Cape Codders take a walk on the wild side with unusual pets
By Bethany Gibbons
Cape Cod residents are no strangers to wildlife. From coyotes to opossums and even the Pamet Puma, being acquainted with untamed critters is part of the territory for those living on the sandbar, but some locals are getting up close and personal with unusual animals that become part of the family as pets. Area pet supply stores caution against impulsive pet purchases, but are stocked and ready to help when customers decide to take a walk on the wild side.
The rise of the Cape Cod "farmer"
The Nydam family runs Mid-Cape Pet and Seed on Station Avenue in Yarmouth and has seen changes in the pet-owning landscape over the last 20 years. “We’re seeing a lot of farm animals again,” said manager Mary Porter. “When I first started here 20 years ago, there were a lot of people with chickens, then it dropped off. Now it’s picking up again.” Porter reported an increase in business from all kinds of farm animal owners, from backyard chickens to goats, alpacas, and even pigs. She’s seen three lambs in the past two weeks, and her co-worker David Nydam chuckled at the lamb owners who brought their ‘babies’ into the store and left with doggy diapers for the wooly pair, who were obviously destined for a pampered life far removed from that of their sheep-farm kin.
The Nydams also service owners of rats, birds and pot-bellied pigs. They have customers who buy horse-stall pellets because their pigs are litter-trained. Their sales of large toys for caged birds are brisk, and they hear complaints from owners of big birds who have scoured the area for the larger toys without success until finding the Mid-Cape outfit.
Of birds and bunnies
Harwich Pet Supply’s Doug Walker knows about the difficulties of owning birds and the moral obligation pet shops have to provide these creatures with good homes. Not long ago his store was a source of birds like parrots, macaws and cockatoos. “Five years ago a gentleman opened a shelter for parrots. Within a week he was full, with 40 birds, and we stopped selling them,” Walker said.
His well-stocked shop sells guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils, but of his furry stock he makes one exception. “I try to make sure we don’t have a rabbit in the store around Easter,” he said. Walker knows the hazards of a spur-of-the-moment purchase and keeps his pet inventory low. “Overstocking will only encourage people to buy on impulse,” he said.
On the scalier side
Harwich Pet Supply features a 150-gallon terrarium with a river and pond water feature that draws onlookers who come to check out the geckos, tree-frogs and hermit crabs in residence. The baby iguana ($25.99) they offer will grow to be four or five feet long and requires constant handling. “If they aren’t held enough they can become very aggressive. They’ll bite, they’ll snap their tails, they’ll get so vicious nobody will want to touch them,” said Walker. Some owners designate a room in their homes for their adult iguanas.
Carnivorous Tegu lizards are not in stock, but can be ordered by experienced handlers. As a service to his customers and other pet-lovers, Walker has run www.capecodpet.net for the last 11 years, in an effort to connect owners with pet-related services.
If it walks like a duck...
West Barnstable’s Cape Cod Feed and Supply specializes in birds of a different feather. Starting April 6th, they will have ducklings available for adoption, kept in a brooder right in the store where customers can gaze at the fluffy little birds. At $9.99 a pop, the ducks command the higher price, while days-old layer chicks fetch a mere $5.99, starting April 20th. For knowledgeable chicken ranchers, the feed store will offer rare heritage breeds starting May 11th. A free seminar will be held at 6:30 p.m. on March 26 to inform poultry owners on matters of nutrition and care of their avian friends, and a representative from Poulin Grain in Vermont will lead the discussion.
The West Barnstable feed store was the first place Jean Bowden (see her Pet Duck Blog) turned to when she found herself the owner of 4 little ducks. That was back in 2003, and the realtor now boasts a flock of 21 ducks, which she houses on her two acres in Centerville. Her out-of-the-ordinary pets, with names like Rosie O’Duck and Mia Feathers, owe a great deal to man’s (or duck’s) best friend. “Our dog is the reason I’m able to have the ducks,” Bowden said. “She guards them against the coyotes and foxes.”
Predators are a persistent problem for ducks, and Bowden has tangled with them herself. “December 3rd a hawk flew down and grabbed a duck, then flew away. I chased the hawk, in my nightgown and boots, into the neighbor’s yard. I was screaming at the hawk and it dropped the duck,” she said. After a visit to the vet the duck seemed to rally, but her health suffered a set-back and she died a few weeks ago. The ducks are now in a large dog-run with netting over the top to prevent such aerial attacks.
When they’re not ducking for cover from a predator in the sky, Bowden’s ducks are still at risk. Foxes and coyotes are a constant threat, but sometimes something shiny is the biggest danger. “It’s called Hardware Disease,” said Bowden. “Once they get it, you can’t get it out of them.” The affliction involves an appetite for nuts, bolts, buttons and screws, and once the duck has consumed all the shiny things it can find, metal poisoning will do the rest and the duck will soon develop an incurable belly-ache. Bowden is committed to riding out the highs and lows of her love-affair with ducks; suffering the periodic heartaches and rejoicing in the good days, all while enjoying the personalities and particularities of her winged friends. Bowden’s experience with unusual pets mirrors that of most pet owners, “They’re fun, but they’re work,” she said.