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  • Writer's pictureheidigrantbader

Exotic Pets and the People Who Love Them

Updated: Jan 1, 2022

My older son is an introvert. Sometimes I struggle endlessly to engage him in conversation. When it works, it works, and a light goes on inside of him as he reflects outwardly, on whatever the topic may be that managed to ignite that spark.

“Why do people have bearded dragons as pets?” I asked. I meant this as a rhetorical question. I’d been asking him various things, trying to initiate some interest in conversing with me, while scrolling through photos on my phone. I’d come to the photo of his stepbrother’s bearded dragon named Archie, which I had taken to share with a friend.

“Because they’re cool!” he was suddenly there. Present. Eyes sparkling and apparently dumbfounded as to why I would even question this obvious phenomenon. “Why else?”

“I mean… they just strike me as kind of, I don’t know. Pointless?”

“They’re so cool, Mom.” He proceeded to inform me of all the other animals that made equally cool pets. Komodo dragons (if not for their deadly venom he said - which told me he was joking), rats (I admit, a girlfriend tried to convince me of this same thing about rats, that they make remarkable pets), snakes (ick!), racoons.

“You cannot have a racoon as a pet. I don’t mean you specifically, I mean people. People don’t have pet racoons,” I explained. It went without saying I felt that you don’t have Komodo dragons as pets.

“Yes, they do,” he insisted.

“No, well… maybe they do but I doubt that it’s legal.” He proceeded to show me a YouTube video of a pet racoon.

Well of course. Because you can find a pet-just-about-anything on the internet. My tiny bit of research via Google turned up 16 states where it’s legal to own a racoon. Surprising how spread out those states are:

Map of states where it's legal to own a racoon

“A Polar Bear,” he continued.

“Oh - you mean like in Timmy Failure?” we used to love reading those books together, by Stephan Pastis. The main character has a pet polar bear, and it’s never called out explicitly if it’s imaginary, or if we’re to simply take the leap beyond the possible in this work of fiction. I enjoyed imagining the entire series as a cartoon in which, of course, the polar bear was real, as real as the illustrated boys and girls and parents.

We reminisced briefly in our own heads about those days when I would read him books, showing each picture before turning the page.

“Mom, have you seen this video of a guy being frisked by a polar bear?” he hunted on his phone for the video, while I interjected:

“What about just dogs and cats?”

“Sure,” he located the video and held his phone in front of me to watch. “I mean, they’re the most popular pets.” I watched in alarm as a scientist in a snowy, icy region sat in a fiberglass pod while filming an approaching polar bear who seemed smart and stealthy enough to potentially open the pod door.

Obviously, not safe for pets.

I let out the breath I’d been holding when the polar bear on screen grew frustrated, then bored, before meandering away from the pod, and I was relieved it didn’t turn into a Faces of Death type snuff video. When I was in high school, ditching class and getting drunk and high with friends, we watched a man get eaten alive by a crocodile on film. I think my friend threw up.

As if reading my mind, my son said, “Or a crocodile!” he had a mischievous smile on his face. He was saying this just to see my reaction.

“No,” I said, eyebrows raised, shaking my head slightly. “Just no. There’s nothing cool about a crocodile.”

“What about an alligator?”

“They’re virtually the same animal,” I said with a sneer, squinting my eyes to mean “Eeew.”

My son laughed, “No they’re not.”

“They are,” I nodded seriously.

I recall long before I had children and I first went to work for Big Bank, I attended an orientation in a large conference room with about 30 other newly hired employees. The facilitator wanted to begin with an ice-breaker exercise, to get us all relaxed with one another, so we’d feel comfortable asking questions if we had any. So she went around to each of us asking what our favorite animal was. In this case, she said animal - not necessarily pet. So Komodo dragon would have been an acceptable answer. But what I remember most about this entire orientation, the only thing I remember, in fact, is the one girl who replied that she didn’t have a favorite animal. Not because there was too vast a number to choose from, but because she did not like animals.

I was aghast at her response and may have stared too long and hard in her direction. With my mouth hanging open a little. After I had my children, I could appreciate the idea of not having time for pets. Consequently, I didn’t make a move to replace the two cats who were eaten by coyotes leaving behind only their collars and tufts of fur, and decided that as long as our neighborhood was inhabited by these killers, that wouldn’t be the right choice anyway.

We visited friends at a cabin this weekend for the firework-free fourth of July, and in addition to our dog we brought along, there were three other dogs, and a bearded dragon in attendance. The dogs sniffed each other, played with one another, explored the woods, and asked to be petted. While the bearded dragon, who did nothing, required constant monitoring of temperature, light, humidity, and had to be fed with a syringe. The dragon’s 16 year old owner was away at camp, but she’d left her dragon, Ivy, in the care of her parents with 10 pages of handwritten instructions for its care. At one point, we feared it was dead, but it turned out it was just napping very heavily.

When I pick up my boys from their dad’s house, I usually wave hello to Archie, a female, in her dragon habitat. She seems alert and curious about what’s happening in her basement lair. I tell her hello and goodbye, and sometimes comment on the stench of her crickets (food). But I think with regards to pets, I’ll just stick with my dog.

What kind of pet would you have, if you could choose any pet you wanted?

Meet Archie. I asked her permission (yes, she's a she) for the photograph.

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