“The Doctor Will See Your Iguana Now”

“For the duck with egg problems and the iguana with a troubled snout, Dr. Anthony Pilny is a ray of hope. He treats exotic pets at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He has a tattoo of a crane on one arm, a finch on the other, and a puffin on the back of his leg… He is particularly fond of birds; he has 15 of them. He saves brightly colored feathers from his patients in a desk drawer in the hospital office and periodically sends them to an organization called Feathers for Native Americans. They are for American Indians who require naturally molted plumage for their headdresses.” A. Newman, The New York Times

Spot’s owner kisses her after her surgery.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post  with Answer Key

Excerpt: When a Manhattan Iguana Needs a Doctor, By Andy Newman, The New York Times

Dr. Anthony Pilny started the day short-handed: A colleague at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine was bitten by an iguana while making her morning rounds. An iguana’s mouth contains around 100 tiny serrated teeth. The other vet went off to the urgent care clinic to get stitches, leaving Dr. Pilny to do an enormously messy piece of gynecological surgery on a duck without an assisting doctor. The duck was out cold on the table in a basement operating room, a breathing tube stuck down her bill. Dr. Pilny sliced open her abdominal cavity and rooted around.‘What is this?’ he asked. ‘I’m seeing some sort of fluid-filled saclike structures. I see free egg yolk in her body.’

Dino the Duck. photo: NYT

There was little time to ponder the situation. On this Thursday morning not long ago, patients were stacked up in their cages: a guinea pig with hair loss, a rabbit unable to move its bowels, and the irascible iguana, now relaxing behind a sign that said ‘Use Caution Lunges.’ Others waited in recovery: a hedgehog newly minus one eyeball, and a chinchilla who sacrificed a leg to the bars of her cage.

Vicente Vergara, a technician in the office, demonstrated how to give medication to a hedgehog who had just had an eyeball removed. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times


Little Neko the guinea pig received a catheter during her surgery for ovarian cysts.Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times


The center, on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is the city’s only exclusively exotic animal hospital. ‘Exotic’ in the veterinary trade simply means all pets except cats and dogs.  The center treats anything else that comes in the door and weighs under 50 pounds.

Flowerhorn cichlid fish. Photograph- Meetthepet.com

A Prairie Dog (in the middle) with two ducklings. Photo-ViralNova

Most of the patients are rabbits, rodents, lizards or birds, but they can get pretty exotic: kinkajous, alligators, flower horn fish and prairie dogs. So can their problems. ‘I’ve been an avian and exotic vet since 2004,’ Dr. Pilny said, ‘and every day I say, ‘What the hell is this?’

A Kinkajous, Watertown Zoo. Photograph- Joel Sartore, National Geographic.

Many of the center’s patients are not legal in New York City, sometimes for good reason. ‘I’m not a big fan of people keeping a lot of the animals that come in here,’ Dr. Pilny said. But the center asks no questions and passes no judgments. It is not the pet police. ‘We don’t report anybody,’ Dr. Pilny said. ‘We just provide medical care.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a good Pre-reading organizer  by Scholastic for assistance.

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. There was little time to ponder the situation.
  2. One sign said to use Caution.
  3. This is the city’s only exclusively exotic animal hospital.
  4. Dr. Pilny has been an avian and exotic vet since 2004.
  5. Many of the center’s patients are not legal in New York City.
  6. Dr. Pilny removed most of her reproductive organs.
  7. Her egg problems led to calcium deficiency.
  8. There was a very extensive amount of broken eggs.
  9. The doctor had to  try something risky and just hoped it worked.
  10. There was a  cheery vibe in the reception area.

Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Ms. Tibbetts ___up a taped-shut___box and___it on the table. She___ the X-ray to Mr. St. John,___out the ___chunk of bone: “And these are her___, which found their way into Dr. Grodio’s___today.”

WORD LIST: finger, showed, brought, missing, teeth, pointing,  brought, set,

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.



  1. The technician held Spot tightly wrapped in an towel.
  2. He expected to hit bone.
  3. Ms. Tibbetts came over to inspect.


  1. Her tail is amputated a while ago.
  2. She was 9 and had a history of lesions.
  3. Now she had a crusty lesion on the top of her head.


  1. Dr. Pilny went up to the office to make more calls.
  2. They  was discussing iguana temperaments.
  3. There’s no such thing as a nice iguana.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups  and  have each group compose a letter or note to a  person mentioned in the article telling her/him their thoughts on the topic. Share the letters as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


Category: Animals