Know What You Are Taking on
By Glenda C. Booth
Alexandria,VA- Alexandria Animal Welfare League staffers returned to work one morning last year to find two boxes of Argentine tegus on their doorstep, owner unknown. Tegus are big-jawed, South American lizards that can weigh 15 pounds. The league takes in whatever comes in the door and, beyond dogs and cats, this means animals like tropical fish, hermit crabs, rabbits, snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, chickens, ducks, gerbils, hamsters, rats, mice, and…Argentine tegus.
In May, the Fairfax County Animal Shelter got an undernourished albino boa constrictor found coiled in a garden hose. In 2018, the shelter took in 4,739 dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, parakeets, cockatiels, macaws, snakes, and bearded dragons.
People’s pet choices vary, but animal experts strongly advise prospective owners to have their eyes fully open and to understand that some animals can be difficult to manage. They urge you to do your homework.
Getting Sucked In
“Oh, he’s so cute.” That’s how it usually starts. Your ten-year-old fixates on a bunny rabbit in the pet store. Grandma gives your daughter fuzzy little chicks for Easter. Dad succumbs to his youngster’s pleas for a hamster. But then, these animals grow up. They eat voraciously. They need space. They get sick.
Take rabbits: “Rabbits are at least a 10-year commitment,” says Lolly Busey, Director of Animal Intake of Rikkis Refuge in Orange, Virginia. Some lose their cuddliness. If not stimulated, they might dig holes in carpets or chew baseboards.
And baby animals grow up. Baby chicks need both indoor and outdoor space, can pass along salmonella infections, and become chickens or roosters. Quarter-size baby turtles, when adults, will need a 40- to 50-gallon tank, says Amanda Novotny with the Fairfax County Animal Shelter.