Exotic animals take shelter

November 22, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

The roughly four-foot iguana staying at the Humane Society of Washington County's shelter this month is unusual - but not unprecedented.

Sue Jordan, who used to work there, said she remembered a 3-foot iguana was at the shelter a few years ago.

"Across the country, the last couple years, they have shown up as stray animals," Executive Director Paul Miller said.

Other "exotic" or unusual animals are reaching shelters, too, officials at local shelters say.

Once, "someone dropped off chickens" at the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Humane Society shelter, Assistant Manager Bertie Erskine said.

In recent years, the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., has housed two pot-bellied pigs, some Chinese pheasants, a sheep and a horse, Manager Kim North said.


A shelter employee took the horse home to stay with her own horses until its owner was found.

One of the more unusual animals taken to the Humane Society of Morgan County (W.Va) were goats, said Jordan, the executive director.

Each shelter official reported periodically getting stray small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds. North said the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter gets ferrets "all the time - probably 18 in the last year."

Miller said a rescue group was considering taking the iguana.

On its own, one stray iguana is not a trend of neglect, but Miller said he is concerned about the increase in exotic animal ownership because too many people buy intriguing animals without researching their needs, habits and characteristics, then discard the animals when they become a hassle.

Iguanas have long nails so they can climb and have tails that can thrash, he said. They need heat and light.

A recent extreme example of exotic pet ownership gone wrong was a Siberian-Bengal tiger and an alligator that were living in a New York City apartment, Miller said. They were removed last month.

An overpopulation of large cats at zoos and shows where exotic animals are sold contribute to the problem, he said.

Miller, a former investigator with the Humane Society of the United States, said he remembers seeing an exotic animal auction in Missouri where giraffes and zebras were sold.

"It's all part of people liking the strange and unusual," he said.

The iguana was still at the Humane Society on Friday but officials there said an adoption is pending.

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