Hot pets - from goats to bearded dragons

Some Juneau pet owners just won't settle for goldfish

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Annie Sidney has chosen a pet with permanent body odor.

In a fastidious America, where pet owners prize cats that don't shed and dogs that don't bark, a foul-smelling billy goat may seem a repugnant or at least eccentric choice. But not for Sidney, 23, who grew up at Swampy Acres, a 9-acre farm and feed store. Over the years, the farm has played host to beef cattle, as well as pigs, miniature horses, a peacock and a burro.

Sidney's odoriferous billy is Pepper, AKA ``Stinky,'' an African pygmy goat. Sidney purchased Pepper and his mate, Kenya, in Oregon last summer, intending to breed them and sell some of their offspring. Right on schedule for goats that breed only in the fall, Kenya delivered her first litter on May 16: two female kids, Peach and Sassy; and one male, Sampson.

Male African pygmy goats are 16 to 24 inches tall; females are about four inches shorter. At birth, the kids weighed only 2 or 3 pounds. Sampson will be neutered so he'll smell as sweet as Peach, and will soon be for sale.

African pygmy goats are more common in zoos than in backyards, but they make excellent pets, Sidney said.

``They're good companions,'' she said. ``They love attention and being brushed. They're like big dogs -- but they don't sit or stay; and if you say, `Come,' they look at you with disbelief.''

The pets of Sidney's 4-H group run to more ordinary animals such as rabbits, horses and sheep -- often raised to fill the family freezer or provide wool for sweaters rather than to parade on a rhinestone leash.

For those in a parading mood, Sue MacGregor, owner of the Wee Fishie Shoppe, can order unusual pets -- but only if you pass muster and only if the pet appears on the state's ``good list'' of animals legal in Alaska.

MacGregor will custom order ferrets, hedgehogs and bearded dragons, ``if we feel comfortable with the person who is ordering,'' she said. ``We try to check to make sure the person is aware of what they're getting into.''

The bearded dragon is one of this year's ``hot'' pets. Indigenous to Australia, this lizard is now being bred in California. It measures about 10 inches, including the tail.

``The neat thing is that it is one of the few lizards that actually seems to get tame and enjoy being handled,'' MacGregor said. The bearded dragon dines on salad greens and insects, she added, with the occasional new-born mouse on holidays.

MacGregor herself owns an exotic dog, an Italian Spinone named Breezy, ``the only one in Juneau,'' she said proudly. The Spinone is a hunting breed that needs lots of exercise. MacGregor says Breezy is ``the most wonderful dog in the world.'' She takes her and her other three ``office dogs'' to the Wee Fishie Shoppe every day.

The degu, a rodent popular in the Lower 48 and something like a giant hamster, is one of the animals illegal to own in Alaska, MacGregor said. Bruce Dinneford, wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, is keeper of the official list of pets that are permitted.

``We call that `the clean list,''' said Dinneford. ``It's part of the Alaska Administrative Code.''

The list specifies that Alaskans may keep as pets or food or material sources animals from sheep to goats, and from chimpanzees to European ferrets. Also allowed are ``any New World quail species.'' So that there will be no confusion, the names of the animals appear both as common names and as Latin names.

For the complete list of permitted animals, check HotLinks at

None of the species permitted as pets and livestock may be released into the wild, Dinneford cautioned.

``Sometimes we get into issues with ferrets or raccoons that they might establish a breeding population in the wild, and this might spread disease or be competition for space or food with wild species,'' Dinneford said.

By the way, the official Pet of the Millennium has been crowned. At the request of, television personality Jack Hanna picked Big Buff of Salt Lake City as Pet of the Millennium.

Big Buff is a 4-year-old, 1,300-pound male American Plains bison who serves as a running partner to his owner, Ralph Buckway. Buckway has been working with bison for more than eight years.

``Buff is the first of hundreds that I have worked with that I went from surrogate parent to building a bond between wild animal and human,'' Buckaway said. ``Buff took to me from a very young age, and we have a love for each other. But I still have the respect for what he is, a wild male buffalo.''

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