Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mr. Luv Lizard liked Blueberries, but not Bananas

Despite the soft edges of his name, Mr. Luv Lizard was always a wild animal. 

Mr. Luv Lizard, Age 6, 2006
Photo wendy Lynne Lee
A Green Iguana, he came to live with me nearly 15 years ago, and was one of the most labor intensive, sometimes cranky-pants, animated, clever, and just plain physically strong of all my rescue critters. 

I loved him with the same commitment I love all my animals--but a wild animal is never ever anything like a pet. 

Indeed, a "pet" is a piece of property

I don't have pets; I have animals who, while they depend on me for their daily care, offer in return an entire world of irreplaceable good, of laughter, of consolation.

They are "my" rescues--but the truth is that they are my refuge.

Mr. Luv Lizard was no different. 

He ought to have lived his life in a tropical rain forest canopy--just as whales ought never to be made into entertainment, just as chimpanzees ought never to be made into surrogate children, just as my rescue parrots--Rosie and Taco--ought to be able to fly free of this room.

Ringneck Parrot
Wendy Lynne Lee
Mr. Luv Lizard came in a little plastic box, three or four inches long. His appearance was attended by intensive research about how to properly care for an exothermic animal whose kin rarely survive beyond year one in captivity.

As National Geographic tells the story, 

Green, or common, iguanas are among the largest lizards in the Americas, averaging around 6.5 feet (2 meters) long and weighing about 11 pounds (5 kilograms).
They are also among the most popular reptile pets in the United States, despite being quite difficult to care for properly. In fact, most captive iguanas die within the first year, and many are either turned loose by their owners or given to reptile rescue groups.
Mr. Luv Lizard, Age 13, 2013
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

Mr. Luv Lizard didn't die. Instead, he went through five habitats, growing virtually exponentially for his first 11 years.

Getting the heat lamps, the rainy-foresty faux foliage, the food, the space, the sleeping platforms, the climbing branches right...

Truth is, you can't

But what love says is that you try

And try hard.

Mr. Luv Lizard liked blueberries, but not bananas. He liked Romaine lettuce--but not as much the collards he needed to be healthy (I treated him with Romaine mix for one day after three days of his healthy food). He loved his jar of lizard fruity treat, and his carrots, and cauliflower--but  brocoli? He just tossed that out of his habitat.

I know that "habitat" is a polite word for cage. 

Mr. Luv Lizard's last and biggest habitat was a bunk bed frame double wrapped in soft chicken fencing. It was butt-ugly, and essentially sewn onto the frame. It had undergone various repairs over the years as he got bigger in order to make it as much like that rain forest as possible.

But what Mr. Luv Lizard loved the most were birds.

They were his rain forest.

BIrd, 2006
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
This is "Bird." She was with me for years and years. Mr. Luv Lizard sat on top of her cage (she only went there at night to sleep), and would nap there for all of a warm Summer's afternoon. All he seemed to want was to be with Bird.

She was less sanguine about that arrangement.

Bird would squawk and berate him for dumping her seed dish with his swinging tail. He'd bob his head up and down, readjust, gander at the dumped seed bowl, and drift back to sleep.

When Bird died, Mr. Luv Lizard was quiet for long while--then Rosie and Taco and Quantum came to live in the study, and Mr. Luv Lizard started to grow again.
Quantum the Cockatiel
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

This is Quantum. She's a cockatiel who lives in a big fluffy wad of Kleenex behind my computer. Her cage is my study, and one of her perches was Mr. Luv Lizard's habitat where she'd teeter along its whole length, peering down with her mono-ocular gaze fixed on an animal just too interesting to ignore--but comfortingly far enough away. 

My study is not a room.

It's a world.

But, just like for Mr. Luv Lizard, it will be a long while before I can "grow again."

The first time Mr. Luv Lizard got sick was Christmas of 2010. Kidneys--they may be the most persuasive argument that there is no such thing as god we could hope to find. 

Getting a 4 foot exothermic animal who doesn't feel well to a herpetologist veterinarian 2 hours away is no easy task. It involves a 50 gallon aquarium, hot water bottles, frequent stops to fill the hot water bottles, over-heating the inside of the car in advance because it's Winter, and a lot of help. 

Could not be more grateful for the help.

The herpetologist gave him six months--and I learned how to get water soaked up with Tums into a critter who didn't like me very much right then. 

The whole scene must have looked ridiculous. Me, sitting cross-legged inside a wrapped bunk bed frame, cradling a sick iguana to prevent him from dehydrating, and to get essential calcium to those damnable kidneys.

It was another two weeks before he pooped.

But that was the most glorious poop I had ever seen. 

It was poop that meant his kidneys could function, that meant he might live beyond eleven. 

Mr. Luv Lizard, Age 13, 2013
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

I can't even tell you how happy this made me. Mr. Luv Lizard lived, and grew, and started bobbing his head up and down again to the "Sounds of the Rainforest" and "Ocean Waves" and "Mountain Streams" I'm always playing on my little study stereo.

He began to purr and lean onto my hand when I scratched him under his gills--just like he always had.

I watched his pooping regularity hawkishly.

So, the moment it seemed off--Thanksgiving 2014--I up-ed his calcium, moved the vaporizer closer to the habitat, bought an additional heat lamp, and added more UV. 

But truly the details of the rest of this story don't matter.

What matters is this: because there is no way to euthanize an animal like this without causing them pain, because causing them pain is unthinkable, my study became the smallest biggest place in the universe.

No amount of slurry (liquified nutrition) or pedialite, no relocation of his heat lamps, no recreation of his ancestral tropics could save him from his kidneys, from the injustice of great old age. 

Mr. Luv Lizard, early December, 2014
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
But on his last night, he still opened his eyes and knew me. 

I stroked his gills, and sang Over the Rainbow to him. 
I told him I loved him over and over. 

He purred.

I adjusted his emaciated body to make sure he was comfortable. 

I moved his heat lamps again to make sure he was warm. 

I rubbed some blueberries on his lips to moisten them. 

A nearly unmoving animal--could still lick his lips and taste sweetness. 

I put on his favorite music--Mountain Streams.

I told him I was sorry beyond words that I could neither save him nor end his life without pain.

And to be very clear--caring for this animal is nothing for which I deserve applause; it is that to which Mr. Luv Lizard had a right.

I love all of my animals. Every one is different; every one a unique individual.

Every one of them feels as though they've been with me forever.

I don't eat critters, or wear them. I regard their right to exist as equal to my own. I regard their suffering as momentous and as crushing as my own. I regard their capacity for joy as fine a thing as any human person's.

I will never have another iguana--and for that fact I will miss Mr. Luv Lizard all the more. 

Mother and baby, Oregon Zoo elephant cages
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Nonetheless, it is wrong to imprison wild animals. It matters little whether we're talking about lions or tigers or bears--or lizards or wild birds or elephants. 

A zoo is a prison, and however pretty we think we make it, a pretty prison is still a cage.

The best among us would prefer to never have seen a wild animal--knowing he or she lived out their lives in the ecologies to which their kind had adapted and flourished--than witness their diminished status behind bars or electric fences or trenches.

Mr. Luv Lizard was a noble, fierce wild animal.

And for fifteen years, he lived three feet from me while I graded exams, corrected my students' grammar, thought about ideas, wrote a blog, drafted philosophy papers, cropped photographs, sipped coffee, shooed Quantum off my keyboard, adjusted the stereo volume, got up to let out my dogs, change Lizard's water, his poo-paper, his food bowl.

And in that three feet stood a silent communion.

Good night my scaley-kitty prince.

I love you. I love you immensely



Raisa said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Wendy. My sincerest condolences. Mr. Luv Lizard was the sweetest, and he will be missed by all those who knew him. Hope you're doing okay. Sending all my love and positive thoughts to you during this difficult time.

guslinton said...

Beautiful requiem!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful requiem!