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People & Pets: Exotic animals in Great Falls

GREAT FALLS – Charlene Winkle adores her sugar gliders that live with her in Cascade County.

These adorable creatures are native to Indonesia and Australia, but have been bred in the U.S. for about 15 years. Charlene has seven of them.

She said, “They’re sweet, they’re so fun.”

Taking care of them, she said, is fairly easy. However, their food isn’t available at most pet stores, so Charlene makes it out of fruits and veggies.

Charlene explained, “They’re easy to feed. It’s just … you better be a vegetarian or a fruity if you want to feed them, or they get pricey!”

She said one challenge is that there aren’t more sugar glider owners in the area, possibly because the City of Great Falls has a clause about wild animals in its ordinance.

Charlene noted, “You’re kind of alone, because they’re not really popular because they do require time, you do need to play with them, or they’ll stay like (in) a wild state.”

But when you take the time to bond with them, Charlene said the nocturnal creatures are a fun family addition: “These are just lovely. They just love you to death.”

Next up: we stay in the marsupial family and visit Black Eagle where Chewy the wallaby resides and has drawn attention from folks across the globe.

Brad, one of Chewy’s owners, said, “We’ve had ’em from all over the world have come through here.”

A wallaby’s typical home is Australia. Chewy’s owners have had to make a few small adaptations from him to be able to live here, like supplementing his diet.

Brad said, “Our soil doesn’t have enough selenium to sustain them, so they have a selenium-based substance in there which keeps them alive.”

And while you might think Montana is too cold for Chewy, he does just fine with the weather.

Brad explained, “If it gets cold, we’ve got a spot inside where he can stay, if it goes 25-35 below. I did go out into his hut thought when it was 25 below, and it was 65 degrees in there.”

Brad said wallabies, who have to be registered in the state of Montana, are smart and loving animals.

Brad said, “They’re very affectionate. They’re very curious about everything, anyone that comes to the yard. And they’re intelligent. They’re problem solvers; they’ll focus on things. It’s just been fun.”

Next up: a trip inside Great Falls city limits where we meet Lola, a Mexican brown tarantula.

And if you find her intimidating, well…that’s not so different from how most people react to her.

Jraden said, “They freak out at first until I take her out and hold her and then they realize, oh yeah, she’s not that bad.”

Lola is very mild-mannered, and is generally content to just hang out with her Jraden. She did bite him once, but only because she was startled.

Jraden said, “It’s a little pinch, doesn’t hurt.”

She eats small mice and crickets, and has to be kept in a warm and humid habitat: “You have to mist her cage at least once a day.”

Jraden said she’s a great companion, and she’s helping him learn life lessons; he noted, “She takes a lot of care and responsibility.”

Finally, we spend some time with two Cayuga ducks living in the backyard at the Kloibers.

Cora and Rae are therapy ducks. They provide comfort for the Kloiber’s daughter, Jacey, who has spinal muscular atrophy.

Melissa explained, “When she was a little afraid after her diagnosis of being in the water, having the water near her face, our oldest son did some research and figured out that ducks were used for therapy, so we ordered these ducks and they went into the pool and they got her over it and now we just have pet ducks that just run around and they’re just family now.”

The ducks don’t have their wings clipped, so they choose to stay. You might think they would migrate for the winter, but they’re actually built for the cold.

Melissa said, “As long as its above negative 10 degrees they go outside, play in the snow.”

While it might sound like fun to add a unique animal like ducks or wallabies to your family, there are some rules and regulations you need to know about owning them.

Sarah Sexe, the city attorney for Great Falls, said, “As the ordinance currently stands, people are not necessarily allowed to own unusual pets.”

Although that is a broad scope, animals with a therapy designation and proper documentation from a healthcare provider – such as Cora and Rae – are an exception. The city hopes to more clearly define what animals are allowed and not allowed at an upcoming meeting.

Sexe said, “It’s actually quite a substantial code revision in terms of our making sure there’s clearly defined areas of parameter there set forth so it’s a little more understandable.”

So if you’re thinking of making some of these animals or any others your own – you’ll want to find out if they’re allowed where you live, and take into consideration the tips from these exotic pet owners.

MTN’s  Julianne Dellorso