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New pets, good news cause for celebration

SHARE New pets, good news cause for celebration

Fifteen-year-old Rachael Senst couldn't have had a better Christmas and New Year's Day.

First, her breast tumors tested benign. Then she received some emus.

Rachael was presented two 20-day-old female emu chicks New Year's Day at the Salt Lake City International Airport. The surprise gift was courtesy of her mom, Carole Doubek, the Tracy Aviary and emu-grower Phil Lippe of San Jose, Calif.

"I can't believe this. They are so cute!" Rachael said as she cradled one of the chicks — already the size of a small chicken — in her arms as TV cameramen crowded around her to record the surprise gift.

You see, Rachael thought she was at the airport to pick up some art work. And in a way, she was.

The as-yet-unnamed chicks will join the family menagerie in the family farm in Holden, Millard County.

Doubek, a sculptor whose larger-than-life frogs and other animals grace private and public buildings, moved her family there a couple of years ago. Rachael, an aviary volunteer who worked with and grew to love the adult male emu that is part of the aviary's bird show, couldn't work at the Liberty Park facility after moving in 1999.

"For two years she's been telling me all she wanted for Christmas was an emu. Here they are," said Doubek, who hugged her daughter as both shed a few tears of joy — and no doubt relief after Rachael's laboratory tests came back negative following pre-Christmas surgery to remove the tumors.

Breast cancer runs in Doubek's family, with two male relatives contracting the disease. "We always knew there would be a chance" that her daughter might get it, Doubek said. So when things looked a little bleak in November, Doubek got on the telephone and Internet to ask aviary officials and others if they knew anywhere she could buy an emu chick for Rachael.

Holly Seitz, aviary spokeswoman, said the problem is that emus are usually born in early spring. But through various connections, the bird-hunters found eight newborns at Lippe's ranch.

After Doubek spoke with Lippe, he refused to sell her two. He demanded instead they come as a present for Rachael. Delta Air Lines donated the pet airfare; Pet Smart provided a special carrying cage, and aviary bird show trainer Sharon Dale flew in, picked them up and brought them to Salt Lake City. "Emus are great birds. Hand-raised they are sweet, you can hug them like any pet," said Seitz. But she adds they aren't the smartest birds around. The male in the bird show only has to walk on stage and strut around, but often forgets his cue.

The two chicks, which will quickly grow to 6 feet tall and 120 pounds, will join hogs, bunnies, pygmy goats, lizards, a tortoise, dogs and cats on the Doubek farm.

"I just love emus," said Rachael. "They are so mellow and have their own personalities."

Emus, native to Australia, are the second-largest birds in the world, behind ostriches. "But they aren't as mean as ostriches," said Rachael, "especially if they are hand-raised, as these will be." They will stay inside the family barns until the weather warms up. They like it about 80 degrees.

They can't fly, so their Delta trip will likely be the only time they are off the ground.

Because they are both females, they won't be breeding. But the adult females will still lay eggs, which weigh about a pound each. "They are a beautiful green" color, said Doubek, and carving emu eggs has become an art form. "Maybe Rachael will carve eggs, sell them to pay her way to college," Doubek joked.

With the good lab tests and new pets, the future is looking a lot better for Rachael in 2002.

Contributing: Bob Bernick Jr.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com