I always refer to my animals as my “kids.” It might come as a shock to most; many of the animals I personally care for are a far cry from the cute and cuddly or compassionate. Yet there is undoubtedly a unique bond I share with each and every animal I care for. They’ve seen me through thick and thin. They’ve accompanied me while passing important milestones in my life, like graduating high school and college. Most importantly though, they were a part of my dreams coming true. When I lose one, it’s devastating. Almost like losing a family member. This blog is a dedication to an animal that has been with me from the very beginning. Way before my first television appearance. Long before my realization of what I actually wanted to do in life. This blog is dedicated to Junior.
Junior was a common Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus niloticus) that I adopted in the fall of 2003. Like most monitors I’ve rescued in the past, he became too aggressive for his owners and outgrew his small aquarium tank.
It was very common when I first began rescuing reptiles to find these monitors in pet stores for prices as low as $20-$30. Their cheap price was misleading. Nile Monitors are one of the largest lizards in the world that require specialized care and huge custom built habitats with water features. Not to mention they have EXTREMELY aggressive reputations and are only recommended for advanced keepers. (Come to think of it, I had to use gloves while handling Junior for years before I gained his trust…see picture below!)
Not many lizards have as many media credits as Junior. He was the very first animal I ever took on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” at the age of 14. He went on to appear on Leno’s show another time and “The Today Show” numerous times. (He even made the trip to “The Martha Stewart Show” but was cut because of time constraints.) I always joked that Junior has been to more places than most people! It’s honestly true. Below you can watch our first “Tonight Show” appearance and my television reel where Junior makes numerous cameos.
Some of my fondness memories with Junior were during our live appearances across the country. I felt so incredibly fortunate to be able to work with a Nile Monitor lizard. Like I previously stated, these lizards have notoriously aggressive reputations; I don’t think I’ve ever seen one used in an educational program in person!
Everywhere we went, Junior turned heads. I always loved taking him to the vet! We actually ended up making it in the Idaho Humane Society’s monthly magazine during one visit. (Luckily no cats were in the area.)
Out of all the memories though, the daily interactions stick out the most. The side of Junior very few knew. How he was potty-trained. How he knew me as an owner. How for some reason every time I cleaned his water tub he had to go to the bathroom right after. Or how I had to wiggle his frozen-thawed mouse in front of him a certain way. Those memories I’ll never forget.
Because Junior was rescued, we could only estimate his age. We knew though by the beginning of the year, Junior was definitely past his prime.
Junior spent his remaining days outside basking in the sun, soaking in the pool, and burrowing under his favorite log. I don’t think he could have been happier.
Although it was extremely sad saying goodbye; I feel comfort knowing I gave him fantastic care and a wonderful home. The saddest part I’ve had to deal with is that I will never come across another animal like Junior again. An animal that touched so many lives. An animal that has been with me from the very beginning. An animal that for some reason beat all the stereotypes of being aggressive and rose to become one incredible animal ambassador. An animal I’ll never forget.