Do a Google Image search for Wallabies, and most of what you’ll see are shoes. Oh yes, there also are the occasional musical group and rugby team. For whatever reason, the web celebrates Wallaby (or Wallabee) footwear, rockers and footballers (the Australian word for rugby players) a good deal more than it recognizes wallabies—the marsupial.
Don’t tell this to Ruby, the pet wallaby (miniature kangaroo) owned by Paul Newell and his family. Paul plays the basketball referee and other characters in Disney’s High School Musical, playing for one more week in the Cramer Center Theatre, co-produced by Barksdale Theatre and The Steward School. Ruby is a sensitive sole—ah, excuse me—soul, and we wouldn't want to hurt her feelings.
“When I was ten,” relates Paul, “my favorite animal was a kangaroo. And then one day I was playing around on line and discovered a farm in Missouri that bred wallabies, which are just like kangaroos only smaller. I started pleading with my parents to get one, and eventually they did.”
Didn’t buying a wallaby for a pet seem, well, odd to the Newells? “Not at all,” says Paul. “My mother always had a lot of exotic pets, so owning a wallaby seemed relatively normal.” Paul also is the proud owner of a cat and two flying squirrels. "Actually, the flying squirrels aren't squirrels," adds Paul. "They're sugar gliders, which are small gliding possums native to Australia. They're marsupials too."
Among this menagerie, Paul swears that Ruby is the shining light. “She’s smarter than the cat, because she knows her name and comes when she’s called. But she’s dumber than a dog, because you can’t teach her tricks.”
The Newells have been able to teach her some manageable personal hygiene habits however. “She’s paper trained,” continues Paul. “We haven’t had an accident yet. Which is more than I can say for the sugar gliders.”
Ruby is now in her teens in kangaroo years. If they choose to, the Newells could begin breeding Ruby in October. But for the time being, they seem content to allow Ruby to roam freely through their beautiful West End home.
One day during a break in rehearsals for Disney’s High School Musical, several of us stopped by Paul’s house to visit Ruby. She was shy, and hid under the dining room table. Since she stands less than 3 feet tall, that wasn’t too hard to do. But then we all noticed the telltale tail extending out between the legs of the dining room chairs.
“Better be careful,” warned Paul, as one courageous actor began to approach Ruby. “Like any kangaroo, she likes to kick and punch—but only in fun.”
We know that the basketball uniforms in our play say Wildcats, but after meeting Paul’s fascinating and unusual pet, we like to think of his Wallaby as being our alternative mascot.
Just so long as none of the Wallabies on the basketball team start to hide under the cafeteria tables, or forget to use their papers.