Fancy a lounge lizard or a snake in your firstname.lastname@example.org|02/03/08 at 22:13:37|selkie|xx|0|188.8.131.52|By Sarah Howden
HERE'S a thought. It's late at night and you're cosy in your bed with nothing but your beloved teddy bear and some sweet dreams for company. Or so you think.
But it could be that you have a companion lurking somewhere in the bedroom, slithering around slyly in the dark, ready to get under the duvet with you.
It's the kind of companion that no bolted door and double-locked windows will prevent from breaking in. Yet this is no scene from a horror movie or extract from a book. For many people in the Capital, finding a snake – or other exotic pet – in their homes is everyday reality. And it's becoming increasingly common.
"We have 14 centres throughout Scotland and Edinburgh has the only exotic pet centre. We do get a lot of snakes and other exotic pets, including iguanas, from Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife, compared with the rest of Scotland," says Kenny Sharp, assistant manager of the Scottish SPCA.
And the number of abandoned or escaped pets is set to increase further in the coming weeks.
The charity has been forced to adapt its well-known festive warning to try to get the message across to modern pet owners that exotic animals are for life and not just for Christmas.
Animal rescue workers fear they are about to be overrun by exotic pets, as owners become bored or frightened of the new addition to the family.
"Like puppies and kittens, exotic pets need a lot of looking after, and there's a misconception that you don't have to do much with them," explains Kenny. "They also need to be properly housed, as they can escape relatively easily and make their way under the floorboards and into other people's homes."
The Scottish SPCA is being forced to build Scotland's first dedicated shelter for abandoned exotic pets, with a special halfway house set to be created in the Capital to care for up to 40 animals. The number of snakes, iguanas and spiders has as much as doubled in the last 12 months, and it is set to continue to rise as unwanted Christmas presents are dumped.
"It happens a lot," admits Kenny, who's come across everything from corn snakes, rat snakes and boas to a 14ft python and a 5ft iguana in Edinburgh. His colleagues have even come face to face with an abandoned Goliath bird-eating spider, which is believed to be the largest spider in the world.
"However, with some of the exotic animals, we don't know whether they've been abandoned or have escaped. It's actually quite easy for a snake to push open the lid of its tank – especially bigger snakes, which are stronger – and escape. And they can survive for some time. If people do want a snake or exotic pet, then it's vital they get a strong enough tank for them."
So why are so many abandoned?
"I think these types of pets are seen as a status symbol for some people – a macho thing to have. And there's the misconception that you can stick them in a tank, leave them and feed them occasionally. Each animal needs a tank specially set up for it or it will suffer.
"An Iguana, for example, needs UV light or its skin can get damaged and its toes can even fall off. And it needs regular handling and cleaning, or it can become aggressive, which puts a lot of people off.
"I've been whipped by the tail of an Iguana before, and it hurts. I've been bitten by one too, but the tail is much more painful. Also, many people feed them meat when they're actually vegetarians, and this can be harmful – and cause the owners to give up."
So the message is clear. Treat your exotic pet like any other household pet: with care and respect. Novice pet owners are advised to start off easily, with a corn snake, for example – and avoid scorpions and spiders at all costs. And if you do have an exotic pet, look after it. After all, nobody wants to share a bed with a snake, do they?
A cat lover has been reunited with her pet – four years after giving him to a pet shelter organisation.
Six-year-old Blackie was re-homed after he was given to the Cats Protection in 2003 by owner Elizabeth Jones. But he was returned to the same pet shelter in Devon a few months ago.
Then a friend of Ms Jones recognised Blackie when she visited the centre in Barnstaple – and the unexpected reunion was set up.
• A 3lb Chihuahua mix named Tink sprang to fame this week when it helped capture a criminal fleeing from police.
Four suspects crashed a stolen mini-van into a California hillside and one of them fled.
Tink, a Pomeranian and Chihuahua mix, found him hiding under a neighbour's motor home and chased him into the woods.
The son and husband of Tink's owner, Wendy Anderson, directed a law enforcement helicopter to where the 20-year-old man was hiding, and he was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication and resisting arrest.
California Highway Patrol officer Jeff Herbert said: "The Chihuahua gave him up."
• Pop star Lily Allen cuddled a cute puppy in the pets department of Harrods under the watchful eye of store owner Mohammed Al Fayed. The singing sensation was in the luxury Knightsbridge store to open its winter sale.
• A cat survived being accidentally locked in a garden shed for two months – apparently by licking condensation off the windows.
Black-and-white Emmy – imprisoned when she followed her owner into the shed, which he locked up for the winter – left tongue marks on the glass.
The ten-year-old pet was given up for lost before her owner returned to the shed in Torbay, Devon, and found the skeletal cat inside.
• A Japanese maker of animal medicines is giving employees who own dogs or cats a monthly "family allowance" for their pets.
Kyoritsu Seiyaku does not yet allow its employees to take paid leave to grieve when their pets pass away – as does one Japanese pet food maker – but said it may do so eventually.
HOW TO CARE FOR A CORN SNAKE
"IT'S really important to know how to care for your exotic pet," says Kenny, "and a good start is telephoning or visiting your local exotic pet shop. Look up the internet too as there's lots of information which helps."
Corn snakes are the easiest and most docile of the exotic pets, and can be looked after relatively easily when you know how. First up is housing which comes in many forms, from plastic storage tubs to elaborate plastic mould vivariums, but the size of house should match the size of the snake. A good size is 30x15x15 inches with adult snakes in anything bigger than 36x18x18 inches, and many major pet stores and specialist stores will have a variety to choose from.
Decor is very important too, and there should be both a warm end and the cool end of the vivarium – your corn snake will hide in whichever part it chooses, depending on how warm it wants to be.