, and maybe even witness a new butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

There are certainly plenty of the aforementioned fossils at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (refer to museum listing), but this institution specifically geared toward exploring the mysteries of the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds also features some fascinating living animals as part of its special exhibits. The new Language of Color exhibit, for example, boasts a vibrant collection of live dart frogs to demonstrate nature’s vivid palette, and the permanent Arthropods: Creatures that Rule exhibit features live examples of this classification—which includes everything from tiny insects to mammoth crustaceans—that make up about 80% of all animal species.

Throngs of visitors head south of Boston to Plimoth Plantation (refer to excursion listing) every year to learn about the Pilgrims and their settlement in America. However, animal enthusiasts also have something there to pique their interests: the Plantation’s Nye Barn, which helps conserve and breed rare heritage livestock. Animals like Tamworth swine, Dorking fowl and Arapawa Island goats have critically low breeding populations worldwide, making Plimoth Plantation one of the few spots to see these breeds that date back, in some cases, thousands of years.

Walk on the Wild Side
For some nature lovers, the thrill of getting up close to animals and birds is greatly enhanced by seeing them in their natural habitats. Boston may be an urban wonderland, but that doesn’t mean that the city doesn’t have some picturesque wildlife sanctuaries nearby.

The Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary (500 Walk Hill St., Matapan, 617-983-8500) is located on the grounds of the former Boston State Hospital, and offers two miles of wheelchair-accessible trails that cross meadows and wetlands teeming with wildlife such as coyotes, pheasants and various migratory birds. And in nearby Milton, the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation is home to the Blue Hills Trailside Museum (1904 Canton Ave., Milton, 617-333-0690), which features indoor and outdoor exhibits detailing wildlife that can be seen from the reservation’s 150 miles of walking and biking trails—including wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, foxes and snowy owls. For more information on either sanctuary, visit

Man’s Best Friend
For some people, however, the most exotic animal they’re interested in is their Portuguese water dog, English toy terrier or Labradoodle. Those folks are in luck, too, as Boston is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the nation, chockfull of businesses and stores that exist for no other reason than to help you pamper your pooch.

Over in the chi-chi neighborhood of Beacon Hill, entrepreneur Heidi Barraza’s Four Preppy Paws (103 Charles St., 617-723-0112) is a full-on dog boutique, selling upscale collars, leashes and outfits for dogs—many of which come with matching accessories for their human companions. Other one-stop shopping venues for stylish mutts include Cause to Paws (136A Beacon St., Coolidge Corner, Brookline, 617-738-7292), a specialty shop that offers everything from organic pet toys to Bowser Beer (a non-alcoholic, low-calorie “beer” for dogs), and Espeso (1180 Washington St., Suite 101, 617-670-1200), a luxury boutique that sells high-end dog spa products for the discerning muttrosexual. And if you’re of the mind that the best way to spoil your dog is with food, you’ll want to head straight to Polka Dog Bakery (256 Shawmut Ave., 617-338-5155), a purveyor of homemade, dog-friendly takes on human food (like Treatza Pizza and Tuna Yelper), as well as a creative assortment of dog biscuits and after-dinner mints (because who wants dog breath?).

Boston and Cambridge are great walking cities in general—just throw a leash on Fido and get out there. However, there are times when you want to let your canine companion off the leash and let him socialize with other dogs, and the area has a number of great dog parks for just those occasions. In Cambridge, try the Pacific Street Dog Park (Brookline and Tudor streets), a fully-fenced dog run with a vestibule gate for safety. Boston’s South End, meanwhile, is a poochy paradise, boasting Carlton Court Dog Park (Carlton and Holyoke streets), a small community park equipped with full fencing and doggie waste bags, and the Peters Park Dog Run (1227 Washington St., between East Berkeley and Waltham streets), a popular dog park open from 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

Most visitors to the South End grab a meal while they’re there—unsurprisingly, as the neighborhood is known for its large and diverse array of quality eateries. Don’t think that means you have to ditch your dog, though—the South End is full of restaurants where having four legs is not an impediment to getting served. At Tremont 647 (647 Tremont St., 617-266-4600), “Doggie Days on the Patio” take place each Saturday from 2–5 p.m., where dogs are welcome to dine alongside their owners and even order from a special menu of doggie dishes. Other area restaurants that allow dogs to dine on the patios include Toro (1704 Washington St., 617-536-4400), Stella (1525 Washington St., 617-247-7747), B & G Oysters (550 Tremont St., 617-423-0550), all in the South End, as well as The Kinsale (refer to restaurant listing) near Government Center and Grendel’s Den (89 Winthrop St., Harvard Square, 617-491-1160) in Cambridge.

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