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Fifteen-year-old Karley Duh and her boyfriend Scott Anderson wanted to get a cat for their first pet. However, Duh had some restrictions in the apartment she shares with her father in Reedsburg.

She has always had a fascination with reptiles and was supposed to get a bearded dragon for her 14th birthday, but it didn’t happen. One day, when walking with Anderson at True Value in Reedsburg, they kept going to the reptile section to look at possible pets to own. They decided to take a chance and purchase their first pet together, an orange colored bearded dragon they named Zircon.

“It was kind of right place and right timing,” Anderson, 17, said.

When Duh and Anderson tell people they have a bearded dragon for a pet they will get all kinds of reactions.

“Some people absolutely hate the idea,” Duh said.

Karley and Scott 3

Reedsburg's Karley Duh, 15, pets her bearded dragon Zircon as her boyfriend Scott Anderson, 17, looks on.

Giving care

Duh said Zircon eats lives crickets and wax worms — that they will buy from True Value or online in bulk — along with certain vegetables from the grocery store. Duh said he can’t eat apples, tomatoes and bananas.

“The space that his eyes are apart, that’s the limit of how big his food can be — so you have to make sure you get the right food and he doesn’t eat something too big,” Anderson said.

Because there aren’t many veterinarians in the area that handle bearded dragons, the couple turns to online groups through social media to reach out for help. Like any other pet, handling or interaction time is also important. Anderson said bearded dragons need two hours of handling time out of their cage each day. Duh said she will let him walk around on her bed or let him walk on her shoulder while watching TV.

“We take him out in the sun and the grass,” she said. “He likes to chill out there.”

While the couple had done research in what to expect when owning a bearded dragon, they ran into a bit of a hiccup the first week they brought him home. After running out of crickets, they fed him fishing worms instead. Zircon showed signs of not eating.

Concerned he was sick and had a parasite, they started calling different veterinarians to find out what was wrong. Turns out Zircon was fine, he was going through his first shed.

It was then the couple learned trial and error was going to be a part of owning a bearded dragon. Even now, they are still learning how to handle their four-month-old bearded dragon as his personality begins to change, Anderson said.

Three makes company

Dustin Kalan has always had a love for exotic animals. When he was younger he owned animals from garden snakes to house leopard geckos. So it’s no surprise in addition to two cats, the New Lisbon resident now owns two rats, two chinchillas, three ferrets and a hedgehog.

“The reason why we enjoy them so much is because they are not your every day run of the mill,” Kalan said.

While he had owned several exotic pets in the past, Kalan and his wife, Dani, still did months worth of research online research through pet store websites and calling veterinarians before making the decision.

A chinchilla’s hair is so dense the animal cannot get wet and if they do it can get sick. With hedgehogs, certain states have laws regarding the types of breeds that are legal and illegal for residents to own. Although he couldn’t remember the breed type of his hedgehog, named Mr. Moo Goo, Kalan said he is a legal one.

He said there is a misunderstanding of rats and a difference between domesticated rats and wild ones. His two rats, Wanda and Temperance, have their own personality and are very smart adding rats as well as ferrets can be trained to be taught tricks or even litter trained.

“Our animals that we have-except for the chinchillas-are pretty close to cat characteristics,” Kalan said.

Each exotic animal the family owns requires four hours of interacting time and is able to do that with Dani being a stay at home mom. Rats and ferrets will require different styles of housing as well as different types of accessories, like bedding and toys, which he said can either be made by hand or purchased at certain pet stores. He purchased pet toys from stores that caters to the needs of those who own exotic animals in Necedah, Madison or La Crosse.

Getting a cage set up to the way an animal likes it could take a year to 18 months

“They are like any other person they don’t like the same thing but there is a list of commons,” Kalan said.

Another misconception he said is people think it’s expensive to own multiple exotic animals, while he said it isn’t very expensive for him to own all the animals.

“It can be expensive, but what you got to do is budget it all out before hand,” Kalan said. “It really comes down to a lot of them don’t understand the animal because it’s not common. It is a little busy, but when you work anything in to a routine you don’t notice it.”


Emma Landers feeds her family's pet chickens at their Dells home.

While he wasn’t too fond of the idea of owning chickens when an ordinance came across the Wisconsin Dells council agenda a couple of years ago, Brian Landers later changed his mind when he saw his brother-in-law, who owns chickens in Madison, take on the responsibilities of caring for animals. It’s something he also wanted to teach to his daughter, ten-year-old Emma.

Shortly after doing research, the former mayor of Wisconsin Dells said he became intrigued by the urban farmer mentality especially with other major tourist cities in other states that allow backyard chickens with certain regulations.

Zircon pic close up

Zircon is a four month old bearded dragon owned by Karley Duh and Scott Anderson of Reedsburg.

“I thought if all of these cities can do it, then why would we want to restrict our residents from doing it?,” Landers said.

The Wisconsin Dells council passed the ordinance to allow chickens in residence yards this spring. When the applications became available, Landers was the first person in line to receive one. However, he doesn’t recommend just going out and applying for a license or buying a chicken. If a local government allows chickens there may be certain requirements within an ordinance, but there is still a lot to know including the types of breeds and how to properly take care of the animal.

Landers owns four chickens, named Laverne, Shirley, Themla and Louise. He said some concerns people have about chicken is they are thought to be loud and attract predators. However, he said that isn’t the case adding the only noise his hens make is when they “sing a little song” after they lay an egg.

“Other than that you don’t even know they are here because they are so quite,” he said adding he hasn’t seen an increase in predators either.

He also said some people may have concerns about the smell of chickens but that isn’t the case if the owner takes responsibility to clean the henhouse. Landers converted an old shed into a henhouse, installing a ventilation to keep chickens warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Because he said frostbite is something to watch for Landers said he has a non-flammable ceramic heater in the henhouse.

Besides chicken feed, Landers feeds his chickens table scrapes like watermelon, lettuce and fat off of steak meat. He said some online resources and some veterinarians can provide input if he has questions about his chickens, which have personalities he described from adventurous to “leader of the group” but are very resilient and gentle animals.

“I can walk up to all of them,” he said of his chickens. “I can sit down they will come up to me I can pet them I can pick them up… They are funny, they have their little games they play with each other.”

Like other animals, chickens also need to be taken care of with proper food, water and in a healthy environment.

“I would say they are very similar to a small dog or even a rabbit they aren’t going to be a nuisance if they are raised properly,” Landers said. “As long as the person who owns the chickens treats it appropriately like a pet and takes care of it I think studies have shown and experience has shown that they can cohabitate in a city environment just like any other pet.”

Tara hold chinchilla

Tara Hellenbrand, owner/manager of Animal House Pet Supplies in Sauk City, holds a chinchilla.

Animal pet store

Tara Hellenbrand has owned Animal House Pet Supplies in Sauk City for over 12 years ago. The pet supplies store caters to the needs of not only dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and fish but also some small exotic species.

The pet supplies store carries pets for sale including domesticated rats, chinchillas and snakes. She has thought about expanding to include other domesticated exotic reptiles and other non-typical species in the store. But with certain species she said a special USDA license is needed and as a busy small business owner doesn’t want to deal with regular inspections. She also believes the Sauk Prairie area doesn’t have a big enough market for exotic animals.

From her end, one of the challenges is educating people about exotic animals. While the internet can be helpful, she said it is mainly through the process of trial and error with feeding, housing and lighting. While she said online research can be helpful it isn’t always accurate and recommended social media groups for specific types of exotic animals.

“Some of their guidance is probably a little different too but then you have the people that can come and correct everything that know what they are talking about,” Hellenbrand said.

Personally, Hellenbrand has raised snakes, hedgehogs, and raised and bred chinchillas. In addition to cats, dogs and two birds she has two red tail boas named Zad and Zoe. So those who own exotic animals and looking for advice she is able to answer many of their questions. She has helped people who own bearded dragons and other types of exotic reptiles who walk into her store.

The store also has frozen and live food available from crickets to mice for those types of animals as well as bedding and lighting. If she doesn’t know or doesn’t carry a product or animal she’ll refer them other people.

“If there’s things people are looking for I can always try to get it for them,” she said.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.