The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Skunk Lovers Unite: A Look at Pets and Their People The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Skunk Lovers Unite: A Look at Pets and Their People

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Skunk Lovers Unite: A Look at Pets and Their People

Having photographed for National Geographic for the last 20 years, you learn never to promise someone that they will “make it” into the magazine. After seeing the story about exotic pets in the April issue, some of the folks represented in this post were happy not to be included in our coverage, feeling that the tone of the story would have cast them in an unflattering light.

I spent the better part of 2013 photographing this world for the cover story that appears in the April edition of National Geographic magazine about Wild Pets.

Exotic pet ownership is a very complicated and often controversial relationship that is often portrayed and understood in a narrow and simplistic way. The animals photographed were far from wild. Captive-bred for many generations, these animals can commonly be found in the homes and backyards of places like Indiana, Ohio, Florida, and Texas.

I met committed and caring people who owned monkeys, chimpanzees, lions, tigers, cougar, venomous reptiles, bears, lemurs, kangaroos, bobcats, alligators, hedgehogs, and one with a capybara, a 130-pound rodent found commonly in Brazil.

Surprisingly to me, very few of the people I met were advocates for owning an exotic pet, in fact, most said their best advice would be to tell people not to get an exotic pet. This wasn’t based in regret but issued as a cautionary note for potential owners about the extraordinary responsibility and commitment required to care for these animals. Each of these people came to be with these animals in different ways, and their relationships to these animals are just as different.

Albert Killian, a gentle man fascinated by snakes, lives side by side with king cobras, Egyptian cobras and other extremely venomous snakes. His bedroom, where he keeps them, looks more like an exhibit in a zoo. He adores and respects an animal that doesn’t really give or receive affection. He has been bitten over 100 times.

Conversely, for the last 33 years, Alison Pascoe Freedman was rarely more than an arms-length away from Amelia, her precocious and affectionate capuchin monkey. Amelia was a small animal and a large part of Alison’s life. The two went everywhere together as Alison often carried Amelia around in her pocket.

I was really interested in the differences but also the similarities of these relationships. Were all monkey people like Alison? Was there such a thing as monkey person? I certainly knew that all monkeys were not Amelia.

Enter Skunk Fest, the labor-of-love brainchild of Deborah Cipriani who lives with and cares for more than 50 skunks at her Ohio home. For the past 12 years it’s been a community event that connects skunk owners with each other and a curious public.

To read more on this story, click here: Skunk Lovers Unite: A Look at Pets and Their People


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