The Boy Who Played with Geckos

By Kaleb Hedman

The typical child dreams about getting a dog or a cat for their birthday. The more adventurous might hope for a pony; I, however, am not the average human child. I, Kaleb Hedman, am diagnosed with a pet allergy. I have had to live with this for 17 years, and it has been tough. While all my friends fantasized about furry creatures roaming the house, I dreamed about leopard geckos. To make it worse, not even my obscure dream could come true, because for my 10th birthday I received a golden dust day gecko. Which is completely different from a leopard gecko, I’ll have you know. But I am an optimist, and despite the obstacles, I finally had a pet like all the other children, and that was good enough for me.

Despite what you might think, having a pet lizard is pretty close to having a pet dog or cat. After a tough day of coloring and some hard core wall-ball at recess, there is nothing more comforting than touching the glass wall that separates you from man’s best reptilian friend. Sure, you can’t hold it and pet it for comfort, but the feel of the glass barrier is a close second.

Some enjoy walking their pet outside, giving them an opportunity to exercise and be outdoors. Others, particularly reptile owners like myself, don’t enjoy this activity, mostly because beyond the boundaries of the household, my pet will disappear or be eaten. The danger is partly that, unlike a dog, my gecko can change colors, which means he will blend into the grass after I drop him.

Even more exciting is when they jump on their prey (live crickets) like an elegant puma.

Adding to the excitement, lizards can do tricks. Open the lid to the tank and you’ll have an exciting game of hide and seek, followed by a not-so-exciting punishment of being grounded. If you have nothing better to do than watch your four legged friend, you might be lucky enough to see him/her hang upside down from the top of the tank. Even more exciting is when they jump on their prey (live crickets) like an elegant puma. Now, if you have entomophobia (fear of insects), maybe a lizard isn’t the right pet for you, because I promise that you will be blessed with finding little crickets hopping around your abode, frolicking with a sense of pride that they outwitted your predator of a pet.

If not knowing what supplies to get is the only thing that is detouring you from purchasing such a wonderful friend, let me guide you. First, you need a tank to house them. The average fish tank will suffice, fitting perfectly on the bookshelf in your room. If you posses any model trains or objects of the like, you will need to find a different place for them besides the shelf. Priorities. Also, please remember that you are the proud owner of a lizard, and not a fish, so do not fill the tank with water and call it a day. Your newest member of the family will not thrive in this aquatic environment. However, a small dish filled with water will help, as water is a vital piece to living. Fill the tank with pebbles of your choice, and put a nice big rock in there for your lizard to bask upon. A heating lamp is also necessary, providing protection from the brisk South Dakota temperatures.

If having a lizard doesn’t completely fill your peculiar animal void, I recommend getting your lizard a best friend– a toad. Frogs are overrated nowadays; all the cool kids are in possession of toads. They are low maintenance, very neat looking, and from time to time will croak for you in gratitude of your giving them such a wonderful home.

There happens to be only one downfall to having such unique creatures as members of the family, and that is cleaning the tank. Once a week, there comes the time that every child’s parents hate. (Obviously we children are too young to clean the tank. Doing so would be an unimaginable feat comparable to scaling Mount Everest. We children prefer to hide in safety, behind the nearest pillow or parent.)

First, the occupants need to be evicted. The lizard will be quick and will use the slightest mistake as an opportunity to start another game of hide and seek. Put your fingers too close to its body, and your lizard will grab on to your hangnails with no mercy, slicing into the thin film of love your parents already had for him. The toad will stay more low key, just waiting, basking in its glorious life as a toad. Once both pets are apprehended and put in separate containers (empty cool whip containers with holes poked in them work just fine), the gross part begins. Follow your parent to the kitchen, and frown with sickness as they scrub on the sides of the container, loosening that week’s droppings from the tank, churning their hands between the filthy pebbles. Remember, nothing compares to the love of your parents. Returning the pets to the tank is a little easier, and you get to start the process of recovering for a week from the horrors that you just witnessed.

If, despite this minute downside, the bountiful perks of having a pet lizard and toad seem like the type of thing you want in your life, I would recommend them. Coming from someone who has had the blessing of only such pets, I can only imagine that they are equal if not better than a traditional pet.

Photo credit: A gold-dust day gecko by Bryan Chan on Flickr