June 2021

Families Have Added Exotic New Members During the Pandemic

by Jeanette Prather

Who can turn down that furry little faced-friend, or even a not-so-snuggly yet scaly reptile? Pets come in all shapes and sizes, providing pet owners mountains of happiness, friendship, messiness, and love.

One of the silver linings of sheltering in place during the pandemic is that pet adoptions are up all over the country. People have had more time to raise and train animals and happy to have a companion…and in some cases, some unconventional ones.

Who can turn down that furry little faced-friend, or even a not-so-snuggly yet scaly reptile? Pets come in all shapes and sizes, providing pet owners mountains of happiness, friendship, messiness, and love.

Despite ferrets and gerbils being two of the more popular pets in the United States, according to Neil Shouse of Shouse California Law Group, they are illegal in California. “Ferrets are Mustelids, the biological family that also includes otters, mink, weasels, and polecats,” wrote Shouse on his 2016 blog titled, “5 Popular Animals that are Illegal as Pets in California.” “Like ferrets, gerbils are popular pets in the United States. If you are looking for a rodent as a pet, therefore, we recommend that you stick to those rodents that are legal in California – specifically, domesticated races of golden hamsters, dwarf hamsters, rats, mice, guinea pigs, and chinchilla.”

Shouse goes on to explain that hedgehogs, monkeys, and squirrels are among the list of popular illegal pets in California as well.

“The people we bought our house from had five ferrets!” said Bonny Doon mom, Kim Furnish. “They even had one of the bedrooms all to themselves. Took us months to get the smell out of that room! They are adorable though!”
“I had a ferret years ago, he was awesome,” said Jessica Laces, a Santa Cruz mom. “I was sad to learn they’re illegal here.”

“Our family has a Bengal cat,” said another Santa Cruz mamma, Amber LB.
“We have a house rabbit (litter box trained) who we adopted the day we returned home from CZU evacuation,” said Diana Wilson, Santa Cruz mom.

A little bit more maintenance, still part of the family, and essential to the agriculture scene in Santa Cruz County, are livestock and other farm animals. In fact, according to the 2019 Santa Cruz County Crop Report, livestock and animal products (which includes the animals, honey, and eggs), accounted for $7.68 million of the overall agriculture value in Santa Cruz County.

Especially in the local scene, livestock and other farm animals make popular pets.
“I have pot belly pigs, goats, miniature ponies, ducks, turkeys and chickens,” said Wauhillau Ward Erbe, grandmother from Watsonville. “Of course, they all require different care and right now I have lots of chicks, so I have three different heating lamps going. The herd animals are all very tame and require interaction with people. [It is] a lot of work, but I enjoy it!”

“We have a rather exotic-looking sheep,” said Santa Cruz mom, Jamie Lafollette. “[The sheep is] called a Soay sheep and is one of the ancient breeds. It looks more like a goat.

“We also have horses,” continued Lafollette. “The care regime for our sheep is letting him out every morning. He has an electric net fence we move around to keep the weeds down. Around dusk we lock him in his shed… He likes plums and pumpkins as treats. That’s about it.”

“We adopted our [four] pigs,” said Aptos mom, Sarah Jukes. “Many [pigs] end up in shelters because they grow bigger than people expect, can be destructive, and are very stubborn. Our smallest is 125lbs, largest 350lbs [and they] love belly rubs. They eat twice a day, just a cup of pig pellets and enjoy vegetables. They get fat easily, so we have to watch what they eat. They also eat grass but root it up so not much is left. They don’t need to go for a walk but like space to root about and live outside. They sleep in a big shelter with blankets and people donate blankets to us. We love them, but they are not always easy.”

“We have the run of the mill; hamster, rabbits, llamas, cows, horses, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, parrots, canaries, cockatiels, fish, pigs, etc.,” said Rahbecka Galvan, Santa Cruz mom.

Another not-as-common-as-some-would-think category of pets are reptiles. According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, of all the US households that own pets, 9.4 million account for reptiles. Of course, that’s no 94.2 or 89.7 million like our popular cats and dogs, respectively, but it’s still a significant cohort of reptile-loving Americans.
“We had silkworms, Madagascar cockroaches, iguana, boa constrictors, red-eared slider turtle, Sucata tortoise and rats, too,” continued Galvan.

“We adopted Eliza [our bearded] dragon because the previous owners no longer had time for her,” continued Jukes. “It was a steep learning curve and expensive to get her enclosure and lights all set up. Eliza eats crickets and super worms and fruit and vegetables. She spends most of the day by the glass sliding doors under a heat lamp. She asks to go outside so we sit outside, and she sunbathes. To survive she needs UV and should not be kept in an enclosure 24/7! She makes no noise and is very laid back.”

“[Our two iguanas] were married this year after the girl, Meme, was rescued from a tree in Felton. The boy is Rexie. His human moved to Hawaii and left him in our care,” said Santa Cruz mamma, Malika M Bell. “As intimidating as they look, most kids find it comforting to know that they live off a vegetarian diet of organic baby greens with various fruit treats. They have no desire to eat any meat.”
“We have an endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise named Sheldon who lives in our backyard,” Berra Yazar-Klosinski, Santa Cruz mon. “We also have a banana piebald ball python named Skittles.”

Sea life and poultry, which take a backseat to their more popular cat and dog counterparts, made a small cameo when it came to what types of unusual pets’ dwell locally.

“We had hermit crabs!” Exclaimed Alicia Potes, Aptos mom. “They were fun [and] easy to care for. You have to mist their tank regularly, feed, and change their water, but they were very easy and a fun pet if you are ok with them not being snuggly.”
“My grandsons have two pigeons that they have raised since they were chicks,” said local grandmother, Ward Erbe. “They are free to fly away but they stay home, landing on heads and sitting on shoulders. [It’s] so funny.”

Whether it’s scaly and wild, warm and fuzzy, or large and loud, pets come in all shapes and sizes, and Santa Cruz runs a gamut of eclectic animals. Once a part of our family, these little critters shine their personalities and take on identities all their own!

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