Oklahomans have "pet" genets, cougars

The article also has a picture of a cougar. According to the caption, it is one of 3 owned by a local woman, although not mentioned in the text of the article.

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Amber Fulton
Features Writer
The Daily O’Collegian, Oklahoma State University

They’re the ones needed after a bad breakup, after a fight with a friend or on those lonely nights when cuddling is No. 1 on the list.

Pets keep people sane and let them feel needed.

The best part is that they give people an excuse to talk to themselves when no one is around and not be deemed crazy.

Most students around Stillwater have the traditional pet: a dog or cat.

But, some students have pets that bring new meaning to “man’s best friend.”

T.C. Houston, a multidisciplinary studies senior, is a big animal lover. He has a dalmatian mix named Sissy, an African large-spotted genet named Kemah, a California Kingsnake named Phantom, a ball python named Sam and three species of rattlesnakes.

“I love dogs,” Houston said. “And the genet is like having a small exotic cat without the danger because he only weighs 1 1/2 pounds.”

An Asian black and white spitting cobra named Elvis, a bamboo shark named Jebb and two wolves named Tundra and Koda are some of the exotic pets Houston kept while working as a professional reptile keeper at the Houston Zoo.

He also had lion fish, a house cat, poison dart frogs, an Indian Ringneck parakeet and more than 15 species of rattlesnakes and other venomous snakes.

Houston said he got Sissy when he was a junior in high school. Most of his reptiles were collected or purchased between 2001 and 2006.

Another Stillwater resident has a unique pet that attracts all the neighborhood kids to her house.

Ann Campbell’s 60-pound African tortoise usually hangs out in the backyard; but, because of the cold weather, Hummer stays indoors like a dog or cat.

“We named him Hummer because if something is in his way, he doesn’t just walk around it. He goes over it,” Campbell said. “He’s a weird pet.”

The Campbells bought Hummer in Arizona nine years ago.

“He was only the size of a silver dollar when we got him,” Campbell said. “He isn’t even full-grown yet.”

Hummer will grow to about 115 pounds and will live until he’s about 100, she said.

Tortoises aren’t house pets; they are vegetarians that are used to being outside where they can roam and grow.

“In the height of the summertime, he eats lots of food,” Campbell said. “At one sitting, he can eat a can of peas, two corn on the cobs, fruits and a whole head of lettuce.”

Campbell said Hummer didn’t start growing until she started letting him stay outside when he was 5.

“He just wanders around the house,” Campbell said. “Tortoises don’t eat that much during the winter because the sun triggers their energy levels and makes them eat more, so he moves very slowly. We have a storm room filled with hay and a sun bulb for him, but he doesn’t like to stay in there for very long because it’s not very big and he likes to roam.”

Although having a unique pet is a thrill, sometimes it takes more time to care for it.

Houston’s mammals, like a dog or cat, require daily care and Kemah the genet has to be let out of his cage daily to run around and play. The wolves, on the other hand, are hard to keep.

“They make very poor pets for those who don’t have time, such as students,” Houston said. “They are still wonderful creatures, but not meant for a college kid pet.”

Because of the upkeep, Houston had to give his wolves away to a new home that could provide them with the attention they needed.

Many college students can’t care for a dog or cat because of the time it takes to give them the proper care. Sue Feasley, a team leader at Stillwater Petco, said she sees lots of college students buying beta fish.

“Anything small that doesn’t need to be walked is the perfect pet for a college student,” Feasley said.

Campbell said her tortoise doesn’t really take much time to care for.

“He follows the color yellow, so I usually tie a string to a corn on the cob and he follows it so I don’t have to lift him where I want him,” Campbell said. “Other times I wear a pair of yellow flip-flops so he’ll follow me.”

Houston’s reptiles are also easier to care for than a dog or cat.

“They are great,” Houston said. “They never bark, although some rattle.”

Houston said most of his snakes only need to be cared for once or twice a week, but he does it more because he enjoys it.

“The venomous reptiles need to be handled with caution,” Houston said. “I’ve been trained and have all the legal permits to keep these as ‘pets.’ They are not really pets in the same way a dog is.”

Like most house pets, these unique pet-owners have many memorable moments with their animals.

“Kemah was on the ceiling fan once and I didn’t know it,” Houston said. “I turned it on and I saw a tail start going around and around in a circle. He flew off and hit the wall, but he was OK. It was funny afterwards, but I don’t think Kemah thought so.”

Campbell’s favorite memory of her tortoise is when he uses his force to move her leather couch.

“He tries to get under the bed, too,” Campbell said. “He is just like a dog, but without the barking.”

Pets really can become just like a member of the family.

Houston said all of his pets are a part of his family. He said his dog shows unconditional love that God shows him.

“No matter what, she is always there wagging her tail,” Houston said.

http://www.ocolly.com/read_story.php?a_id=31865

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