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Harford County families welcome exotic pets

Caity Muccioli works as a 911 dispatcher; her husband, Steve, is an emergency medical technician. Pressure jobs, both. But the stress disappears when they enter their Joppa apartment and greet Oscar, their lovable pet ... hedgehog?

“Oscar is really chill,' Caity Muccioli, 27, said of the tiny spiny mammal. “He’s very laid-back and lets me stroke him without puffing up or sticking out his quills. He’ll sit in the hood of my sweatshirt or bury himself underneath it, near my neck. It feels pokey, but he enjoys it.”

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Caity Muccioli, right, holding Oscar and husband Steven holding Humphrey their hedgehogs in their Whiteford apartment.
Caity Muccioli, right, holding Oscar and husband Steven holding Humphrey their hedgehogs in their Whiteford apartment. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Never mind the four dogs and the cat with whom Amanda Rose shares her home in Whiteford.

“My fun pet is my bearded dragon,” said Rose, 29, a veterinary technician. That’s Fudgie, a foot-long desert lizard who would pass as a kitschy sidekick or your worst nightmare. Or both.

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A rescue pet, Fudgie lives in a converted 40-gallon fish tank and spends his days basking in a tiny hammock, on his belly, under a heat lamp with his arm propped against the glass “that makes it look like he’s waving,” said Rose. The cat sits in her faux tree beside the tank and stares at the scaly reptile who, in turn, glares right back.

“I’ll talk to him and say, ‘Good morning, are you hungry?’ and he’ll stick his tongue out,” said Rose. Breakfast is a dish of collard and mustard greens, which he sometimes ignores in favor of his special treat, a squirming mix of Dubia roaches and black soldier fly larvae.

Exotic animals often require a little more effort, and some folks really enjoy the husbandry aspect of caring for them.


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What prompts the adoption of such offbeat creatures?

“They’re cool,” said Jen Swanson, executive director of the Humane Society of Harford County, which found Fudgie a home. “Exotic animals often require a little more effort, and some folks reallyhem. Exotics are also typically smaller animals, so they’re good for apartments — and, in the case of reptiles, they are great for people who have allergies to fur and dander but who also want to care for a pet.”

Rose adopted her “beardie” when it was 6 months old from the shelter last year.

“He was itty bitty and fit in the palm of my hand,” she said. And while the cold-blooded Fudgie hasn’t really warmed to her yet — “he’s still a little grumpy and doesn’t like to be held” — he tolerates the baths Rose gives him several times a week to soften his skin before shedding.

“I put him in the laundry tub in about one inch of hot [90 degree] water,” she said. “At first he gets this look, like, ‘Oh crap!’ but then he’s fine. The water comes up to his elbows and he just lays there for 15 minutes.”

Soon after, the reptile begins shedding; the skin falls off in pieces.

“He’ll shed his [leg skin] one day and his head [skin] the next. It’s kind of creepy,” Rose said. But she’s willing to overlook that and Fudgie’s domineering behavior.

“If I’m cleaning his cage, he bosses me around, pushing my hand with his face to nudge me out of the way,” she said. “He can act like a bratty kid, but he’s still so endearing.”

While the Mucciolis dote on Oscar the hedgehog, who acts like he stepped out of a Beatrix Potter book, they are more cautious around their other hedgehog, a 2-year-old hellion named Humphrey.

“He’s the grumpy one,” Caity Muccioli said. “Say Oscar’s name and he perks right up; mention Humphrey and he’ll huff at you. He growls and hisses at everyone.

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“The first time we let him out of his cage, Humphrey chewed a hole in the bottom of the couch and hid in it. We didn’t know and searched for him for an hour, under the fridge and everywhere he might have squeezed through. The only way we found him was when we got close to his hidey-hole, he huffed at us.”

Despite their quills [more than 6,000,] hedgehogs aren’t kin to porcupines but to moles and shrews. Of African descent, “they are unique pets,” said Muccioli. Oscar likes to climb to the top of his cage to see the world, while Humphrey upends his food dish to burrow under the fleece liner in his quarters.

“I never thought hedgehogs could have such different personalities,” Muccioli said.

Caity Muccioli holds Oscar the hedgehog as it meets housemate Humphrey at their Whiteford home.
Caity Muccioli holds Oscar the hedgehog as it meets housemate Humphrey at their Whiteford home. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Bob Alexander’s introduction to Razzles, an orphaned sugar glider at the Harford Humane Society, was heartfelt.

“He ran up my arm, climbed into my shirt pocket and curled up there,” Alexander said.

Who adopted whom?

Now Alexander, 53, of Forest Hill, wears only T-shirts with pockets and does chores — cooking dinner, washing dishes and even vacuuming — with Razzles nestled close. The tiny Australian marsupial has captured his heart.

Razzles the sugar glider owned by Bob Alexander.
Razzles the sugar glider owned by Bob Alexander. (photo by Bob Alexander)

“He’s very gentle and doesn’t bite or scratch,” Alexander, a Harford County employee, said of his chipmunk-like companion. “Once, I took Razzles to work —a colleague wanted to see him—and he stayed all day in my pocket. The office staff never knew he was there.”

At night, before lights out, Alexander plays with Razzles on his bed, then herds him into the nearby cage where the nocturnal glider spends hours racing to nowhere on his plastic wheel.

“If I walk over to his cage and say his name, he comes over sometimes,” Alexander said. “Once I opened the cage for him to climb onto my arm and he jumped out and latched onto my face. It startled me; he had a hold of my eyebrows, but I pried him off. It didn’t leave a scratch.”

Alexander’s long gray beard, which extends to his chest, is a man cave for Razzles, who likes to crawl under it and hide. More often, he cuddles in his owner’s pocket with only his tail hanging out. From time to time, Alexander reaches inside and pats his head.

“In these times of nervousness and uncertainty that really feels good,” Alexander said.

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