Geckos, bearded dragons and guinea pigs, oh my! Newton resident has variety of unusual pets

Ember Henry is with one of her geckos. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

By Wendy Nugent

NEWTON—Ember Henry had picked out a baby cockatiel before she got the one she has now, but that one died.

I came into the shop to see him, but was informed he had passed,” the Newton resident said. “I went into their parrot room to cry, I was so heartbroken. After a couple of minutes, a worker approached me, saying that I could still look at the babies and possibly pick one if I wanted, with no guilt or judgment from the staff. Worst case, I get to play with baby birds. I walk in, turn and see this spotted cockatiel pressed against her enclosure, yelling (babies do this weird hiss/yell to show that they are hungry and want to be fed) at me to feed her.”

Henry said she opened the enclosure and the bird tried to cuddle her hand.

“I asked if she was taken. Nope. So, I asked if I could have her,” Henry said. “They gladly said yes and encouraged me to pick her up. I got to cuddle Pixel for the first time that day, with her yelling at me the entire time. It was adorable.”

Pixel is just one of the unusual pets Henry has at home. Others include pigeons, English budgies, geckos, bearded dragons, box turtle, bettas, guinea pigs, feeder insects, snails and isopods. She’s also on a waiting list for another cockatiel and she has dogs.

Henry’s procured her pets from various places.

“From different shops, different people, even different states,” she said. “I had my pigeons shipped to me from a loft (Ramsey Loft), who breeds them to be therapy birds in Georgia. The feeder insects and isopods are also much easier to get in good amounts online, as well.”

Some of the animals were Craigslist rescues because Henry could see the animals weren’t getting the right care. Some, she was given as gifts.

“I bought my cockatiel from Birds of Paradise in Wichita,” she said. “They were amazing and let me bond with my bird as soon as she was hatched and able to come to the store. I plan on purchasing more birds from Birds of Paradise and the Loft when I have the space/certain breeds are available.”

Her pets have names, with Hudder the leopard gecko starting it all.

“There’s also Pippi, Icarus, Yhorm, Calamity, Pistol, Dolly, Mabel, Tang, Strudel, Binti/Bindi,” she said.

One bearded dragon is Prissy, because she’s sassy and another is Cornelius Peppermint Cornwall, who is named after the miner in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and the “peppermint” part is because he’s red and white, like a Christmas cane.

“Pixel is the pearl cockatiel, Fifi and Madonna are the English budgies, Sonya and Silk are the pigeons (they are a bonded pair),” she said. “My guinea pigs are Isabella, Valentina, her babies, Eros, Aphrodite and Venus. Apparently, she was pregnant at the pet store. I only figured it out literally the day before she gave birth.”

There’s also Cassidy, a corgi mix and Pumpkin, the pompoo.
“Cassidy was a surprise I bought for my S.O. [significant other], and Pumpkin was gifted to me after the passing of my 12-year-old shorkke, Josie,” Henry said. “My S.O. said, ‘you spent most of your life with a dog. You’re not spending another day without one,’ when we picked her up.”

There is a reason she has so many pets.

They make me happy,” Henry said. “They just want to be near you or do their own thing, no strings attached. I don’t have to worry about offending any of my geckos. I don’t have to worry about my fish hating me. Taking care of them is immensely satisfying and they thank me in their own ways. Honestly, animals are very open about how they are feeling if you know what to look for. I can tell when my pets aren’t in the mood to be touched, when they want attention, when they’re hungry, when they’re mad. I love being able to interact with them and I have options in case one species isn’t feeling up to spending time with me.”

Her pets have their own personalities, just like other animals.

Pixel is very sassy,” Henry said. “I was worried that I was being a bad pet owner because she always hisses at me. She’ll cuddle, play and step up, but always hisses. I did some research and found out that she hisses to say, ‘OK, I’ll do the thing, but because *I* want to. Not because you want me to.’ She’s showing me who’s the boss.”
The leopard geckos, Yhorm and Hudder, love interacting with humans, as Yhorm is a cuddler, while Hudder likes to explore. Pippi and Icarus prefer to nap all the time and are OK with human interaction.
“A good portion of my geckos are still considered babies, so I don’t like to handle them until they are more mature, just in case they get upset and try darting away, but I’ve begun to notice personalities as they grow,” Henry said. “Some love to come to the front of the cage to see what I’m doing, to beg for feeding time, or to literally try to hunt me down. They see movement, but don’t understand it.”

Also, there are times her reptiles beg for attention. They’ll run on the sides of their cages and into Henry’s hands when she reaches in.

“My guinea pigs are very spoiled and know that they can easily bring me to their enclosure by calling out,” Henry said. “They make a ‘wheek’ sound as soon as they hear me wake up and get out of bed. Sonya loves to stand on heads, especially the tallest person in the room.”
Pumpkin the pup does tricks to get people to notice her. She’ll stand, dance, spin, jump and roll over. She sometimes does it when Henry’s sad and it feels like she’s trying to cheer her up.

“She also plays dead if she so much as trips,” Henry said. “She’ll peek at you, then quickly close her eyes and stick out her tongue. We did not teach her that.”

It depends on the day, Henry said, as to which animal is her favorite.

The two animals that love to spend the most time with me is Pixel the cockatiel and Pumpkin the pup,” she said. “Both have bonded with me to the point that they will throw a fit if they can’t find me during the day. They both have good and bad days, as well. Sometimes Pixel will try to steal my jewelry and Pumpkin will find any sort of mischief to get into.”

While Henry has a couple of favorite pets and likes them all, she regards her pigeons as the most interesting.

I did a ton of research before getting them (I do research with all my pets), and I found out about how they’re majorly domesticated,” she said. “Similar to how we domesticated dogs. I am very passionate about them after learning that and wish that more people would understand what great pets they make. They can bond with you and declare you as a mate. They’ll cuddle; they’ll wrestle. They very rarely peck or bite (and if they do, it doesn’t hurt).”

The most correcting Henry’s received from a pigeon was a wing slap when she accidentally crossed a boundary. It didn’t hurt and made her laugh. Pigeons can learn tricks and it’s easy to tell how they’re feeling because they’ll show it.

“My favorite thing to do is pinch my fingers toward them, which is pigeon speak for ‘do you want me to preen/groom you?’” Henry said. “And they’ll start to preen my fingers back. They are so incredibly loving and intelligent animals. It’s a real shame that they’re not considered mainstream pets. They also have the ability to melt into a fluffy ball of cuddle, which is the cutest thing ever. Their feathers are like magic.”

Henry will definitely consider getting more pets and possibly different ones than she has now if she has the funds, space and ability to care for more pets.

There are plenty of animals that I want when the time is right,” she said. “Like I said, I do my research and join many groups to learn from many different keepers and enthusiasts.”

She loves all kinds of geckos and would like to explore the different species, like crested gecko, gargoyle gecko, leachianus geckos, day geckos, cave geckos and even more leopard geckos.

“There are so many different colors, breeds and body types for all of these species,” she said. “I call myself the crazy gecko lady because I adore them so much.”

She’d also like to explore various lizard species.
“I have briefly looked at painted agamas. They’re similar to the standard bearded dragon, but supposedly can live in groups, unlike beardies,” she said. “Having animals interact together is fun to watch. Axolotls and some fish species are also on the list. Alas, aquariums take up so much space and time that I will have to wait even longer for them. To be honest, I’d be happy with more of the same type of pets I have.”

Henry doesn’t spend a lot of money on pet food.

I love to buy in bulk and grow some of the food myself when I can,” she said. “Only the animals needing fresh veggies (that I’m not growing) need weekly grocery stops and, luckily, veggies aren’t that expensive. I could spend between $10 to $20 if I want to really spoil them and possibly save some for later in the freezer. I’ve been working on growing more veggies and herbs for my animals and storing them in ways to make them last much longer. Having DIY recipes can also help cut a decent amount of the food bills.”

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