Elsewhere on these pages you will find the winners of Inside Columbia’s Cutest Pet Contest. It’s a fun contest, filled with lots of dogs mugging for the camera and cats posing as, well, cats. But as we all know, even before the cutest pet takes the podium and wears the sash, the cutest pet is … yours.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How about a contest to determine the most exotic pet? Throughout this diverse city, pet owners go way beyond the traditional cuteness of dogs and cats. Somewhere in this town, somebody’s goat is the greatest of all time. Or perhaps a pot-bellied pig could take the crown. Chickens are popular, and although their little bird eyes don’t seem as expressive as my daughter’s beloved Shih Tzu, chickens are beautiful to somebody.
So are talking birds. I recently interviewed a lady who has many pets, dogs mostly, but her most talked about pet is a vibrant macaw, resplendent in its multicolor plumage. He’s a great conversationalist. And likely to outlive me.
Much closer to terra firma is the tarantula, something I once held. It was a friend’s pet and he reassured me that the tarantula was docile, even loving in an arachnid kind of way. I must say she was calmer than me, but her eyes were no more expressive than a chicken. She just had more of them.
A few years ago, my neighbor enlisted me to help her rescue a garter snake from a cherry tree. The poor snake only wanted to taste the sweet cherries but found herself tangled in plastic netting designed to keep the birds away from the fruits. While I held the terrified snake’s head, Erin used her nursing skills to deftly snip the snake free and the serpent slithered away. Perhaps she was thankful, but snakes are not known for their interspecies social skills. So be it. While the Great Impressionist paints their bodies in gorgeous vivid patterns, snake eyes are only slightly more expressive than chickens. Like bats, they eat their weight in bugs. So, while they’re not domesticated, they sure are useful.
Throughout this fair city, parents let their children keep bunny rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs, contenders in the category of cuteness, even if they lack the personality of a canine. And turtles are popular, though no family has ever quelled a terrapin’s wanderlust. Iguanas exude a stark beauty that can excite other iguanas, if they’re hot.
Exotic fish lurk in living rooms and bedrooms, on an endless search for Nemo.
Some Columbians invite deer to their backyard feeders. And in one notable instance a wild turkey became the mascot of a whole neighborhood until one day when he stepped in front of a motorist.
My vote goes for Stubby, our backyard gray squirrel. Stubby is instantly recognizable because she has a fuzzy stub where a flowing tail should twitch.
We’re not sure how she lost her tail — maybe a dog bit it off. Or she might’ve skittered too close under the wheels of an oncoming car.But I have another theory.
One morning, from an upstairs window I watched in horror when another of our backyard pets over which we have no control — a red tailed hawk — swooped down upon Stubby’s nest to feast on her babies. Stubby fiercely defended her castle of leaves and twigs, repelling the intruder and eventually falling to the ground, exhausted and traumatized. How often, I wondered, had Stubby fought off birds of prey?
Squirrels may get some style points for cuteness. But they’ve never been accused of nobility. Stubby changed my view. She may not win a cutest pet contest, but to her children she’s a hero. Even the cutest pet knows it’s a jungle out there.
John Drake Robinson is a former director of the Missouri Division of Tourism. Read more of John’s rants at johndrakerobinson.com/blog.