Pet Owners Gone Wild

Cats and dogs are fine for most, but some Westchester residents need pets other than your run-of-the-mill Lab.

Scorpion King

Photo by Chris Ware

Ower: James Valle, aquarium and fish tank maintenance professional, Yonkers
Pets: Four six-inch-long, two-year-old Black Emperor scorpions—two male and two female

What exactly are Black Emperor scorpions? They’re a type of arthropod in the Arachnida family type of spiders.

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Have you named yours? I’ve named the pair I adopted first—there’s Big Mama [shown below, right] and Big Joe [below, left]. About a month later, I got the other two, but those just hide all day and so I never bothered to name them.

Do Big Mama and Big Joe have distinct personalities? Yes. Big Mama isn’t bothered by anybody, and Big Joe, though he’s more of a scary looking guy, actually goes and hides a lot.

Aren’t scorpions poisonous? Yes—all scorpions have venom in them, but some are more dangerous than others. The Black Emperor’s venom is equal to about a bee sting and not a problem unless you are allergic. But the sting of a Deathstalker scorpion can be fatal, and thus they are illegal to own.

Have you ever been stung? No. I know not to touch them when their stingers go up and the two claws come out—a warning sign that they are in a defense mode.

Where did you get them? From a vendor in Pennsylvania; each was thirty dollars.

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What’s the life expectancy of a scorpion? Between seven and twenty years. And scorpions are able to live through a nuclear holocaust.

What do they eat? I feed them anything: crickets, millworms, grasshoppers—all live. Some I purchase and some I breed myself.

Where do you keep them? I have them all in one cage in my living room. Because they are nocturnal, they spend their days burrowed in tunnels in the dirt on the bottom of their cages, only coming out at night.

Have you had any escape from their cage? Just once, and it was my mistake. While cleaning the cage, I put one into a container that was not securely closed. When I was finished, he wasn’t in there any more. But a scorpion’s exoskeleton illuminates and becomes neon yellow when viewed under a black light. So I used a black light and found that he had crawled under the bed, about five feet away.

What’s the best thing about having scorpions as pets? The ability to say I have them. It’s pretty cool.

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Do they know you? I like to think so. But it’s a bug. They do let me kiss them.

What don’t most people know about scorpions? They breed like crazy—once they went at it a whole week straight.


Parrot Head

Photo by Chris Ware

Owner: Marc Loonan, retired industrial arts teacher, Pound Ridge
Pets: Three parrots—Clio, an eight-year-old, double yellow-headed Amazon; Toni, a six-year-old African Gray; and Oscar, a three-year-old blue and gold McCaw

What made you get parrots? My partner, Patricia, always had cats but, when she met me, she had to give that up because I am allergic to them. One night after dinner, we saw a parrot in a pet shop window and she just fell in love with it, but we didn’t want to buy from a pet store. We got them from Parrots & Company in Stamford, Connecticut, and they cost eleven hundred dollars each. When Clio was two years old, we loved her so much, we decided to get another one. Also, because Clio was very attached to Pat, we decided to get Toni, our second one, to bond with me. Our third, Oscar, responds to both of us equally.

How are parrots’ temperaments, in general? Birds are more like people than, say, dogs. Some days, they wake up on the wrong side of the perch and they want to be left alone and, on others, they want to be scratched and cuddled. A nasty dog is always a nasty dog.

Do they have different personalities? Toni is Dennis the Menace—she’s the bad bird who will taunt the other birds. Clio is the David Niven of birds—she’s very proper and doesn’t like to get messy when she eats. And Oscar is the comedian—he’s lovable, the smartest of the three, and has the largest vocabulary.

Do they all speak? Of the three, Toni, the African Gray, is supposed to be the best talker, but she mostly just whistles and mimics sounds like the microwave. Oscar not only talks, he uses vocabulary appropriately. He gets up in the morning and says, ‘Oscar wants a banana,’ and he’ll go to the refrigerator because he knows food is in there. Or sometimes, when I blow on his feathers to tease him, he’ll look at me and say, ‘I bite.’ We have to be very careful about what we say because he doesn’t unlearn anything and, if he likes a word or phrase, he will repeat it all the time.

Where do you keep them? They have their own room with three separate cages and its own full-spectrum lighting, heater, and air purifier. They have the freedom to fly around that room; none of the birds’ wings are clipped.

Any downsides? They’re a lot of work. Their cages get cleaned every single day.

How would you describe your relationship with them? They’re like our grandchildren. It’s almost like having three two-year-olds.

What’s the typical lifespan for these types of birds? Fifty to seventy years.

Have you made plans for them if they outlive you? We haven’t finalized arrangements, but are considering drawing up an attachment to our wills.



Charmed by Chinchillas

Photo by Chris Ware

Owner: Wally Wall, clock- and watchmaker, Yonkers
Pet: Sydney Fizzy, a three-year-old, medium-gray female chinchilla

What made you decide to get a pet chinchilla? I was volunteering at the Elmsford Animal Shelter, helping with the bunnies and guinea pigs. When I saw her, I wanted to take her home—I knew we could give her a good life. And she was really cute. I didn’t pay anything for her because she is technically considered a permanent foster animal.

How big is she? She weighs about one-and-a-half pounds and, standing up on her hind legs, she’s about eight inches tall, plus another six inches for the tail.

How would you describe Fizzy’s personality? She’s independent and doesn’t like to be handled more than ten minutes at a time before she squirms away.

Does she know you? Definitely. When my wife or I come over to her cage, she’ll come over to the front, wanting to be petted. And she shrinks away from strangers.

How does she spend her time? She has the run of the upstairs of our house. She has a lot of human contact and likes looking outside at the street. She gets lots of sunlight. She’s more active in the night—she likes to exercise then.

What kind of maintenance does she require? She’s very low-maintenance—I just spend about eight to ten minutes once a day cleaning her structure, a high-rise, four-level habitat or cage on wheels.

Do you consider Fizzy your child? Of course I do, because she’s dependent on me.

How long do chinchillas typically live? About twenty years. If she outlives us, we know people who will take care of her.

What do you think about people wearing fur? I don’t even like artificial fur or anything that resembles an animal. It takes something like over one hundred pelts to make one coat, so why bother?


Pigged Out

Photo by Chris Ware

Owner: Alex Brantl, high school freshman, Irvington
Pet: Cookie, a six-year-old, black-and-tan shorthaired guinea pig
Other pets in the household: Rachel, a nine-year-old cat; Eva, a four-year-old bunny; and a Japanese fighting fish

Where and when did you get Cookie? We got her four years ago from the Elmsford Animal Shelter—now called Pets Alive Westchester—for a fifty-dollar donation.

Why a guinea pig? My sister and I really wanted a dog, but my parents didn’t want us to get one because they would end up taking care of it when we went to college. So we were looking into pets with shorter life spans. First, we were thinking of a dwarf bunny, but they have biting issues, so we ended up with the guinea pig. We thought they lived about eight years but, apparently, they can live to twelve, so my parents may still end up taking care of her after all.

How would you describe Cookie’s personality? She’s not the most active thing—she kind of lies around—but she’s very sweet. And when she sits in my lap, she squeaks at me and it’s like she’s talking to me. She allows all our friends to hold her.

What’s the best thing about having a guinea pig? They’re not a lot of maintenance and they are very cute in a rodent-y sort of way.

Where and how does Cookie spend most of her time? Most of the time, she’s in her cage, and there’s a hut in there that she goes into quite frequently. It also has little wooden sticks for her to chew on and her food and water bottles. Once a day for a couple of hours, she’ll come out for playtime—we’ll put her in a playpen-like structure with the bunny we also own, and they’ll both walk around and stretch their legs, but they really don’t interact and just ignore each other. She lets my sister hold her on her lap for an hour every day when she’s watching TV.

What’s the downside to owning a guinea pig? Once a week, you have to do a big cleanup of her cage and change the newspaper and cardboard, and that’s a lot of work. Also, whenever you sit with her, you have to have a towel on your lap because she might pee on you.

Does Cookie know you? I think she does—and my mom and grandma claim that she knows her name.


Bunny Love

Photo by Chris Ware

Ower: Lori Faeth, personal assistant, Hartsdale
Pet: Scarlet Eve, an almost two-year-old, all-black, Rex rabbit who weighs about six pounds

Why a rabbit? I’ve always loved rabbits—they’re such cute, little, furry things. And you don’t have to walk them when it’s cold outside and they require less maintenance than cats.
Where did you get Eve? I adopted her from the Connecticut Humane Society in Westport when she was eight months old. I made a fifty-dollar donation that included the thirty-five-dollar adoption fee.
Describe Eve’s personality, please.
I call her a little princess; she is just a little mush.

Where does she spend her time? She’s in her cage to sleep and when I am not home. But when I’m home and watching TV, she hangs out on the bed with me. She requires exercise—a minimum of two hours a day outside the cage, but she’d rather have four to six. She’ll run around and do a ‘binkie,’ where she pounces off her feet and changes position in the air—that’s her happy sign.

Would Eve run away if you put her outside? Probably, to hide and protect herself. It’s an instinct because, in the wild, other animals, even birds, go after rabbits; they’re pretty low on the food chain. They do make harnesses for people who want to walk rabbits, but I don’t use one. I think that’s a little bizarre.

Does Eve recognize you? She definitely does, because as soon as I put my hand near the cage, she comes running over to me, but, if someone else does that, she’s a little more hesitant.

Do you think she’s aware of things? I know that she knows that food comes from the refrigerator because she’ll come running over when she hears me opening it. And she is litter-box trained. Also, you can teach rabbits to do some tricks and go through agility courses, though I haven’t done that with her.

Does she like music? Soothing music. When she hears something like heavy metal, she gets very scared.

Any advice for future rabbit owners? A rabbit is such a bad gift to give—it’s a living animal that requires love, attention, and maintenance, and can’t just be put in a cage and tossed into the family room and ignored. And, while rabbits make good pets for older kids, they are not appropriate for very young ones—if you don’t hold them correctly, they squirm and kick and can break their backs, which are very fragile.

Would you eat rabbit stew? Absolutely not.

What do you think of people who do? To each his own, but there are so many other choices out there. They don’t have to eat rabbit or even meat, period. I try to be a vegetarian, myself. 


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