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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Careful the snail is a curious creature.

In Kids & Family

"Coffee with careful." It's a thing.

In Kids & Family

Meet Rita the chinchilla. If she's relaxed, she'll poop on you.

Move over Rover: Milwaukeeans with unusual pets


Last year, OnMilwaukee.com interviewed Milwaukee's "craziest" cat people, and indeed, those folks are over-the-top in love with their felines. Turns out, there are plenty of locals who are equally as loco about lots of pets – some of which are more unusual than the classic kitty cat. (But not necessarily as unusual as a pet monkey.)

Take Whitefish Bay's Melanie Ariens for example. She and her family have cared for a pet snail since November. Ariens works at Trader Joe's as a signmaker and a coworker found the snail on a Brussels sprout.

"We never really find any critters on produce, so it was a big deal, and with the freezing temps no one had the heart to put her outside," says Ariens. "The manager who found her is a critter lover and named her 'Careful.' She knew that my son, Liam, is an outdoorsy kid and thought he might like to take care of her."

Snails are hermaphrodites, but Ariens says her son decided the shelled creature was a girl and so female pronouns are used.

"She probably made a long trip from California," says Ariens.

After deciding to adopt Careful, Ariens and her son went to the library to research snails and learned they can live up to five years without predators. This is fine with Ariens.

"She has been a great little pet. It's surprisingly entertaining to watch her move around and explore," she says. "It is impossible not to be relaxed and thoughtful while watching a snail."

Recently, Ariens brought her family pet to the OnMilwaukee.com offices so the staff could experience "coffee with Careful," something she has done with friends. (Another friend even has Careful over for sleepovers.)

"Occasionally, a friend drops by for coffee in the mornings and we will let Careful out while we chat, thus, 'Coffee with Careful' started up," says Ariens. "I'll even hang out with her by myself. She's a great reminder to slow down and take in the small wonders of the world."

Riverwest's Steve and Melanie Whitlow have another unique but not-so-snuggly pet: a female boa constrictor. The couple inherited the snake after Melanie's father passed away and her mother wasn't sure what to do with it.

"Her name is No Feet, a moniker bestowed by my wife's little sister long ago when their dad first acquired the snake," says Whitlow.

No feet eats once a month – usually a two- or three-pound rabbit – but he has never munched on a family member. Well, except for that one time.

"Years and years ago, I believe she bit Melanie's sister, but she was reaching into the cage at the same time Melanie's dad was feeding her, so she was probably aroused and confused, just striking," says Whitlow. "Not much would happen if she were to bite. She might break the skin and draw some blood, but certainly no poison or anything. She typically will not strike / lunge at anything she can't swallow, so people aren't on the list."

Zak Mazur, who works for the Zoological Society, has a menagerie of common and unusual pets in his home, including a iguana named Sunny and a bearded dragon (lizard) named Crick. He also has a cat named Captain Spaulding and two fish tanks.

"I like being surrounded by life," he says.

Mazur says he feels particularly attached to his iguana and that he fell in love with her at first sight.

"There was something about the way she gently munched on the berries that were offered to her. I loved that I could handle her and that she was, for the most part, docile and calm," says Mazur. "She was so small that I could put her inside the front of my shirt and she'd stick her little green head out of the collar, content to feel the warmth of my body heat. Every day when I come home I look forward to seeing her. I never tire of looking at her amazing dinosaur-like features."

Eleven years ago, Prescott Sobol, who is an English, humanities, professional writing and philosophy instructor and a DJ, adopted a chincilla – a rodent about the size of a squirrel – from the Wisconsin Humane Society. He named her Margarita Lauchita Chinchilla.

"'Rita' if you're into brevity," says Sobol.

Rita lives in a cage, but Sobol takes her our everyday for a few hours.

"She's nocturnal and independent. She likes to run at top speed and do kick turns off the walls, swimmer-style. I like that in a roommate," he says.

Sobol says Rita is usually well behaved, except she occasionally bites through cords and, if she's feeling very relaxed, will poop on your lap.

"They're dry, small pellets, no biggie," he says. "Back in the days when we had answering machines, I went through three of them because Rita chewed through the power cord. In a related story, she's electrocuted herself twice. I saw a bright glow and smoke and heard a startled, squirrel-like "chirp!" and this little grey thing tore across the room."

As for entertaining pet tricks, Rita has a few up her non-existent sleeve.

"She'll also take treats out of your mouth or nap in your hand," says Sobol. "She'll sit on your head sometimes. As a professional philosopher, I recommend that if you are thinking bleak thoughts about existence, you really need to have a chinchilla sit on your head."

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