Wild Animals in the Garden

Matt Johnson Articles

As Scott mentioned in his blog, we dream daily about the many ways we can have animals be integrated as a part of our lives. I often ask customers what pets they have at home and am repeatedly baffled by the response I hear too often that they don’t have any because they live in an apartment.

In my eyes that is the biggest reason you SHOULD have pets. Urban life can be cold and very disconnected from anything natural. I always felt this way in my college dorm rooms. That’s when I got my iguanas Flash & Ivy. They had free run of the room with a basking area under my bunk bed. I’d smuggle veggies in from the cafeteria every night. I remember mine and Brittani’s first year of marriage we lived in a tiny 500 sq ft single room apartment. The first thing we did to decorate was build a giant 4’x2’x6′ Iguana vivarium for Flash & Ivy. At the years end we had 2 iguanas, 2 chinchillas, 1 hamster, 2 degus, a bunny, and a cat. After upgrading to a 700 square foot apartment a year later we added another cat, another bunny, a dog, and a wallaroo. Now, I understand we are a little bit extreme… and that would be expected of a fanatical pet store owner, and shortly after that we had to get a place of our own with plenty of room for all the critters to romp. But the point is, our culture has become so separated from animals that people don’t even think about the possibilities. Fortunately, as children Scott and I had a lot of freedom. Our biologist father encouraged the jungles we created in our shared bedroom. One of the first experiences that opened us up to new possibilities was hamster Scott bought in high school. He didn’t have a cage so he made a home for it on top of his dresser, and it stayed up there! Later, my dad custom retrofitted a big shelf in my sister’s armoire for her rat. When she wanted to play with it she just walked past the armoire and it jumped right on her, it was VERY cool. Most people today just don’t think like that.

A day in my dorm room.

Lisa Naughton-Treves (professor at University of Wisconsin at Madison) endorses this idea in her study of Amazonian agroecosystems. She suggests that American views of creating distinct geographical separations of “peopled places” and “wildlife places” have hindered our ability to achieve conservation that is successful for both people and animals. Native Amazonians have long used an informal sustainability policy in which they overplant their crops allowing wildlife to feed in their agricultural areas. The result is an efficient system of livestock farming that benefits both the species populations and the people (http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8306.00301). Why can’t we be more like these Amazonians who rather than eliminating nature when it doesn’t fit, isn’t clean, isn’t easy, or requires resources, they understand it’s value in their lives and they integrate it, saving it ultimately from destruction. Our backyards have a lot in common with the Amazonian backyards, its just a different climate with different animals. Fortunately, advances in knowledge allow us to experience wildlife from all over the world, from the Russian Dwarf Hamster to the Madagascar Day Gecko.

I know that we have changed Newberg’s culture to a certain extent to be much more accepting of new ideas when it comes to people and animals. But the bar can be pushed a lot further, and we intend to push it. And while this mutually symbiotic ideal is currently far from perfect, its possible, I believe its the way we are made to live, and that’s why I believe so strongly in what Critter Cabana is all about.