By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When you have work hours that are not the traditional nine to five and you don’t have anybody to do some baby-sitting for you, you have to be careful about how to choose your pets. You need to look at animals that have a certain degree of self sufficiency.
One of my first choices was a tarantula. Yes, they’re big, scary-looking spiders, but they’re not dangerous. I know James Bond was threatened by one in the first Bond movie, “Dr. No,” but that was a harmless Mexican Redleg. I think the evil Dr. No might have been good with nuclear missiles, but he didn’t know anything about tarantulas. My spider, Nora — named after the heroine in the 1950s horror movie “Tarantula!” — is a Chilean Rose tarantula that’s interesting company.
In the terrarium next to her is Digger, an Arizona scorpion. That pet has a sting, but nothing dangerous unless you’re allergic to bee stings. In another part of the room is Smaug, a leopard gecko named after the dragon in “The Hobbit.” I adopted him after my nephew A.J. got too much on his plate to take care of him.
Naturally, I couldn’t have had a tarantula or a scorpion while I was a kid. Mom and my sister, Karen, didn’t and still don’t like spiders, so they expected me to kill any eight-legged intruder they found. The idea of me having a spider as big as my hand wasn’t an idea that was going to fly.
I was even less likely to get the pet I’ve always wanted, a snake. I finally broke down a couple of weeks ago and purchased a juvenile king snake I’ve dubbed Alice. Right now I’m not sure about Alice’s gender, but the name covers both possibilities. If Alice is a female, she was named after the Alice of “Alice in Wonderland.” If he’s a guy, he was named after rock star Alice Cooper.
Alice is a gorgeous animal with irregular black patches on lightly yellow skin. As of right now, Alice is only about a foot long, but I understand that king snakes can reach four or even five feet in length. They’re called king snakes because in the wild, they eat other snakes. They’ve even been known to eat rattlesnakes. Rattler venom doesn’t hurt them.
I always try to make sure my pets have the best environment possible. Alice at first had one of those large plastic tanks with a snap-on lid, but I felt that wasn’t quite big enough. Keeping the future in mind, I acquired a long 20-gallon tank with a screen lid and spring-steel locks to hold it in place. Snakes are notorious escape artists. I taped a heating pad under it, and gave Alice a substrate of crushed walnut shells for easy cleaning. Getting all this done took a big chunk out of my last Saturday, but Alice seems to like the extra space.
My pets can all go without food or water for several days. In the case of the tarantula and the scorpion, weeks or even months at a time. I would like to have a dog, but I would never have time for it. Unlike a reptile, adopting a dog would be almost like adopting a child. Besides the essentials such as food and water, a canine needs affection and socialization. A loyal dog is always glad to see you and offers unconditional love. In contrast, I know Alice would never miss me that way. In fact, I think Alice would try to eat me if he or she got big enough. Reptiles like Alice never got the memo that humans are the dominant species on this planet. As far as they care, we’re still food. That’s one reason why I chose a king snake and not one of those pythons that grow to be so huge.
Whenever you decide to get a pet, no matter whether it’s a mammal, reptile, fish or bug, you need to do your research first. For instance, a dog that grows to weigh 200 pounds starts off as a cute puppy. Editor Samantha Perry can testify to that fact. Her Neapolitan Mastiff, Pugsley, was small and cute when she brought him home, but now he looks like he could go through a brick wall and not notice it. I know Samantha knew what she was getting into when she decided to adopt him.
I’ve heard too many cases when potential pet owners just dive in without thinking about the responsibility they’re taking on. They wind up with animals they just can’t handle. For instance, a big snake is a good pet if you have the space for it and know what you’re doing, but pet owners who didn’t respect their big reptiles have been hurt.
The same applies to some dog breeds. A German shepherd needs plenty of space and attention, which are not the things available in a small apartment. A person who wants a dog needs to think before bringing one home. Try talking to somebody who already owns that breed. The same goes for adopting a snake or any other pet. There are plenty of sites on the Internet that offer care sheets, instructions, and even forums where pet owners share their experiences and advice.
When you get any kind of pet, you have to remember that it’s going to depend upon you for everything it needs. Keep that fact in mind, and you will have a good experience even if your pet of choice can’t fetch your slippers or curl up in your lap.
Wait. Alice could curl up in my lap.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org