Unconventional and exotic animal ownership may seem like a foreign or luxurious concept to many, but for Howard County resident Jeanie Broadnax, creatures of all types were always a part of her life. “I found a baby raccoon when I was a kid, she was crying near my dentist’s office. I took care of it, and my mom found out four weeks later. Thankfully we lived in rural Pennsylvania so getting her shots and care was easy. It was cool. And we had a pet raccoon.”
When she got older, her passion for all creatures continued. “We have two German Shepherds, De’ oge , and Ruckus. We’ve also had birds (three parrots currently), bearded dragons, iguanas, baby squirrels, and rabbits.” Her love for all animals presents itself in what she describes as ‘weird ways’, too. “Some people can see a deer hit by a car, or laying on the side of the road, injured. I can’t. I have to stop. That’s what the non-emergency line and Animal Control are for. Once you take care of an animal that isn’t just your pet, it makes you search inside of yourself. You value those lives even when they can’t cuddle in your lap. It’s a living creature on the side of the road; you can’t just say ‘it’s not my problem’ anymore.”
Broadnax credits success with her animals to widely available information and pet care resources online. Specialty food, medication, and habitat amendments can often be shipped the same or the next day. The animals themselves are also more widely available thanks to the growth of online transactions. However, with increased access to exotic animals and often limited screening, the misconception that they are commonplace or easy to take care of can cause harm to people and their pets. Broadnax joins many voices today who encourage responsibility, compassion, and above all, respectful interactions with animals that are not the typical cat, fish, or dog. “We need a moment to remember that they are probably more terrified of us than we are of them. A little compassion can be beneficial for all of us,” she said.
A visit to a predatory bird reserve reiterated the importance of respect and proper handling to Broadnax and her husband. “My husband loves birds of prey. We visited the reserve and I remember being stunned by how huge the birds were, including the size of their talons. I was also struck by how well the handler worked with the animal and emphasized respect for its nature. It wasn’t like putting on a show. There was this beautiful bird and we respected it for allowing us to see him up close.” While the photo opportunities and social media attention that comes with exotic pet ownership are a driving force behind a surge in adoptions, there needs to be a surge in research before committing to such a responsibility. Even the personal definition of what a ‘pet’ is may need to change when undertaking an exotic creature.
“I think people need to understand that not all pets meow or bark; some aren’t there for cuddling or even entertainment. You have to learn about what that creature needs if you bring it into your life, not the other way around, “says Broadnax.