Pets Guide

Into the Wild: Meet 3 of Houston’s Best-Known Exotic Pets

Three Houstonia pets that aren’t cats or dogs: their praises and possible pitfalls

By Chris Abshire March 9, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine


Bacon It Big

He has 150,000 followers on Instagram. He often poses, grinning, on sunny patios or dressed up in goofy top hats. His face is emblazoned on T-shirts and women’s racerback tanks that sell for $42. He’s a beacon of goodwill and self-acceptance, as evidenced by one of Bacon’s recent Instagram sermonettes: “I received a bunch of comments on my last post about me being a big ole porker. I just want everyone to know that I am comfortable with my size and weight.”

Not surprisingly, Sir Bacon the Piglet is one of Houston’s most well-known pets, at least on social media, and his owner, local businessman J.D. Ybanez, says his companionship is “unparalleled, loyal, and non-stop entertainment.” But let’s be honest: owning a pig isn’t all Instagram followers and cute top hats.

“Bacon is extremely intelligent and very protective,” often using all 35 of his pounds to snuggle or get his way, says Ybanez. That insistence, Ybanez says, really separates pigs—as well as other exotic species—from their docile domesticated brethren. “They like to push the envelope to see what they can get out of you.”

Which is to say Bacon requires more vigilance than a dog or cat. “You must be very disciplined when dealing with pigs. Their diets must be strictly regulated, and bad behaviors must be dealt with consistently.” They also need a lot of room, which isn’t the only reason it’s better to raise them outside the city limits: there are (largely unenforced) laws banning swine as pets in Houston.

Dragon Her Heart Around 

“Humans—and pets like cats and dogs—have very mammalian qualities about how we eat or need affection,” says videographer Margaret Patten, “but [dragons] like to eat and sleep on their own schedule, purely at their own whim. It’s like having an alien science project in your house.”

Basil the Bearded Dragon Lizard perches on Patten’s shoulders while she works on her computer, but otherwise remains mostly unobtrusive. He isn’t mean, won’t bite, and often spends days or even weeks in slumber, making him incredibly low-maintenance.

Patten and her husband breed cockroaches in a large Tupperware container to keep as food for Basil, something she admits draws curious and sometimes disgusted reactions from visitors. “They don’t look much like tree roaches here in Houston,” says Patten. “I’m used to it by now, and it’s necessary to keep them around, since [Basil] can clear 50 in a sitting when he’s hungry.”

One for the Bunny

Heather Korson is on her second rabbit, a lion-head rescue. “I will never have another pet aside from a bunny again,” says Korson, a local wine distributor. “They are amazing.” She extols Sir Guinness Von Buttonhausen’s infectious personality and efficient self-care. He loves to cuddle, she says, and is clever, cunning, litter-trained on instinct, and a champion raspberry eater. 

On the downside, Sir Guinness makes messes easily and for fun, like all rabbits. They’re also nocturnal and naturally curious—occasionally interrupting your sleep and damaging furniture—and yet need to be kept inside year-round (rabbits don’t sweat and will overheat easily). Still, says Korson, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

“Keeping them as ‘art’ just to take out for fun will not allow for bonding,” she says. “They need your attention and affection before returning the trust.”

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