Sugar-glider education (the hard way) 

Some girls get diamonds, some get pearls; from my great (ex) love I received a pair of sugar gliders. They sound like something you drop in a fish tank to suck the algae off the glass, no? But these exotic animals are actually more akin to fellow-marsupial opossums than undersea slime-slugs, and, really, the whole thing is my fault.

In college, I took an acting class with a marvelously bohemian, volatile woman whose custom it was to carry a tiny, sleeping sugar glider around, nestled in her bosom. What a fright, when she — Lola, the animal was called — peeked out her bug-eyed head during class.

Alarming, sure, but my dramatic acquaintance sang the praises of the 10-inch marsupial: Lola, who resembled a flying squirrel, was calm and cuddly — “more loving than a dog” even. She needed loads of interaction, but that seemed easy enough utilizing bra housing.

Having grown up with pets (rabbits of all varieties, cats, and a golden retriever), I found myself tapping into a dormant desire to have something furry to care for in my beast-verboten dorm room. I want one, I thought to myself. Like Veruca Salt wanted a golden-egg-laying goose, like thousands of children coveted Tickle Me Elmos, I yearned for a sugar glider.

The following Christmas, I got two.

Un-neutered.

Male.

Gliders.

That’s code for “a handful.” (Yeah, thanks, about.com: “easy to care for” my ass). See, as much as my boyfriend and I thought we had done our research, that we were ready to be responsible for these unique (i.e., hand-biting, daytime-sleeping, messy-eating, stinky-smelling) creatures, we — well, I — was dead wrong. Why? Because talking to a breeder does not constitute an education. At least that’s the advice of Harris County animal rescuer and Pets R Us administrator Noreen Dickson, who says for the real skinny on exotic animals, potential guardians need to contact a legitimate rescuer, not someone who stands to profit from the sale of animals who are viewed as novelties — as opposed to “real” pets like cats and dogs.

Exotic pets often require a 10-plus year commitment, depending on the species (gliders average a 15-year lifespan), in addition to very special treatment. “People just get tired of them,” says Dickson, whose home and extended rescue network provide shelter for abandoned exotics from iguanas to chinchillas to — you guessed it — sugar gliders.

Gliders can be purchased impulsively through a variety of vendors, from online outlets like Craigslist, to county fairs, home & garden shows, and flea markets. Texas, a state that likes its pets flashy, is naturally not among the states that prohibit the ownership of gliders, including California, Georgia, Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to love our children, Patrick and Joey. (I fed them mealworms. By hand.) But I could never adapt to them completely. Unlike my college friend’s female glider, who was less aggressive and, er, reeky, I found I couldn’t take them to class with me (in their fleece sleeping pouch, under my shirt). By midday, a screechy wrestling match looked like the fruition of an alien gestation. My eventual 9-to-6 job required that I start catching some Zzzz’s just as they began to get rowdy.

The relationship with my boyfriend ended, and he got custody of the kids — his sleeping schedule was more in line with theirs (at that time), and he was far more patient (read: less likely to get his feelings hurt when bitten). But since, his career path has taken him to a local media company where he must be on-hand through the night. He feels his new schedule is unfair to the animals, and is in the process of deciding about adoption. “It’s just like any other pet,” he says, “in that, if you don’t have time for it, don’t have it.”

When I originally told him I wanted to write about owning gliders (ages and ages ago), his eyes turned grave. He didn’t want anyone to know about them, for fear that readers would just desire one. He hoped I would present the truth: Undomesticated animals aren’t right for everyone. Lately, I’m not so sure they’re right for anyone. •


More by Ashley Lindstrom

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