Pets that Impress: Exotic Animals

It’s pretty obvious why humans are so fond of keeping pets. They don’t scheme against you or start drama; animals either like you, run from you, or try to kill you. That’s it! That’s all they do! That seems so much simpler than our relationships with our friends and family, who will do all three of those things, as well as a bunch of other stuff.

Dogs and cats are pretty standard for some folks. Others would rather kick it up a couple of notches and keep a more unconventional animal, like a snake, spider, or vermicious knid. Of course, this is not Vietnam—there are rules that dictate what kinds of exotic pets you can own.

Oregon State law says that exotic animals are prohibited, unless you have a permit from before the law was enacted in 2011. The state defines exotic animals as: non-human primates, bears that aren’t black bears, non-indigenous canines or felines that aren’t domestic or domestic crosses, and crocodilians. While we give kudos to Oregon for the kibosh on monkeys and gators, black bears and cougars are allowed? Really?? That’s just asking for trouble. Imagine if Ammon Bundy had an army of bears instead of yokels, clowns, and hee-hawin’ yahoos when he took over Malheur. Now imagine the bears have ARs. Let’s all thank God that he didn’t consider this. No step on snek.

In addition to the very loose state laws regarding pets, ODFW has a giant list of prohibited species. These rules are aimed at protecting the native species from being overrun and out-competed by invasive animals. Some of the highlights are: wildebeest, nine-banded armadillos, bushy-tailed jirds, Egyptian Geese, midwife toads, Swedish swamp frogs, Asian pit vipers, and Japanese Mystery Snails. There’s plenty of animals on this list with less hilarious-sounding names, so we’ve included the link below for you to reference. If you are in possession of any of these animals, please immediately surrender yourself to the authorities.

So, now that we know what animals that we’re allowed to keep, we need to figure out where we can procure them. I dropped by The Animal House on 626 SW Fourth to check out their selection, and speak with the owner, Dale Stepnicka.

Mr. Stepnicka has been in the pet business for 36 years, and shows no signs of tiring of it. While Mr. Stepnicka is indeed a businessman, his love for the animals takes precedent, and he won’t sell them to just anyone. The staff of The Animal House makes a point to adamantly inform their patrons of the commitment involved in the care of these animals. Many of these species require specific environments to thrive, including temperature, moisture, diet, and even pH in some cases. If one isn’t willing to properly care for these animals, Mr. Stepnicka would rather sell to someone who is.

Many of the animals in the shop were raised by Mr. Stepnicka in his home; the most interesting of which may be his collection of albino axolotls, also known as Mexican walking fish. This endangered salamander is only native to Lake Xochimilco near Mexico City, its habitat nearly obliterated. Axolotls are of great interest to science, as they have an uncanny ability to regenerate themselves when injured.

The Animal House also sells pets that are considerably less cute than the adorable axolotl. They have a formidable collection of tarantulas (still somewhat cute) and scorpions (get me away from here). Mr. Stepnicka had no problem reaching into a venomous scorpion’s space to lift a rock and reveal the creature, who skittered around the terrarium in response. Oh, Jesus.

“Do you want to see it under the black light?’ asked Stepnicka. I’ll admit that I was intrigued, even though I wanted to run for it. A solid journalist must keep their cool. He shined the black light onto the arachnid to reveal brilliant greens and blues on the creature’s exoskeleton. My terror faded into appreciation and wonder.

Stepnicka had told me that many of the aquarium and terrarium animals would be purchased by students as the new term started.

“The students will even buy the scorpions?,” I asked.

“Sure! They’re small, easy to keep, and quiet,” replied Stepnicka.

“I guess the guys can use them to impress girls,” I wise-assed.

“Only the girls worth keeping around,” he laughed.

Touche, Dale, Touche. Salamanders, spiders, and scorps aren’t all The Animal House has to offer, either. They have lizards, snakes, TONS of freshwater and saltwater fish, turtles, a superbad pac-man frog, and loads of birds of both the chill and shrieking variety. No cougars or bears though, unless they’re keeping them in the back, away from the press. Seems unlikely.

See if your pet is prohibited here:


By Jay Sharpe