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Remembering Thomas Gobbles, Casper's celebrity turkey

On Wednesday, the Star-Tribune investigated the disappearance of Thomas Gobbles. Today, the conclusion.

I’m afraid I have bad news. You might want to sit down. Take a deep breath.

This is when I start writing about Thomas Gobbles in the past tense.

“My guess is that he’s no longer with us due to natural causes,” Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife biologist Heather O’Brien said, noting that the average wild turkey only lives three or four years.

“Or he was hit by a vehicle,” she added. “He loved to stand in the street.”

Game and Fish first started receiving reports of an aggressive tom turkey in spring 2015, O’Brien said. Thomas was easily identifiable by his large beard — a shock of bristly feathers resembling hair that grows from male turkeys’ breasts — and, of course, his ‘tude.

He made children cry, O’Brien said. He chased female students across campus. He attacked the mailman. He knocked over the chancellor once.

I asked O’Brien if she had any personal encounters with Thomas. She laughed before recounting the times he came after her. A few times, he even tried to slice her with his spur, a sharp bone protrusion on his legs capable of inflicting serious pain.

“He certainly made me feel like I was in an ACME show — a Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner type situation,” she said.

At one point, Game and Fish attempted to relocate Thomas along with other turkeys that had taken up residence in town. While the others could be trapped, Thomas was too smart.

The biologists tried to lure him into traps with corn. He wouldn’t go in. They came after him with nets, and the aggressive turkey suddenly became shy.

“Casper College kids have a few videos of me chasing him around with a net,” O’Brien said. “He did a good job trying to embarrass me. Touche, Thomas, touche.”

But then Thomas gained a little fame (infamy?). Once he became Casper’s nationally-known turkey, Game and Fish deemed him untouchable. They let him be.

O’Brien last saw Thomas on Thanksgiving 2016. The agency received a few reports of him last winter, but never confirmed it was indeed Thomas. They also received some reports of turkeys who had been hit by vehicles on Wolcott and in the surrounding neighborhood. But Game and Fish never found a turkey when they arrived at the scene.

It’s impossible to know for certain whether Thomas is strutting around turkey heaven. Or hell. Maybe he became tired of the paparazzi and moved on to a quieter locale, O’Brien mused. Maybe he moved up the mountain.

But most likely, O’Brien said, he’s dead.

She had some words of comfort for Thomas’ fan base, however.

“He was a man about town,” she said. “Even if Thomas is no longer around, I’m sure some of his kiddos will take his place anytime now.”

In fact, a few young turkeys have already emerged as new nusiances. One seems to have taken up residence outside Vibes Fine and Performing Arts school on CY Avenue.

“But nobody has as much personality as Thomas used to convey, whether people liked it or not,” she said.

Thomas Gobbles was certainly not a friendly turkey.

He pooped on unsuspecting patio furniture. He caused traffic jams in a town too small for traffic congestion. He was king of the college and its surrounding neighborhoods. He knew it, and acted accordingly. He annoyed people. Scared them, in fact.

Some look at Thomas and see a nuisance. A car wreck waiting to happen. At best, just another wild turkey living the comfortable life in Casper’s trash bins.

But there is something to be appreciated in his unapologetic, cantankerous modus operandi.

Sometimes, life’s a two-ton pickup truck coming at you fast and you just have to dig your metaphoric turkey talons into the asphalt and hold your ground.

Sometimes, you just have to strut your stuff, even if it makes some people mad.

Rest in peace, Thomas. I hope your front porch roost in the afterlife treats you well.

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Home for the holidays
New Casper organization helps connect adoptive parents to orphans around the world

Last spring, the McFalls decided they were ready to pursue adoption again.

The Casper couple had been discussing the prospect since they were married in 1998. They’ve fostered more than 50 children, but those foster placements never resulted in an opportunity for adoption.

They attempted years ago, but postponed their plans after their youngest daughter died after accidentally falling down the stairs at a daycare. She was 11 months old.

Years later, the family felt they were ready to start the process again. They filled out the necessary paperwork. They talked to their two daughters. They prayed. They were ready to add to their family.

And then they hit a roadblock.

The two Wyoming adoption agencies, both based in Cheyenne, were backlogged. It would be at least six months before any of them could send out a worker to complete a home study — a necessary step in any international adoption. The McFalls, it seemed, would just have to wait some more.

Then, by chance, they heard that Chinese Children Adoption International had opened a Casper office just a few weeks before. The McFalls met with the mother and daughter team running the office, Karen Farmer and Megan Lockwood, who were able to complete their home study shortly after.

“It was an answer to a prayer,” Stacie McFall said.

The new office, opened in February 2016, helps families across the state work through the adoption process. While they don’t provide full adoption placement, the two women can conduct home studies and provide other services to families after the adopted children come home. Previously, Wyoming families who lived outside of Cheyenne often had to wait months for the services necessary to move forward in their adoption process.

“There were families having to wait months and months because there wasn’t a Casper worker,” Lockwood said.

Since opening, the office has conducted home studies for seven families hoping to adopt from a variety of countries, including China, Latvia and Ukraine.

“It’s nice because we can still remember everyone’s name,” Lockwood said, as she rattled off last names.

The McFalls were the Casper office’s first home study. While the processes differ between countries, most entail collecting records from the family, a visit to the home and a series of interviews. The process is meant to ensure that families are equipped to take in an adoptive child and that the parents are fully aware of the choice they’re about to make.

“It sounds wonderful. And it is wonderful,” said Lockwood, who adopted three of her six children through CCAI.

“But it’s hard work,” her mom added.

The McFall family experienced that first hand through the adoption of their two boys. After the home study and paperwork were complete, the family was matched last Thanksgiving with a 2-year-old boy from a Chinese orphanage, Cheng Zhi. About a month later, they matched with a second boy, Zi Hong, who was approximately the same age.

“The concept was if we adopted two, then maybe they would feel closer to one another,” Rick said. “In retrospect, what we have created is a little bit of a competition for attention.”

In June, the couple and their two daughters flew to China to pick up their boys, who were living in separate orphanages. It was a nerve racking joy to meet their new sons, Rick said. The whole trip, he traveled anxiously awaiting the “velcro moment” — the moment when the McFalls would take the two boys as their own and become parents to two new children.

After that, Stacie and Rick faced a series of new worries. How would the boys, now called Levi and Zeke, handle their first meal away from the orphanage? Their first night? Their first airplane trip?

Traveling with young kids is hard enough. But traveling for 24 hours straight with two toddlers plucked from everything they’ve ever known is a different level of challenge, Rick said.

The acclimation process wasn’t easy. For the first two weeks, Levi barely slept. Both boys screamed whenever they wanted attention or food — it’s how they learned to survive in the orphanage. Neither had ever fed themselves. Their first weeks in the U.S., the boys would drop their arms and open their mouths — like tiny helpless birds — anytime they were approached with food.

There are always worries. How will the boys fit in at daycare? At Sunday school?

“Everything is always completely different than everything they’ve ever experienced,” Stacie said.

But the family has also experienced incalculable joy over the past five months. They’ve watched the boys learn to understand English. They’ve watched them become comfortable in their new home, flopping on the couch and cuddling with their sisters. Behind the couch, large cutout letters spelled out family values: love, faith and hope.

Through the Casper CCAI office, they’ve met other adoptive families and have found a community of people who understand the struggles and joys of adoption.

Now, almost exactly a year since they were matched with their family, Zeke and Levi will sit down for their first Thanksgiving. Rick and Stacie don’t know whether the boys will like turkey or mashed potatoes, but at least they’ll be surrounded by food, family and love.

“There’s all kind of room in my heart and in my home,” Rick said, gathering his family around him for a photo.

Casper balances budget after facing $4 million drain on reserves

Casper’s city manager recently warned that the municipality will be broke in three years if it continued on its current spending path. But he had a plan to prevent this grim outcome, by using a combination of darkening vacant positions, wage freezes and a renegotiated contract.

Last Tuesday night, city leaders unanimously approved City Manager Carter Napier’s proposal.

An amendment to the fiscal year 2017-2018 annual appropriation will almost entirely eliminate about $4 million in reserves being used in the budget. The amendment avoided layoffs and shouldn’t have much of an impact on residents, Napier said.

Casper City Council members, who tasked Napier with balancing the budget when he began his tenure in June, praised the city manager for finding a solution.

“This is a big touch down you scored,” said Councilman Dallas Laird, who frequently voices his desire for a balanced budget.

The amendment relies heavily on a new 20-year agreement between Casper and Rocky Mountain Power that passed its final round of voting last Tuesday night. Like the current contract, which expires Dec. 31, the new agreement will grant Rocky Mountain Power an electric utility franchise in Casper that allows the company to have a general utility easement to locate its electrical facilities in public areas, such as streets and alleys.

However, under the new agreement, the city will receive a franchise fee of 7 percent of the electrical company’s gross revenues derived from within the corporate limits of the city. This 2 percent increase is expected to bring in an additional $800,000 annually for Casper, according to Napier.

The city manager told Council members during the first round of voting that the fee increase would likely cause the average residential customer’s bill to go up by about $1.50 a month.

Citing concerns about burdening residents who are already financially struggling, Council members Shawn Johnson and Amanda Huckabay previously objected to the new contract. Johnson was absent last Tuesday night, but Huckabay maintained her no vote.

Councilman Jesse Morgan objected to the new contract during the second round of voting, explaining that he was concerned the increased fee would never be reduced after it was raised. Given that the primary justification for increasing the fee is to help the city balance its budget, the councilman said there would no longer be a reason for the increase once the budget is fixed.

As a result, council members adjusted the new contract to stipulate that the increase will only last for four years. Morgan then voted in favor of the contract.

To reach $4 million, the budget amendment also factors in an unexpected sales tax revenue bump of $680,000, and $1 million in savings expected to result from a series of budget cuts that took effect in September. Those cuts include freezing city employees’ wages and reducing excess hours of disability time.

Additionally, the amendment will permanently darken 10 city employee positions that are currently vacant. Napier previously stated that he does not believe this will have a significant impact on private citizens.

Two vacant positions at the Police Department — a community services officer and a criminal intel tech — will not be filled, but Napier explained that should not alter public services.

“Those positions do not take away from patrols on the street,” he said last month. “Those are support positions and they won’t reduce the amount of officers that we are able to deploy on a nightly basis.”

The city has closed more than 70 positions in the last few years.

Smaller changes, such as cutbacks on training, travel expenses and office supplies in various departments, also play a role in the budget amendment.

The city’s economic challenges stem from low sales tax revenue and concerns over the certainty of state funding. City leaders are worried that the money they receive from the Wyoming Legislature is in jeopardy, as the state continues to take in less revenue due to weak energy prices.