The dogs were adorable and the cats looked cute, but as I browsed the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) website last month, no one captured my attention quite like Blueberry, a month-old Japanese quail.
In her profile photo Blueberry appeared both regal and shy, a tennis ball-sized collection of brown and white feathers topped with beady eyes and a toothpick beak. I was instantly intrigued.
Apparently, others were too. Within a few days, Blueberry disappeared from the website, joining a list of unconventional creatures adopted into Colorado households.
Though many residents still prefer dogs and cats, interest in more unusual pets, like Blueberry, is climbing at some shelters. At the Adams County Animal Shelter, for instance, adoption of non-canine and feline species has increased annually for at least the past three or four years, says Angel Williams, operations manager. (This excludes the pandemic era, during which both intake and adoption numbers for all animals have dropped.) In particular, interest in outdoor companions—think: ducks, chickens, and goats—has swelled as more folks embrace urban farming.
Ferrets are also garnering new attention—at least during COVID-19 times. According to Matthew Jaramillo, co-founder/co-owner of Ferret Dreams Rescue and Adoption in Denver, intrigue exploded this April, with inquiries jumping from about five to 10 per week to five to 10 per day. “I think people were figuring that it was a good time to introduce a new pet to the house since they were there all the time,” he explains, adding that many queries came from children he surmises “were bored and were just like, Well, let’s call the ferret rescue.”
Coloradans keen on the idea of a less conventional companion will find a menagerie of options. The Denver Animal Shelter, for example, has recently housed ball pythons, bearded dragons, a Russian tortoise, red-eared sliders, a cockatiel, a parrotlet, and a number of roosters, says Daryl Zaldivar, animal care supervisor at DAS. And HSBV has welcomed chinchillas, a sugar glider, ferrets, a hairless guinea pig, yellow-bellied sliders, a corn snake, and leopard geckos, reports Jennifer Gonzales, shelter services manager.
But where do these critters come from in the first place?
Some are surrendered by their owners, while others, including many at HSBV, arrive as strays, says Gonzales. Like Petunia, a potbellied pig found on Boulder Canyon Drive in Nederland; Littlefoot, a monitor lizard located in the shopping center near 28th Street and Arapahoe; and my girl Blueberry, who was fetched from the city’s Goss Grove neighborhood.
Gonzales delights in these curious cases. “How did you make it out into the world?” she wonders. And they’re not exclusive to Boulder. “We had a small crocodile come in a few years ago that was found roaming the streets of Thornton,” says Williams at the Adams County shelter. “We also have had some seven, eight, and 10-foot boa constrictors come in also as stray animals.” Another oddity: A chameleon brought into DAS this summer after someone discovered the reptile in their backyard.
Whatever the origin story, many of these lesser-known animals are often overlooked and mischaracterized.
“I think a lot of people assume that snakes or lizards or things are inherently a little bit aggressive,” says Gonzales. But if they’re properly cared for and socialized, they can be great pets, she says.
And once pet owners establish the initial set-up, the level of care for most atypical animals “is a little bit easier,” Gonzales explains. “I think it’s a nice in-between for someone that might not have time for a dog or a cat but just wants a companion in their home.”
Some animals even offer special services. “Goats especially are great with keeping your weeds and your lawn trimmed,” says Williams. And chickens and ducks, who are “very friendly, smart animals,” deliver the added bonus of fresh eggs, she says.
If an unusual creature catches your eye, it’s important to do your research before adopting, advise shelter employees. Make sure you understand the pet’s needs, like housing, diet, socialization, and medical care, says Williams.
Ferrets, for instance, “definitely aren’t for everyone,” warns Jaramillo, who’s owned about 15 of them over the past 30 years. As social and curious creatures, they need ample playtime and room to roam. That’s why he requires all interested adopters to undergo an extensive educational process before acquiring the furry mammals.
But for those willing to put in the work, the rewards can be great. If you’re having a bad day, “go home and set a couple ferrets out to play and wrestle and chase each other,” says Jaramillo.
“They could bring a lot of joy.”