Animals seem to have a sixth sense, don’t they? Like when they know a storm is coming and birds freak out in flock, or dogs start barking at an invisible threat, Dorian does the same. He’s a rather intuitive iggy. It’s most apparent when I’m stressed. Dorian has this innate sense of times that I’m stressed. He of course get stressed too, and not because I’m curt with him, or I’m particularly cold and unfriendly around him. There have been days where I have snapped at him for being a naughty iggy and I say something like “I don’t have time for this, Dorian!” But it’s interesting how our mood as guardians can be reflected in our animals’ behaviors. Take the first week in April for instance. Although I start at American University this fall for my Ph.D., I’m just finishing my Master’s program in Communications at Northern Illinois University (I graduate in just a few weeks actually). The commute to campus is about a 6 hour round trip for me, fortunately, I didn’t have to make it that often this semester since I was just finishing my thesis, but it’s not the most pleasant of drives even on the few occasions I’ve had to head up there. We don’t have a doctoral program at NIU in communications, and so to strengthen the rigor of the Master’s program, we have to take comprehensive exams, which are usually reserved just for doctoral candidates. The test covers everything you’ve ever read in your studies. That’s right: EVERYTHING. Not just the stuff in your thesis’ literature review, but everything, from all your classes and anything you’ve professed to utilize in the formation of your academic career in your chosen field. Now, I’m not in interpersonal communications or rhetoric, so I don’t have to have those theories packed away in the recesses of my cerebellum, but the theories and authors I do use? Yeah, I know everything they’ve written enough that I could express it to the layman. Fun stuff I tell you. That said, I was not been the most pleasant cat to be around that week (ask my wife if you need a second opinion) and Dorian picked up on that. He was just on edge the entire couple of weeks I was preparing for the exam and scratching out the final pages of the thesis. Not only that, but I was entertaining offers from several doctoral programs, and just generally frazzled by all that was on my plate. Dorian was a headbobbing machine all week, but worse was his desire to get down and harass all the other lizards. It was as if he used the stress I created to stress out everyone else. He kept climbing down and trying to get back to Gobo in the back room. One day I had the headphones on, listening to some music while I studied, and he somehow climbed the doggie gate to get back to Gobo. This of course stressed Gobo out, he was snarling mad, and I was over-extended with research and the holy terror Dorian can be when he sees his reflection in the glass. Ugh. Everything worked out though in the end. I passed my comps, turned a completed copy into the grad school, and accepted my offer to AU. Now if I can just find a house in D.C. and a summer job in Urbana, all will be well, right?
Like most reptile enthusiasts, my home doesn’t just host Dorian, as much as he would like it to be so. We have another iguana, a female named Caliban who’s about half Dorian’s size; a large female water monitor, Gobo turns six this November; and a little four year old bearded dragon named Irwin. We didn’t always have quite so full a house. Last year at this time, I lived three hours from my then fiance with Dorian, Gobo, and my beardie Boudicca. In May, I moved the kids and me to Urbana and then I traveled to Ireland for a summer semester abroad in June. In September, my wife and I got married, and we made all made a pretty happy home. Sadly, we lost Boudicca to stomach cancer in December; and while we lost our sweet angel, Dorian lost a dear friend. I’ll save the discussion of their relationship for another day. See, Dorian thinks he’s king of the house, and as such, he needs to keep the house in order. He does this by taking rounds, inspecting all the other lizards and their enclosures and making sure they remember who’s boss. Gobo is now significantly larger than Dorian, and she should be, adult water monitors grow to be as long as nine feet and nearly 150 lbs. Her enclosure is a six feet long four feet tall and about 28 inches deep, the from face of which is a ginormous piece of tempered glass, supposedly impossible to break or scratch. But Dorian doesn’t really give a rat’s patooty that Gobo is bigger than, will keep getting bigger than him, or could kill him with a single bite. He’s all cocksure and bull-strong, sauntering back to the back room to give her the what-for. It’s ridiculous if you think about it. Scaredy-cat Gobo hides and runs away every time he comes back there, which just emboldens Dorian. He thinks he’s way bigger than is. Compounding this is that tempered glass, which causes Dor-Dor to see a large male iguana that isn’t there. “The Iggy in the Mirror” vexes Dorian tremendously. He’s actually physically attacked the glass on one occasion and a mirror on another. He even attacked the wife’s computer once when he screen went black as it went to sleep. He saw that bastard iguana and Dorian wasn’t going to let him come sit on his couch! So a lost F5 key among several others later, and a nearly cracked laptop screen (it fortunately bent backward enough) after Dorian dove head first into the laptop screen as it sat on the coffee table. To avoid this, we got smart and finally bought a doggie gate, which while Dorian’s smart and capable enough to climb over, certainly slows him down enough that we can catch him before he makes it all the way over. I have to say; he looks more adorable standing at the gate than any Corgi, pug, or schnauzer you could ever prop up there. Granted, his reasons for wanting to get back there are probably far more nefarious than some dumb mutt who just wants to drink out of the toilet while mom and dad aren’t looking. That said, for intelligent lizards like Dorian, the wife and have renamed this utilitarian piece of plastic a name far more befitting our wily and incorrigible iguana: the Iggy Gate.
It is general convention that applying for a Ph.D. is no different than applying for any other form of higher education. I’m here to tell you that is patently wrong. It is the most arduous, deflating, and humbling application experience one could ever go through. April 15th is not only recognized as tax day, but it also stands as the traditional day universities conditionally send offers to all prospective students for admittance. My program, Communications, is one of the more difficult programs to pursue based on the small number of schools with doctoral programs, but the sheer mass number of student applicants. And as more and more institutions restrict funding as state governments tighten the budgets like GSP with a guillotine choke in the Octagon, the market for positions shrinks as the number of students pursuing a doctorate balloons. In fact, this is my second go round on applying. When I applied to Cornell last year, they had over 100 applicants for just 4-6 positions, that’s a near 5% acceptance rate! Michigan State had 120 applicants, roughly 50 more than the previous year, as graduates enter the workforce and reenter academia after facing a future of unemployment despite the advanced degree. Dorian is pretty oblivious to this pressure I’ve been under the past few weeks, finishing my thesis, applying for programs and preparing to defend my paper in oral and written comprehensive exams. He does weigh on my mind though as I worry about the move coming later this summer to a new city and state. Some municipalities limit the kinds of pets residents can have, and finding a qualified exotic vet, a knowledgeable petsitter, even a house or apartment that accepts an iguana of Dorian’s size is daunting to say the least. The ironic thing is, it only takes one meeting with Dorian for people to radically change their minds. Despite his fearsome prehistoric visage, Dorian is truly a dollbaby. He’s a lot of wind, and not so much lightning. He’s never hissed at a stranger or even tail-whipped for the matter. He’s more likely to climb onto my shoulder and puff up more than anything. It’ll be the 4th time we’ve moved together, and the second with this massive enclosure he’s in (60 ft2), and hopefully the last for a while. Fortunately, I know that time frame. I have accepted an offer at American University in Washington D.C. and I start their three year program this fall. Woohoo!
We have this rabbit that haunts the yard. It comes, it goes, and it appears on a whim. Mysteriously, that lil’ bastard has eaten all the buds on various garden vegetables over the years, depriving me of spicy jalapeños and Dorian of succulent zuccini. We’ve had our stare downs when I open the door or discover him out and about, and let me tell you, he knows, oh, he knows. His cousin the Easter Bunny visited our house in the form of Ma and Pa Buck, my wife’s parents. I love it when the in-laws come to town, not only cause they’re family (and I have to love them), but they’re good people and we always have a good time together. We also manage to find our way to Flat Top at some point, and there’s no reason to complain about that. 😉 But for Dorian, Grandma and Grandpa visiting brings only one thing, disruption in the orderly chaos he has so carefully crafted.
Iguanas love a schedule, they love routines, and they love their universe in an orderly fashion that best suits their needs, desires, and whims. That means bath time at the same time daily, food should be in the bowl when iggy is returned, and inspection rounds of the premises must occur at the same time every afternoon. Any deviation or disruption in the schedule results in numerous instances of headbobbing, random defecation, and the occasional headbutt or push. So when the grandparents showed up to hang out on Easter a few weeks back, Dorian had to flex his muscles and let them know who was in charge. Grandpa was OK, because he’s a man, and for some reason, Dorian is a chauvinist. We think it’s because he was abused in the past by a woman. As a rescue, he’d be leery of just about anyone, but for the female gender, he can be downright hostile. (“Don’t touch me!”) He also hates shrill and high octave voices (this may be a topic for another post) so Grandma’s Saginaw-nasal must grate the little guy. Every time Tammy would sit in Dorian’s papasan (well, he thinks it’s his, again, another post) or on the couch, he would either walk in front of her, or climb up and give her the what-for. But after he got over the initial “there’s another man in the house,” he was fine with Ken, and even let him sit in his papasan as you can see in the picture. Dorian let Pa Buck pet him and he sat so nicely in his lap, even comfying down a bit, something he rarely does even with my wife. The grandparents love the grandlizards immensely, so much so that we even surprised them two years ago with a bearded dragon of their own named Samurai. Rescued from a disinterested 14 yr old, ‘Sammy’ is doing swell, and with the empty nest, he gets spoiled rotten, much like Dorian does when the Bucks visit. We give him extra treats to calm down, he loves getting the extra attention, and secretly, I think he loves to show off for two new people who are naïve to his fearsome reputation (or so he thinks). At the end of the weekend, Dorian was back to his normal naughty self.
One of my favorite joys of owning an iguana, especially one as expressive and full of personality as Dorian, is the wonton rabidity to which he approaches fruit. Iguanas should be fed a diet of mostly leafy greens and other staple vegetables, but 5% of that diet should include citrus, melons, or the rare banana. Dorian’s favorite fruit is most likely an orange of some kind, whether it be mandarins, which he’ll devour whole if you let him; navels, which even a whiff to Dorian is like blood in the water to a shark; or even minneolas and tangelos, which are so juicy, it sounds like he’s drinking them when he’s eating them; you can hear the liquid sloshing around like a barrel of rum on a pirate ship.
Dorian also loves his berries, chiefly blackberries. I remember in one particular sitting, he ate 34 blackberries from a Costco clamshell. And here you thought that the only people who shop for berries in bulk were pie makers. He enjoys raspberries but is no fan of strawberries or blueberries. For some reason, the strawberries are just a bit too sweet for him, and perhaps the blueberries are just too tart for my iggy. One of the misconceptions (and the reason I write this blog) is to combat the misperception that iguanas, and by proxy, all reptiles, lack personality and character. But ask any herp-head and they’ll regale you with stories of their quirky geckos, cuddly beardies, or mischievous frillies. If he doesn’t like something, Dorian lets you know. The first time I offered him kiwi, he gave it one test lick, snorted, and turned his head away. I tried wedging a piece in his mouth, and he kept spitting it out. Eventually, I assumed he was just being cranky and maybe he’d eat it if I left him alone, so I left some pieces on the shelf in his enclosure near his food dish only to see him kick them with his foot off said shelf. Soon after, he turned around, headbobbed, and put his head down. That’s not to say that Dorian won’t try new things; he’s just very discerning when it comes to his sweet tooth. Just last week he turned his nose up at a ring of pineapple to which he shook his head vigorously back and forth in contempt for the fruit I offered. I’d never given him pineapple before, but thought after 6 years, maybe he’d try it. Perhaps it’s just a distain for fruits of the pacific. He also found passion fruit disagreeable. Also on the list are kumquats, quince, and starfruit. The odd thing is in all of this, is that in buying all these varieties of fruit has given me a new appreciation for it as well, considering the fruit I at growing up was the occasional Jonathan apple or slice of watermelon during a family picnic. I’ll now nosh on the occasional Michigan cherry or tangerine when I would never even sample them before. Peaches are still off the list though. You can keep those. Blech.
Dorian wasn’t always named Dorian. No, he didn’t have some silly name from a 12 year-old like Godzilla, Spike, or Iggy. In fact, he had no name at all. A five-year-old iguana and no one had deemed him worthy enough of a name. I told the Girlfriend, now Wife, all about him when I first saw him August 6, 2006 in Casselberry, FL. I described him as the poor iggy with no name, and I knew it was love at first sight.
Most people don’t understand the small adorable baby iggy they see at their local pet store will someday grow to a massive 20 lbs. six foot long cranky SOBs that live 20 years. They’re hard to take care of requiring specialized husbandry and veterinarian care, and all the expenses that go with it, and to top it all off, they won’t bond with you until the time between ages five and ten. Clearly, iguanas are not for everyone.
Dorian was given up to one of those awesome local independent pet stores that specializes in reptiles. Pet Bazaar had him housed in a metal cage outside the store; (it was August in Orlando). The guys at Pet Bazaar had little info on him, other than someone brought him in cause he was getting too big and unruly. The store was reselling him for $100, a fair price for an iggy his size.
Dorian wasn’t in the best condition. He was a little thin, had some burn marks, and a slight case of MBD. Also, a large chunk of his tail had been torn off at some point, the length of which indicates it was more than a nestmate’s nip. But other than getting a bit puffy, he was incredibly easy to handle. In fact, he was downright cuddly.
I had just recently lost a pair of quadricornis chameleons to illness, one of which passed away just days after I arrived in Florida. Overcome with grief, lonely in a new state with no friends or local ties, I really wanted to get a new pet to fill the void. I was torn between the iggy with no name and a cute juvenile frilled dragon. The previous Christmas, I had purchased a baby iguana for the Girlfriend, which we presumed was a boy. Knowing the risks of having two male iguanas in the same home (granted, five years in the future), iggy with no name was at a disadvantage to find his new home with me. But I just couldn’t leave him there, and I knew I had to take him home with me.
I’ve now had Dorian for almost six years and I can’t imagine life without him. He’s such a funny little guy and so full of character. I’ve had a YouTube channel of Dorian and my other lizard kids for about two years, so I figured it was about time to start detailing all the funny stories I’ve accumulated over the years. I hope you enjoy the blog. Iggy Out!
So generally, there’s this first post to announce a new blog, and WordPress is kind enough to help you out with its template. There it is; all brand spanking new and welcoming you to the greatness that is your new blog. “Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above.” Wow, thanks guys. Not only do they provide all these cool templates and style sheets so that starting the blog is a breeze, they also give you a great first post. Well, phooey on that. (I can’t believe I just wrote phooey.)
This is the first post, and if you’re still reading this, well, that’s your fault. I’m just writing this as a test post, and if you’re dumb enough to have read it this far, that’s on you. Iggy Out.