SOME LOCAL RESIDENTS’ PETS HAVE FEATHERS AND SCALES INSTEAD OF FUR

Cockatiel Nacho surveys his domain.

STORY: Laura J. Moss

According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, and while the vast majority of them are cats and dogs, not all of our furry friends are. In fact, many of them aren’t even furry.

Thirteen percent of U.S. households are home to freshwater fish, 8 percent have birds and 5 percent share their abodes with reptiles. And then there is the growing number of Americans—13 million of them, to be exact—who are part of the backyard poultry scene.

Ashley Love’s backyard farm includes dogs, goats and chickens.

“We have 20 animals [at home], including our chickens,” says Ashley Love, who works on film sets in Buckhead and beyond doing craft services. “Last April, an animal wrangler brought a baby goat to set, and after feeding it a bottle, I FaceTimed my husband, telling him I wanted a baby goat. Our animal wrangler hooked me up with a lady who had a couple of pregnant goats, and while we waited [for our goats], we checked out a feed store. The store had baby chicks for sale and, being the sucker that I am and the loving husband that he is, we walked out with five chicks.”

Love says her menagerie brings the entire family joy but acknowledges that caring for so many animals isn’t for everyone, especially when it comes to adorable but extremely messy fowl. “I’d never advise anyone fooled by the cuteness of baby ducks into actually bringing them home,” she says.

Reptiles such as snakes and lizards may seem more low maintenance, but that’s not always the case. Sandy Springs resident Lizette Mendieta, a veterinarian from Mexico who now works as an account manager in Atlanta, has a bearded dragon named Peanut whom she loves dearly but admits is a lot of work. “All reptiles need a proper habitat and require specific temperatures, lighting and food,” she says.

But while Peanut may require a lot of upkeep, Mendieta insists he’s just as important, and as cuddly, as her dog. “Reptiles are homeotherms, meaning they adjust their body temperature to that of their surroundings,” she says. “That’s why I like to hold Peanut next to my heart and give him kisses on his big, strong head.”

Peanut the bearded dragon plays with a fellow four-legged pal.

Buckhead attorney Daniela Villamizar, who has a 4-year-old cockatiel named Nacho, says birds also make incredible pets. “I choose not to clip Nacho’s wings, so he’s a flyer and very independent, but he’s also a mama’s boy and will yell whenever I leave his sight,” she says. “Cockatiels love a good head scratch and will always keep you company.”

Before bringing any animal home, no matter what species or breed they are, do your research, advises Dr. Steven Winkour of Buckhead’s Pharr Road Animal Hospital. “I would strongly recommend that a prospective owner of any pet become well acquainted with the animal’s nutrition and environmental and psychological needs, and find that information from a qualified professional.”

While caring for a nontraditional pet can have its challenges, these local pet owners prove that a dog isn’t man’s only best friend.