Pets are often considered a part of the family, and that doesn't stop at dogs and catsHis eyes are locked on the spotted reptile resting on his forearm. In soothing tones, he coaxes the 7-inch leopard gecko to “smile” for the camera.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
His eyes are locked on the spotted reptile resting on his forearm. In soothing tones, he coaxes the 7-inch leopard gecko to “smile” for the camera.
“Come on, buddy,” he says.
Koehn Bakken, 7, son of Jesse and Brenda Bakken, East Grand Forks, introduces Herald visitors to Phineas and Ferb, leopard geckos he’s owned for the past few months after Oscar the Salamander died from natural causes.
“They’re really fun to have,” he says.
Phineas and Ferb (named after cartoon characters who star in a TV show of the same name) reside in a terrarium clear box, outfitted with a dish of worms, a heat-lamp and a heating pad.
Pets often become members of the family, but not everyone is into cats and dogs — or rabbits, hamsters and gerbils. Animals don’t have to be warm and furry to find a good home.
Who says the slithery and slinky can’t be lovable companions?
“They’re kind of cute, those lizards, don’t you think?” Koehn asks hopefully.
He’s drawn to geckos “because I just think they’re cool,” he says.
Mom’s not so sure but gamely lifts the lid of the cricket cage, so Koehn can pluck a tan cricket as a special offering to his geckos. She says her knowledge of reptiles doesn’t match her son’s.
“I only know what they eat because I have to buy the food,” Brenda says. She purchases gecko groceries at Petco in Grand Forks.
“Sometimes, we sprinkle in six to 10 crickets, and they gobble them right up.”
The family accommodates the culinary needs of the geckos. “The worms stay in our fridge, next to the butter,” she says.
The family recently bought a cricket cage which cuts down on trips to Petco but requires them to buy food to sustain the crickets.
“It’s an orange gel of some kind — I don’t get too close,” Brenda says.
She grew up with only sisters, “so I’m not used to bugs and crawly things. I’m used to Barbie (dolls).” She’s still adjusting to the notion that she is sharing her home with crickets. “I think about it all night long,” she says. “Your skin just crawls.”
She suspects her son’s intense interest in geckos stems from a fascination with dinosaurs. “He’s obsessed with dinosaurs,” she says. “He wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up. He’s been saying that since he started talking.”
‘Hissing like a snake’
And now, he’s mesmerized by geckos.
“Females are bigger. Males are smaller,” Koehn says.
“Phineas has fewer spots than Ferb. If he gets really mad, he starts hissing like a snake.”
Ferb is more aggressive.
Ferb revealed his true nature when he met the family dog, Balta, a 60-pound boxer-lab cross. “Ferb bit him on the nose,” Koehn says. “I think the dog is scared of him,” Brenda adds. She’s noticed the geckos “sometimes cuddle together and take taps.” “They like to be around each other,” Koehn said. “They kiss a lot.”
His mother is less than enthralled. “She’s only touched them once in her life,” he says, turning to her. “Mom, they’re harmless.”
She seems pleased, however, by the curiosity the lizards inspire in her son. “Any dinosaur word, he knows it,” she says. “Most kids like the Disney channel or Nickelodeon. He watches the Discovery channel.”
Warm feelings for cold reptiles
Unconventional pets are not that rare, according to Kayla Hotvedt, of Thompson, N.D.
“For every cat or dog that’s sold at a pet store, someone is buying a snake or an iguana,” said Hotvedt, whose pets include a 6-foot, red-tailed boa constrictor, Lester, and a purple-tongued skink, Toby.
She and husband, Lee Hotvedt, actually “fell in love over our cold-blooded companions in college,” she said. Each had a reptile pet: he owned a painted turtle, she had an iguana. “We had always been intrigued by them.” After they married, they rescued many reptiles until “we realized that we could not save everybody.”
Of the reptiles they’ve been asked to rescue, “most are so sick… that they really just needed end-of-life care. That got to be very hard on our hearts,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.
The couple doesn’t have kids. In addition to Lester and Toby, they live with three dogs and an aquarium full of fish. “We enjoy all our pets but find a soft spot for our cold-blooded critters.”
Real-life ‘Lizard Lounge’
Lester and Toby “live happily in their terrariums” in the couple’s bar room they’ve aptly dubbed “The Lizard Lounge.”
“They are easy pets to care for and get along well with our three dogs,” Kayla said.
The dogs “are completely oblivious to the reptiles. They are not a part of (the dogs’) world.”
Most people are unaware that the Hotvedts have reptile pets, she said. The couple doesn’t advertise the fact. Some who do know “won’t come into our house,” she said. “It may make people uncomfortable.
“For those who are brave enough to come to our house, if their curiosity gets piqued and they go over (to the reptiles), they usually say they’re not that scary.”
Their home is “very popular” with nieces and nephews and children of friends,” she said. “We are the cool friends with fun pets.”
Reptiles offer a lot of advantages as pets, she said. “They are low maintenance, quiet and unassuming.” They don’t bark at or jump up on people, she said. “I’m allergic to cats, so if I go to a home with cats, I know I’m going to have an attack. That’s not going to happen with reptiles.”
Kayla says the bonding experience may be different with a reptile versus with a dog or cat “because they’re not seeking out your attention,” she said.
“You really have to be observant with your reptile. If they’re hungry, they may look at you or they may be more active.” But there may be some who do bond with a reptile, she said. “I know people who bring their bearded dragon on a road trip.”
It seems the reptiles in the Hotvedt household have endeared themselves to Lee and Kayla.
Toby, the skink, “has human eyes,” she said, “round brown eyes that draw you in. There’s something there; he’s an old soul.
Lester, on the other hand, “prefers to be left alone.
“We don’t take him out too often. He enjoys being in his cage, watching the world go by,” she said.
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.