Familes left with aging frogs given to children as gifts

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, October 19, 2013

JANESVILLE--It all started innocently enough.

Well-meaning relatives or friends presented tadpoles to children as gifts—educational tools to teach youngsters the wonder of metamorphosis.

As years passed, the children graduated from high school, then college. They left home--without the frogs--got married, had children.

The frogs lived on, floating motionless in aquariums in family rooms or basements, occasionally belching out swamp tunes. They lived on despite feeding schedules that some family members admitted were “hit and miss.”

They just won't croak.

Deb Taylor admitted it's a dilemma.

Deb can be blamed for what could be several dozen 20-year-old African clawed frogs in the city.

She and her husband owned Stories N' Stuff in Creston Park Mall and estimates she sold that many certificates for the tadpoles before the store closed in 2001.

“It's a rather interesting phenomenon,” Deb said. “Like the energizer bunny—they just keep going and going”

Chris Ryan got one as a gift in fourth grade.

He's 24 now and lives in New York City. He didn't take his frog.

“It's gotten kind of big,” his mother, Carrie Ryan, said recently as the frog hung out with her in her kitchen. Its plastic aquarium has long ago cracked, and the frog now lives in a glass ice bucket.

“I don't know if I ever named it,” Carrie said. “I just call it 'The Frog.' ”

Carrie has become kind of fond of the amphibian.

But then, she liked her son's turtles, too.

“My favorite thing about the frog: It croaks,” Carrie said. “It's so relaxing at night. It goes, 'wha wha wha.' People are like, 'What is the song?'

“It's a conversation piece.”

Carrie takes pictures of The Frog and posts them on Instagram online.

When The Frog eats, it “takes his little hands and pushes the food into his mouth,” Carrie said. “He's really funny.”

“I'd never thought we'd have it so long,” Carrie said. “It's almost become”—she scrunched her nose—“weird. I try to make him happy.”

Cora Seeman's frog is about 14 years old.

Her mom, Joan, recalled Cora received it as a birthday gift from Mind Sparks, an educational toy store on Milton Avenue.

The frog was first named Crabby, then Fatty Patty. Now it's just Froggie.

Joan knows her frog is a female because of its color. Joan is a teacher, so, of course, she still has the instructional pamphlet.

“She's gotten very fat,” Joan said. “She kind of just likes to hang out in the water with her feet down and her nose at the water line.”

Froggie has had a few mishaps, including a close call when she slid into the garbage disposal while her aquarium was being cleaned.

Cora now is 22 and engaged. Joan doubts her daughter will be taking the frog, but that's because the family is kind of attached to her, Joan said.

“I have five grandchildren that love the frog dearly,” Joan said. “They like to put a feeding stick in and watch the frog swim to the top and grab it.”

Margery Tibbetts-Wakefield has a “Froggie” that is at least 17 years old.

When she married her husband, Cliff, he told her there was some “really strange noises coming from upstairs.”

“That's the frog,” she told him.

“We have a frog?” he asked.

Margery's Froggie, a gift to her son David, who now is in college, is sociable. When Margery taps on the glass, Froggie swims over to meet her finger. He knows he's going to be fed when she lets out the dogs and “he goes bonkers.”

“I don't know if frogs are smart or not,” Margery said. “I have no idea what they're thinking.

“When we have the TV on or the radio, he sings, and the whole house sounds like a swamp.”

The fate of Margery and the Stories 'N Stuff display frog are now intertwined.

When Deb Taylor's daughter Erin went to college, Deb recalled thinking, “I'm not taking care of this frog.” Erin, by the way, is now 33 and married with two kids.

Deb bequeathed the frog to unsuspecting neighbors whose daughter wanted a pet. At least it's hypoallergenic, Deb said in her defense.

The family, which prefers to rename anonymous, renamed the frog Rainbow. It was initially called “Stories” or “Stuff”—Deb couldn't remember.

“That frog has to be 20 years old,” Deb mused.

Through the years, the neighbors—their daughter is now in high school—have grudgingly cared for the amphibian and have not so secretly wished it would die.

In September, Margery—who has two rescue dogs—heard about the unwanted frog and offered to give it a new home.

When Margery showed up at the arranged time, Rainbow was in its aquarium, waiting on the front steps.

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