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Creature Feature: Plight of the Iguana

These reptiles present adoption and housing challenges to animal shelters, but light, heat, and veggie treats will get them on the right path

These reptiles present adoption and housing challenges to animal shelters, but light, heat, and veggie treats will get them on the right path

Hans Laubel/istockphoto.com
Though they may look scary to those accustomed to softer mammalian charms, and though they may be standoffish, scaly, and spiny, iguanas can be socialized (sort of), and housetrained (kind of).

They’re also so sensitive they make Emily Dickinson look like Hulk Hogan.

“Certainly dogs and cats experience stress,” says Ann-Elizabeth Nash, director of the Colorado Reptile Humane Society in Longmont, Colorado, whose group takes in 50 to 100 iguanas a year. “But a healthy iguana who’s been in one home his whole life and who’s male and, say, five years old—and who comes into the shelter healthy—he can be dead in four weeks from stress. We’ve done enough necropsies to say this truly is a stress death—the adrenal gland is ten times the size it should be.”

A delicate flower is the iguana—and a creature whose care requires empathy and knowledge, especially in a shelter setting. If one of these lizards were to follow in Emily’s dainty footsteps and turn to writing poetry to express the depths of her soul, she would compose odes to warm sun to bask in, high trees to climb, and wild hibiscus blossoms to eat—and might scribble out the occasional protest sonnet about how wrong it is that she ended up in the pet trade in the first place.

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