Interviews with people who own unusual animals

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Playing possum

By Billy Manes

"People think they're mean, but they're not," Taylor Bulloch says, as his rather docile-seeming pet opossum, Rae, clutches his collar in his south Orlando living room. "Their defense mechanism is to play dead. That's about as aggressive they get."

Bulloch acquired his lazy furball (with a prehensile tail) about a year ago, when a friend and wildlife rehabilitator rescued Rae and her seven siblings after the mother was injured. Initially, Bulloch thought Rae to be a male (Ray), but in a moment of bizarre revelation, the truth came out. "I found out she was a girl when my finger accidentally slipped into her pouch."

There are many curiosities about opossums – bifurcated penises and vaginas among them; also, they typically only survive two years in the wild, and up to six in captivity – but for Bulloch, Rae's just a sweet pet: She uses the litter box, keeps herself clean, clings to his hair, rides around on the back of his schnoodle named Doyle and generally entertains like a lady of the night when not sleeping in his oversized bedroom wardrobe.

"She wakes up at night at about 10:30, when I'm sitting down to dinner," he says. "I hear the wardrobe creak open, and all of a sudden you hear a thump."

Though not recommended as pets – Bulloch keeps close contact with his licensed wildlife-expert friend, who is raising Rae's siblings to be released in the wild – Rae suits Bulloch's rural Floridian upbringing just fine: right down to the bit of wistful folklore he pulls out while Rae sniffs around an avocado piece in his hand. He may be expanding the truth a little bit, but he does, after all, have a pet opossum.

"I was in Cassadaga and I was getting my palm read, and the lady said, 'You're going to come across a very unusual spirit guide: You can whisper your problems into her pouch,'" Bulloch spins a yarn. "So, every morning I wake up and whisper my problems into her pouch."

Super goat man

By Shelby England

Orlando Weekly: What kind of pet do you have? Joe McBride: I have two pygmy goats, a white and a brown, a mama and a baby. Pygmy goats are miniature goats. The white one is called Mama, because she's the mama, and the baby brown one's name is Brownie. I got them from my old roommate at the house I used to live at before he moved to Alabama four years ago.

What do you do with them – take them for walks? Play with them? Just feed them and watch them eat? I just let them roam around the yard. My goats are very people-friendly. They love people! They are also herding animals and very scared, too, so they don't like bigger animals. The previous owner, my old roommate, actually trained one to walk on a leash and would take them downtown, even in bars, but I don't do that. 

Goats eat grass, right? Does that mean you don't have a lawn mower? I do own a lawn mower. That is actually one of the reasons I chose goats, because it's like all-natural lawn service. They are picky about what they eat, though. If I put two things in front of them, they will go for the one they want. If they don't want it, they will just leave it there.

Do you sneak people food to them under the table? Yeah, yeah. I've learned not to throw away any food in my house. If the goats don't eat it, then the raccoons or something else will. They also like hay. I have this salt block that they like to lick. I guess they like the nutrients from it. I also have various watering stations around the property for when they're thirsty.

Do they sleep with you in your house? Absolutely not. They never sleep in my house, nor do I let them in my car. If I do leave my car door open, however, they will jump in there. I move them around. Sometimes they sleep in the barn, or the hutch I have on my property, or sometimes in the shed.

Do you have any other pets? I actually have a German shepherd and a cat, too. The cat is afraid of the goats. The dog always just wants to play, like chase them, but the goats are usually not into that type of fun. They always run away.

Do you have any funny stories about your goats? My goats are escape artists. They will find a hole, and if there's no hole, they will make a hole. It boggles my mind because I used to have them fenced in, then go inside and five minutes later they would be outside my window. They will always find a way out. One time, they came onto the Valencia campus (East) and walked all the way through campus to this one patch of grass. I didn't find out they did it until Animal Services brought them back to my house.  

You mentioned that the white goat is the momma to Brownie. How did that happen? Did you put an ad out for a daddy goat or did she just one day end up pregnant? The previous owner did breed them. The momma goat would have a litter, and he would sell them. But, no, I've never bred them.

Would you ever get another pet like this one? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. If I had more time to spend with them. I would like to have chickens and a pig, too – I just don't have the time.

Slow and steady

By Drexler B. James

Orlando Weekly: What type of odd pet do you own? Chelsey Hyatt: He is an African Sulcata (spur-thigh) tortoise. They thrive in East Africa or any desert climate.

His name is Garbanzo. How old is he? He was 12 in September.

How long have you had him? Two years.

How did you get Garbanzo? Did you pick him or was he offered to you? My friend Pete always had him. I liked visiting Garbanzo. I grew up having pet turtles, so I was drawn to him. I'm drawn to certain reptiles, especially if they interact with humans in an interesting way. When Pete said he was moving to Seattle, I asked what he was doing with Garbanzo, and he said he wasn't sure. I said 'If you don't know what you're gonna do and you want somebody here to keep him, and you can always come back to him, I'll take him.' He took me up on that offer and I've had him since then. Pete's been back once to try and see him.

I have moved twice since I've owned him, so I've had to move him twice and figure out a living situation for him. That's probably the most complicated thing, the bigger he gets. He's curious, so in some places I've lived, he's gotten out and we had to put up missing posters, but we've always gotten him back.

What does a tortoise like to do? Does he swim? We've taken him to a dock. He doesn't like water because he's a land tortoise, but he would throw the sand on his back, which I've been told they do to keep cool in the desert. I used to live on Central, and there is a park I used to walk him to, but he's pretty heavy. I feel like he's so interesting on his own. He's really one of the most gentle pets I have ever had. You can touch him on his head, his face, his neck, which isn't normal, I feel like, for wild animals. He's an interesting animal to watch; his shell is beautiful, it's a work of art.

What does he eat? The most important thing [for him] is green foods. He definitely likes strawberries and bananas and fruit, but those aren't the most nutritious things for him. I feel like calcium and, from what I've read, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, all the rich greens are good for him. The only thing to watch out for with him is how high in protein they can be, like spinach. He doesn't need that much, just a little bit.

Describe a typical day for Garbanzo. Well, from what I know, he comes out of his burrow around 11 a.m., maybe later if it's colder out, if he comes out at all. If it's cold, he may stay in all day. He's a forager, so he's always slowly moving, chewing. … He'll eat a pile of food in one sitting, so it's a little different from what he would do in the wild. He just walks around. He likes interacting with things. I feel like he likes interacting. When it's hot out, I mist him with the hose, because he can get dehydrated. Then he returns to his burrow around five o'clock before it gets too dark.

You said you've lost Garbanzo a couple of times when he got out. How many times has he run away from home? Three. I'm grateful because people always return him. [Tortoises like him] have been stolen out of pet stores. Most of the time he was down the street. The second time he escaped, he was in somebody's garden. They found it pretty entertaining and they actually fed him. Only one time did somebody get angry, and I think they were going to take him inside of their house. In the last year he's lived here, he hasn't gotten out, so it's easy on my mind.

Do you have any interesting stories about Garbanzo? I don't have any other interesting stories, but I definitely feel a connection with him. I sometimes have dreams about him, especially in the cold months, because we don't see him for a few days.

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