Lake Minnetonka Pet Owners with Unique Pets

Four unusual critters and the lake-area locals who love them.
Anna Larson and her Hahn's macaw, Ducky.

Move over Fido and Fluffy: There are a few new pets in town. Lake Minnetonka owners show creativity and practicality picking out pets that complement their taste and lifestyle. While most unusual pets require a bit of research to learn how to best shelter, feed, water and play with the animal, pet owners need no lessons in learning how to love their pets .

Small Bird, Big Personality

Sometimes when Anna Larson has to take a business call in her Minnetonka home, a small voice nearby will pipe up and start asking questions. “People will ask me who that is,” Larson says. “They think it’s a child. People can’t believe it’s a macaw.” 

The voice belongs to a 9-year-old red-shouldered Hahn’s macaw who has been a vibrant part of the Larson household for four years. The Larsons owned parakeets before and were thinking about getting another bird when they received a call from a friend asking if they wanted a rescue. They accepted and within 12 hours, they brought Ducky home. “I’m so lucky to have him in my home,” Larson says. “He’s an amazing piece of love.”

But Ducky had to get acclimated to his new surroundings. Larson says the bird didn’t like women and seemed concerned or worried whenever she or her daughter ventured near his cage, so the family started talking and kept talking to the bird. “We told him this was his new home and he didn’t have anything to worry about. We told him he would be treated with love and be a part of our family,” Larson says. The family built trust with Ducky by playing games. Before long, Ducky was referring to everyone by his or her names and establishing his own role in the household. “Very clearly with actions and words, he told us he was ready to come out of his cage,” Larson says. “From that day forward, he’s been a member of our flock.”

Hahn’s macaws are native to tropical lowlands in South America. They are playful, intelligent and smaller than you would imagine. At 5 ounces and 13 inches long, Ducky is fully grown, but the Larsons say he makes up for his size with a big personality. Instead of just “parroting” what other people say, Ducky interacts with people using a wide vocabulary. When he goes into a bedroom, Larson says he’ll whisper in case someone is sleeping. If the family is away from home too long, he’ll tell them that when they get back. He’ll follow his owners around, making comments relating to whatever is going on. “Sometimes his intelligence is absolutely jaw-dropping,” Larson says. “He can shake his head yes or no and you can have a full conversation with him.”


If you are thinking about owning a bird like Ducky, Larson advises you to be aware of just how social and interactive Hahn’s macaws are. “They really need one-on-one personal attention,” she says. “They don’t want to be stuck in cage but want to help you do chores and follow you around the house.”


Have Rat, Will Travel  

When Julia Brown graduated from Minnetonka High School and decided to go to college in New Zealand, she knew she couldn’t have just any pet to keep up with her busy life as an international student. So she went to the local pet store and bought a 6-week-old rat she named Stuart. “I would love to get a puppy, but with my study schedule and traveling, it wouldn’t make sense to commit to a pet with such high needs and such a long lifespan,” Brown says. “A rat is a much smaller commitment. They require less care and less attention.”

Brown says Stuart is easy to care for. He eats special rat food but can eat human food, too. She says people are always surprised at how clean Stuart keeps his cage. “His cage is well-organized into a living space, eating space and restroom. This makes his cage easy to clean,” Brown says.

Rats are social animals, so Brown says Stuart is excited to see her when she gets home from classes. He runs over to the edge of the cage and watches to see if he’ll get picked up. Stuart also loves to get out of the house. “He likes napping on my shoulder while I study at the library and likes to sit on my shoulder while I drive my car,” she says. “People usually don’t see Stuart because he’s either in my purse, backpack or sitting on my neck. When people do see him, they usually freak out and don’t like him—judging him quite prematurely because he is a rat.” 

But Brown takes him on the road, too. She travels around New Zealand, always with Stuart in tow. She even went backpacking across a national park and carried Stuart along in her backpack. “He likes the beach and sand and rocks, but was not appreciative of the cold water, although he’s a decent swimmer,” Brown says. Because of Stuart’s travels, Brown created his own Facebook page where she keeps track of his adventures.


“People should really consider getting rats as pets,” Brown says. “I recommend getting two male rats so they can have companionship. Get young rats, because they are easier to train and are much more comfortable with people if you start handling them gently at a young age.”


Warm and Fuzzy Reptile

Gary Ezell knew he and his bearded dragon were meant to be. “He was in a pet store for three years and he just kept looking at me,” remembers Ezell, who visited the shop regularly. “One time he came over to me and I thought that was really cool, so I thought, I’m going to buy him.”

So Ezell brought home a two-and-a half-foot long bearded dragon he named Clipper. “I had a huge interest in history and when I looked at Clipper, I felt this sense of history,” he says. “He looks prehistoric.” Ezell had owned snakes and geckos before, but he’d never owned a reptile with so much personality. “He’s extremely sociable,” he says. “I don’t think he understands words, but he understands tones.” Not only is Clipper attentive to Ezell, but he acknowledges when he calls him.

Bearded dragons are native to parts of Australia, where you can find them basking in the sun in woodland and desert regions. The animal didn’t become a part of the American pet experience until the 1990s, but today you can often find them in pet stores.

If you want a reptile that you can interact with, Ezell recommends a bearded dragon. “You can gain a bearded dragon’s trust through talking to him, hanging out with him, feeding him and petting him.” Ezell lets Clipper out of the cage and he will come over to be petted. “You pet the back of his head and he’ll start rolling his eyes and getting warm and fuzzy,” he says. The dragon has even struck up a relationship with the cat. At first the cat was wary of the new animal crowding into his territory, but now two will lie side by side. “They hang out together,” Ezell says. “They have an understanding.”

Owning a bearded dragon isn’t a decision to be made on a whim. The animals can live for 15 years, and depending on the type and sex of the dragon, they can grow to more than 3 feet long. “It’s definitely a commitment,” Ezell says.


While he does let Clipper roam freely around the house at times, Clipper lives in a 150-gallon terrarium. A special lamp provides Clipper the heat and vitamins he needs. Ezell makes Clipper’s food, which is a variety of live crickets plus fruit like bananas, strawberries and raspberries, and vegetables like spinach and greens. “He eats very healthy and seems to be more of a vegetarian,” he says.

Clipper has only lived with Ezell for a few months, so they are still developing trust with one another. In that time, Ezell’s been frequently surprised by how the bearded dragon craves care and attention. “The big thing with a bearded dragon is a relationship,” he says. “A lot of attention is required.”


A Pet in Her Pocket

Uncommon Pets

Sometimes when Nadine Garcia goes on road trips or routine trips to the grocery store, she carries one of her pets with her, but few people see the critter perched on her shoulder. Once, when Garcia stopped on a rainy summer day at a rest stop, a woman jumped when she saw a small head peeking out of the front of her shirt. Her sugar glider had crawled from her shoulder inside Garcia’s shirt to hide from the rain and decided to peep out at a passerby. “I’ve been in some strange situations,” Garcia says. “I’ve been embarrassed multiple times if I had one hiding in my shirt.”

Sugar gliders are marsupials that make you think of flying squirrels. The species is native to Australia and Indonesia and is sometimes called pocket pets in pet stores. However, Garcia encourages anyone thinking of adopting a sugar glider to do their research first. “They are not simple, fun and easy,” Nadine says. “They have specific caging and diet requirements.” Sugar gliders require large cages to allow for plenty of movement. Garcia recommends cages that are 36 inches tall, 18 inches deep and 30 inches wide. Special consideration also must be taken in choosing a wheel for the animal to run on that is safe for his or her long tail.

Garcia decided to learn more about sugar gliders after she kept rats as pets. She wanted an animal that was similar but lived longer. Sugar gliders can live for 12 to 15 years, so she thought they would be a perfect pet. She decided to become a licensed breeder two years ago and for the last four years, Garcia has raised and sold them. Depending on the color of the animal, sugar gliders can sell anywhere from $200 to $2,000. “Genetics come into play,” Garcia says. Some are light with garnet-colored eyes, while others while others can be platinum-colored. Sometimes breeding results in a mosaic effect, which can bring in a higher dollar amount.

While Garcia refers to all her animals as “her babies,” she has four retired sugar gliders that are her pets: white-faced Emily, gray Keeko, gray and red Kaluah and solid white Montague, who has sparkling black eyes. “They are good small pets,” she says. “They like to jump around and like to hide.” Garcia says they love to cuddle and sleep on you, but they are friendly and outgoing, too. Like their distant cousins flying squirrel cousins, they can jump from person to person.

Garcia says if you want a playful pet, a sugar glider is hard to beat. She loves that at the end of the day, she can relax with four pets who love to cuddle and play.