If You Need a Smile, Read This: The Owl Pellet Inquiry

Based on a true story

“All right, everyone, that’s it for today,” Mr. George said, turning off the slides as the hands on the clock inched closer and closer to noon — lunch break.

“Don’t forget, next week we’re starting our animal biology unit. We’ll be dissecting owl pellets.”

“What are owl pellets?” Joe piped up.

“It’s the stuff owls throw up after they’ve eaten mice and other small animals — the fur, bones, and other indigestible remains. You’ll each be getting one to dissect, and you will try to identify what animal your particular owl had for lunch by examining the bones in the pellet.”

“Eww,” a third of the class moaned. “Mr. George, do we have to?”

“Yes, if you want to pass the class,” Mr. George said as the bell rang.

“Don’t forget, quiz on Monday! And come prepared to dissect owl pellets!” Mr. George called as two dozen students jumped to their feet, hastily stuffing papers and pens into backpacks while racing to the door — and to freedom.


Monday morning after the quiz, Mr. George stood behind a large plastic bin filled with foil-wrapped egg-shaped objects.

“Ready for the owl pellet dissection?” he asked, reaching into the tub and withdrawing a shiny silver orb.

“Now, listen up, everyone. These pellets have been carefully treated with heat and pressure to take care of any bacteria that might harm you. So they’re perfectly safe. I don’t want any lawsuits or parents calling to complain that I’m endangering your health, okay? These here pellets are clean.”

Joe’s hand shot up into the air.

“Yes, Joe?” Mr. George said.

“You mean we have to eat them?!”

Mr. George rolled his eyes toward the ceiling as the class roared.

When the hubbub died down, he pitched the silver egg across the room at Joe, who caught it before it struck him between the eyes.

“You go ahead. We’ll watch.”

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