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Lizzy the Lizard

Teaching moment nearly becomes scarring recollection.

I decided to have kids instead of pets … for now. We reluctantly own two Beta fish, thanks to my mom who allowed my two older children to con her into it while my husband, youngest son and I were in South America back in December. They’re still alive, although they don’t seem like the happiest little fishies I have seen, unless playing dead 23-hours a day by floating to the left at the surface of our tank is a new beta fad.

But if I had it my way, we would be pet free at least until my youngest finishes kindergarten and all three kids can be expected to lend a hand in the pet’s care.

It’s not that I don’t love animals – I do -- very much in fact. I love all animals really, even those that are fierce, stinky, unique, large or tiny.

I possess compassion even for the tiniest of insects. I feel uneasy while watching my three children catch them in jars or build makeshift habitats for them in my dilapidated Tupperware containers. After a day or two, we try to release the helpless snails, Roly Poly or Daddy longlegs, but after the manhandling, the little insect or crustacean is usually missing limbs, shells and the like. My husband makes fun of me for feeling such empathy for something incapable of possessing feelings.

But just because I feel bad when one of nature’s tiny creatures sees an untimely death at the hands of one of my kids, I remain resolute in having my responsibilities end with feeding and housing three kids and two fish.

So on Sunday night when my oldest son found an eight-inch-long lizard underneath a neighbors’ car, I was less than thrilled. Happy on the one hand that Connor had saved the lizard -- a green, scaly dotted lizard with a navy tongue and yellow eyes --from a deadly rotation below the neighbor’s 22-inch tire, but a little uneasy about housing the crusty creature…

It was a very hot, dusty day around 5 p.m. and we were finishing the last of a garage cleaning. It seems the chore we do once every six weeks and a futile one at that, taking all our junk out of the garage, only to run out of time and hustle to squeeze all of the same items back inside before nightfall.

The kids had been riding their bikes up and down our street for the better of the afternoon, adrift in their own pedaling. But in an instant the individual play ended and the herd ran in with an urgent request. They needed a large Tupperware to save a lost pet – a lizard. My husband ran to fetch one, suggesting his excitement with the find as well.  And together the four of them set out to save the lizard from hot sun and the oversized tire. It was an easy capture but the size of the lizard forced us to pluck through our newly organized garage for an unused, glass fish tank to put the scaly reptile inside.

The kids found rocks, weeds, dead and live bugs to put in the cage. We added bottled water in a dish and then warned the kids that the reptile was large and must be someone’s pet. Knowing nothing about lizards and having no desire to learn about any pet at this point, I observed the excitement from a distance, adding my two cents about the lizard when absolutely necessary. I determined from afar that I would use this experience as a teaching moment – to teach our children a bit about compassion, respect and responsibility for animals and simply doing the right thing. Seemed easy enough… or so I thought.

I gave a swift warning to my husband about my plans and together we decided I’d call the animal shelter Monday morning and drop off the reptile.

But all I received was radio silence. Three calls to the exotics department of the shelter with inquiring voicemails; calls to PETCO, the Lizard Lady and a posting on Craiglist yielded no return responses, forcing me to grow concerned about the lizard’s well-being.

So the kids and I hit the computer. We Googled lizard care, what to feed our resident lizard, and how to keep it warm and healthy. And then we set about trying to find out what type of lizard “Lizzy” was. We looked at millions of pictures of lizards and finally came across one that looked identical.

It was like winning the lizard lottery! We were certain we’d found a pygmy blue tongue skink – a lizard highly unusual and on the endangered list in its natural habitat in Australia. Although we had no responses from any local professionals, we were certain we’d done the right thing in saving it. Oh how my teaching moment was progressing!

That night, despite no responses, we added a floodlight to my daughter’s pink reading lamp and adorned it to the lizard’s glass enclosure in the garage. We fed it kale, mangoes and a few pieces of spinach, the result of our endless Internet searches. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy live crickets to feed it.

Lizzy seemed a bit listless and I knew by day two we needed to find it a home, after all it was an endangered specie! I also knew that my teaching moment might quickly be turning into a scarring recollection for my kids should Lizzy die. And she was looking weak.

One last attempt and I e-mailed the shelter’s exotics department a photo and a link of the pygmy blue tongue skink  -- I finally got a response. They left a lengthy message that they needed to see the lizard – as soon as possible, of course!

We raced to the shelter, dropped off the lizard and waited to hear from Eric, our specialist. He told Lizzy would be on a four-day hold to determine what type of lizard it was and that after their determination they’d either return the lizard to the wild or give us the opportunity to adopt it. (I chose to not highlight this alternative).

Feeling a great sense of relief, I got home, and checked my e-mail only to find out that Lizzy wasn’t very rare after all. She wasn’t one of Australia’s endangered species, but rather one of San Mateo’s most common and conspicuous lizards in the area. My kids captured a San Francisco Alligator Lizard who was out getting some sun, as they are most active in the day… whoops!

I haven’t brought myself to tell them that it was just an average lizard, who was soaking up Vitamin D by sunning itself near our neighbors tire. I couldn’t bring myself to manipulate the lesson into leaving nature alone. After all, they felt that they really saved poor Lizzy’s life and I just couldn’t reduce their beaming pride.

So when we woke up the following day while riding bikes, the kids determined that a neighborhood cat had attacked a local rat, leaving it’s bludgeoned carcass on a nearby driveway, we decided to let it be. I was a bit exhausted by our previous teaching moment that took the better part of a week.

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sfbaywildlife August 15, 2012 at 04:15 AM
To learn more about local lizards see - www.sfbaywildlife.info/species/reptiles.htm. The photograph accompanying this story looks like a Western Fence Lizard (not an Alligator Lizard).

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