Pet Owners Gone Wild

Cats and dogs are fine for most, but some Westchester residents need pets other than your run-of-the-mill Lab.


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Scorpion King

Photo by Chris Ware

Ower: James Valle, aquarium and fish tank maintenance professional, Yonkers
Pets: Four six-inch-long, two-year-old Black Emperor scorpions—two male and two female

What exactly are Black Emperor scorpions? They’re a type of arthropod in the Arachnida family type of spiders.

Have you named yours? I’ve named the pair I adopted first—there’s Big Mama [shown below, right] and Big Joe [below, left]. About a month later, I got the other two, but those just hide all day and so I never bothered to name them.

Do Big Mama and Big Joe have distinct personalities? Yes. Big Mama isn’t bothered by anybody, and Big Joe, though he’s more of a scary looking guy, actually goes and hides a lot.

Aren’t scorpions poisonous? Yes—all scorpions have venom in them, but some are more dangerous than others. The Black Emperor’s venom is equal to about a bee sting and not a problem unless you are allergic. But the sting of a Deathstalker scorpion can be fatal, and thus they are illegal to own.

Have you ever been stung? No. I know not to touch them when their stingers go up and the two claws come out—a warning sign that they are in a defense mode.

Where did you get them? From a vendor in Pennsylvania; each was thirty dollars.

What’s the life expectancy of a scorpion? Between seven and twenty years. And scorpions are able to live through a nuclear holocaust.

What do they eat? I feed them anything: crickets, millworms, grasshoppers—all live. Some I purchase and some I breed myself.

Where do you keep them? I have them all in one cage in my living room. Because they are nocturnal, they spend their days burrowed in tunnels in the dirt on the bottom of their cages, only coming out at night.

Have you had any escape from their cage? Just once, and it was my mistake. While cleaning the cage, I put one into a container that was not securely closed. When I was finished, he wasn’t in there any more. But a scorpion's exoskeleton illuminates and becomes neon yellow when viewed under a black light. So I used a black light and found that he had crawled under the bed, about five feet away.

What’s the best thing about having scorpions as pets? The ability to say I have them. It’s pretty cool.

Do they know you? I like to think so. But it’s a bug. They do let me kiss them.

What don’t most people know about scorpions? They breed like crazy—once they went at it a whole week straight.


Parrot Head

Photo by Chris Ware

Owner: Marc Loonan, retired industrial arts teacher, Pound Ridge
Pets: Three parrots—Clio, an eight-year-old, double yellow-headed Amazon; Toni, a six-year-old African Gray; and Oscar, a three-year-old blue and gold McCaw

What made you get parrots? My partner, Patricia, always had cats but, when she met me, she had to give that up because I am allergic to them. One night after dinner, we saw a parrot in a pet shop window and she just fell in love with it, but we didn’t want to buy from a pet store. We got them from Parrots & Company in Stamford, Connecticut, and they cost eleven hundred dollars each. When Clio was two years old, we loved her so much, we decided to get another one. Also, because Clio was very attached to Pat, we decided to get Toni, our second one, to bond with me. Our third, Oscar, responds to both of us equally.

How are parrots’ temperaments, in general? Birds are more like people than, say, dogs. Some days, they wake up on the wrong side of the perch and they want to be left alone and, on others, they want to be scratched and cuddled. A nasty dog is always a nasty dog.

Do they have different personalities? Toni is Dennis the Menace—she’s the bad bird who will taunt the other birds. Clio is the David Niven of birds—she’s very proper and doesn’t like to get messy when she eats. And Oscar is the comedian—he’s lovable, the smartest of the three, and has the largest vocabulary.

Do they all speak? Of the three, Toni, the African Gray, is supposed to be the best talker, but she mostly just whistles and mimics sounds like the microwave. Oscar not only talks, he uses vocabulary appropriately. He gets up in the morning and says, ‘Oscar wants a banana,’ and he’ll go to the refrigerator because he knows food is in there. Or sometimes, when I blow on his feathers to tease him, he’ll look at me and say, ‘I bite.’ We have to be very careful about what we say because he doesn’t unlearn anything and, if he likes a word or phrase, he will repeat it all the time.

Where do you keep them? They have their own room with three separate cages and its own full-spectrum lighting, heater, and air purifier. They have the freedom to fly around that room; none of the birds’ wings are clipped.

Any downsides? They’re a lot of work. Their cages get cleaned every single day.

How would you describe your relationship with them? They’re like our grandchildren. It’s almost like having three two-year-olds.

What’s the typical lifespan for these types of birds? Fifty to seventy years.

Have you made plans for them if they outlive you? We haven’t finalized arrangements, but are considering drawing up an attachment to our wills.




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