One of my students who will soon be in post-secondary education is aware that she’ll likely be living in a variety of apartments and that it will become difficult to care for her beloved Beardie, so we offered to take her in. At two years old and around 12 inches long, Elizabeth arrived last night, comfortably ensconced against the cold in a warmed-up cooler bag. She’s been with us for 24 hours or so, and hasn’t settled in just yet. (The above picture was taken before she came here.)
Why on earth would we take on another living creature? Why add to the chores, bring in more things to store, and shuffle the furniture in an already limited space? Another critter to require a sitter if we go out of town for more than a day; more poop to pick up, another mouth to feed, etc., etc.
Well, why not? I see Elizabeth as rather remarkable. I’ve done some reading on the value of Bearded Dragons as pets, and the conclusion again and again is that they’re really good companions, once they get to know you. Easy to care for, fascinating to watch, needing little supervision and easily contained. There is scope for creativity in designing and maintaining the vivarium, providing variety in the diet — I already grow herbs in my garden that she can eat, and we don’t use pesticides on our lawn, so she can feast on dandelion leaves all summer. My daughter is already enraptured, to the point that I’m now wondering whether to establish her as the Alpha instead of myself.
I like the idea, too, of a small being that I can pick up and hold — Elizabeth enjoys, I’m told, being wrapped up and held, laid on the chest for mutual lounging. She can be stroked, hand-fed, taken for walks with a harness, and although she has a history of disliking being bathed, I think with her it will be easier than washing our dog, Skittles. I have with our new Beardie, ladies and gentlemen, most of the advantages of owning a cat, without the added obstacles of dander and fur and saliva causing my skin to break into hives, my eyes tearing, and my sinuses rebelling in swollen indignation. Plus, no litter box.
The hard part at the moment is in convincing the 9 year old to allow Elizabeth to acclimate. No, you may not yet pick her up. (The exception being when I gently moved her from her stressed-out stance against the glass of the tank to lying down, covered in her towel. She likes her towel.) No, you may not yet hand-feed her. (She’s a picky eater. Crickets will be delivered tomorrow.) No, you may not yet pet her. Just watch her, for now. Let her get used to us.
I must confess, my writer’s mind is running a bit rampant with the romanticism / idealistic / childish fantasy of it all. Foolish, I know, to think that Skittles and Elizabeth might be able to communicate in some way. Silly of me to imagine their conversations, the way I used to (ahem) imagine my dolls talking to each other. But what would a middle-aged dog have to say to a young reptile who has joined the family?
SKITTLES: What the hell are YOU?
ELIZABETH: ME? My good canine, I am the new Queen. Bow before me and tell me where the hell I am!
SKITTLES: Squirrel! Are you a squirrel?
ELIZABETH: I am a Bearded Dragon. Keep your distance, furry beast!
SKITTLES: Yer a funny-looking squirrel . . .
ELIZABETH: I am not a squirrel! Where is my lady? I demand to see my lady!
SKITTLES: Can’t help you there. I’m guarding the couch.
ELIZABETH: Well, I’m just going to lie here under my towel until my lady comes back.
SKITTLES: Want to raid the garbage can with me?
* * *
Well, maybe their chats wouldn’t quite go like that. Maybe they’ll wax philosophical on the meaning of leashes, or trade jokes about drinking from bowls. Would a reptile and a dog even share the same language? If they’re telepathic, could they understand each other’s words / images / thoughts?
Apparently, when puppies and Beardies are raised together, they can become quite close. But our Skittles is decidedly NOT a pup. But the good news is that unlike our previous attempts to introduce a second dog as a companion, she’s not exhibiting any stress over Elizabeth. She briefly sniffed the tank before Elizabeth was brought in, and that was it. I’m relieved at that, though it suggests my fantastical theory of cross-species communication and bonding is not a sure-fire thing.
Maybe I can come up with some children’s stories out of this, though.
In the meantime, and in all seriousness, the next few days are somewhat critical for Elizabeth. We are watching her carefully to make sure she eats (she hasn’t yet) and poops (not yet). She’s sleeping peacefully now, wrapped in her towel. She’s been misted, warmed, cooled, and stroked once or twice. We worry about her stress levels as she adjusts, the temperatures and lighting of her vivarium, and the glass-surfing we’ve seen tonight. But I’m chatting frequently with her previous owner, we’re doing the research, and with time, hopefully Elizabeth will settle in nicely. My hubby has visions of building her a grand new vivarium in the summer, with perches and a pool; Bridget cannot wait to be able to hold her and feed her, and take her for walks, and Jack — well, I’m not sure yet. He’s excited, and interested, but in a much more laid-back way than his younger sister.
But we’re all in on this together. As a family. And that’s really one of the best parts.