Seeing his shadow

Fort Dodge’s favorite weather-predicting rodent had some bad news for folks already weary of this wintry weather.

Chubbers the groundhog saw his shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter, in the annual Groundhog’s Day celebration at the steps of the Municipal Building Sunday morning.

City Councilman Andy Fritz donned a top hat and held the groundhog aloft in place of Mayor Matt Bemrich, who was out of town.

With the bright cloudless sky above, Fritz declared that Chubbers could, indeed, see his shadow.

Fritz said he wasn’t sure how the humble groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, got its reputation as a prognosticator.

“Six weeks from today is about mid-March,” he said, “and the Spring Equinox is March 21, so I guess that’s about right.”

“He’s been very accurate over the years,” said Diane Happel, of the Oleson Park Zoo. “As opposed to Punxsutawney Phil.”

Chubbers is also friendlier than your average groundhog.

“He’s like a pet,” said Pam Moeller, zoo manager. “Every morning he comes out when I get there, comes right up to my leg and wants to be picked up.”

Chubbers lives at the Oleson Park Zoo winter quarters and eats primarily Rodent Block, though he likes to have a cookie as a special treat.

On Sunday morning he was a good sport, sitting quietly in Scott Groat’s arms while children petted him.

“Don’t try to pet a wild groundhog,” Groat said. “It takes a lot of work to get him this tame.”

Groat, the former manager of Oleson Park Zoo, and his wife Vickey Groat raised the rodent in their home.

“We picked it up when it was 5 weeks old, and we kept it at home until it was old enough to go to the zoo,” Vickey Groat said. “He would sit on the sofa next to Scott.

“Now we have a baby goat whose mother wouldn’t feed it. We’ve had lots and lots of animals, getting well or just until they’re old enough.”

The Groundhog’s Day ceremony makes Fort Dodge unique, Fritz said.

“It’s a fun little even, something that you don’t see anywhere else in Iowa that I’m aware of,” he said.