Sunday, July 14, 2013

Meet the Creatures...At Your Own Risk

A guinea pig urinated on my hand yesterday. Well, not directly on my hand. I was holding it inside a cloth sack to avoid the possibility of getting scratched or bitten and it urinated inside the sack. Since the sack was about the thickness of a pillow case, this was tantamount to getting urinated on directly.

No, we did not purchase a guinea pig as a pet. (We have a large, marginally unhinged cat in our house, which would probably try to swallow a guinea pig whole and end up hacking up the world’s largest hairball.) I took my six-year-old and four-year-old sons to a “Meet the Creatures” class offered by the City of Chandler at their Environmental Education Center at Veteran’s Oasis Park. And by “meet” I mean hold and possibly get urinated upon.

The class, offered weekly throughout the summer, is run by a couple who are animal rescue experts. During the first five to ten minutes of the class participants learn about the various animals in the room and how to handle them. The “how to handle them” portion of the lecture is of particular importance, so that one might learn which pets are okay with being picked up (like the urinating guinea pig) and which ones can be petted but not picked up (like the bunny the size of a warthog, which we were told would kick you in the chest with the force of an MMA contestant if you tried to lift if off the ground.)

The animals featured at the class ran the gamut from common things such as the aforementioned guinea pig and rabbit, to more exotic animals like a wallaby and a paca. I got to hold the wallaby (also in a sack, but thankfully non-urinating) which was kind of cool. I mean, short of hopping a quick 20-hour flight to Australia and bushwhacking my way into the outback, when else will I get a chance to get up close and personal with a wallaby?

While I had the pleasure of holding the urinating guinea pig and the dry wallaby, my sons were a bit more skittish about handling the animals. They seemed much more content letting me hold the animals while they gingerly pet or brushed them. My six-year-old did, however, hold a small turtle about the size of a drink coaster. When the turtle tucked its head into the shell my son commented that it looked like a sandwich, but he passed on my suggestion that he take a bite out of it.

One animal that both I, and my sons, kept at a healthy distance was the flying gecko. I don’t know if “flying gecko” is what it’s actually called—it probably has a slightly fancier name that I didn’t quite catch—but the point is that it was a gecko much larger and more exotic than your garden variety gecko, and more importantly, we were told during the orientation that it sometimes jumps on people’s faces. Yup, we were told by the woman running the class that we could hold the gecko, but it may—without any provocation—jump on your face. She said—and I quote—“if you’re not comfortable with it jumping on your face, you may not want to hold it.” I would have thought that the majority of people (at least sane people) would not have been comfortable with an eight-inch lizard launching itself toward their eyes/nose/mouth, but apparently I was mistaken on that count. Most of the people in the class—both children and adults—seemed perfectly fine handling the kamikaze reptile (and interestingly, it didn’t face-plant anyone the entire time) but the Schwartzberg men kept a safe distance at all times.

At the end of the class we thanked the instructors, lathered ourselves in several quarts worth of hand sanitizer, and went on our merry way. The memories of this class may last a lifetime, but, thankfully, the scent of guinea pig piss goes away in a couple of hours.