7

I Have a Confession

I don’t know what to talk about this week. Less than a month ago, I came home from vacation to realize that my petite little beardie, Nabooru, had died. And on Tuesday I made an appointment with the vet for what looks suspiciously like yellow fungus on my other bearded dragon, Deliora.

The marketer inside me doesn’t want to say anything about it — after all, I have an “image” to maintain. I’ve made my Instagram posts, now it’s time to move on. Just whip together some humor article to make this week’s deadline and keep pretending that I’m some kind of reptile savant with perfect husbandry and a perfect life.

But the other part of me —the honest me, the nerd who started ReptiFiles because she wanted to help people — insists that I put these words out for the world to see. First on paper, then on my computer, and finally when I hold my breath and hit “Publish.”

Every week on ReptiFiles I write about how to be a perfect reptile keeper. “Fireproof your reptile room!” “Make your own reptile first aid kit!” “Always take your reptile to the vet if you suspect something is wrong!”

When Nabooru stopped laying eggs last year, I thought it was a fluke. I thought to myself, “Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that hassle this summer.”

When brumation lasted a little too long, I figured that she’d wake up when spring arrived and natural sunlight came streaming back through the reptile room window.

When she finally woke up and didn’t have much of an appetite for salad, I made an appointment with the vet. The fat pads on her head were reduced, and she seemed to be napping more often than usual. The fecal float came back negative, but the vet prescribed a general dewormer just in case. He felt a hard mass in her abdomen, but it was just poo.

The vet suggested taking a blood test, but I declined. Deliora had just gone through an exam, blood panel, and a tracheal mucus swab under sedation — all for the conclusion that her condition was probably genetic, and there was nothing I could do. I told myself I was being paranoid, and that Nabooru would return to normal soon. Besides, Deliora’s vet bills had me drained.

When Nabooru’s appetite still didn’t return, I shrugged my shoulders and figured she’d come around eventually. After all, we had just moved her terrarium onto a shelf — it was just relocation stress. I ignored the fact that, the year before, she would literally leap from her basking log for a bowl of greens.

When she had trouble catching dubia roaches, I offered superworms instead and figured that her deteriorating coordination was a figment of my imagination.

When I realized that the fat stores in her tail were depleted to the point where I could see her vertebrae, I panicked. I soaked her to keep her hydrated and to keep her bowels moving. I syringe-fed her slurries of protein and vitamin-rich Repashy powders.

Through all this, she was still my alert, happy little girl. She held her head high, liked to explore the house, had bright eyes, and not a black spot to be found on her ladylike little beard. Sure, she slept more than usual. Sure, she was more content to cuddle than explore. Sure, she no longer held her tail up high. But it didn’t seem serious enough for another vet trip. I just needed to work harder.

So much justification. So many excuses.

I came home from a relaxing vacation in the mountains to a lifeless body in my reptile room.

Some people might read this and say that I should quit — give away my reptiles before I make another mistake. Some people might read this and tell me that I’m too inexperienced, that I’m unworthy of telling people what to do by running a reptile education site. After all, what is empty research in the face of hard experience?

The image of her empty, bloated body is seared into my mind. The moment of facing the doorway, nostrils filled with the reek of decay, the pet sitter’s concerned words stuck on repeat in my brain full of denial, dread sick in my gut — it’s all there. Fading a little with each passing day, yes, but still there.

My husbandry is not perfect. Not so long ago I kept two bearded dragons together in a terrarium full of sand. I’ve changed since then — changed a lot, I think, and for the better — but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve only really been keeping reptiles for three years. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a loooong way to go before I can be called an expert by any stretch of the imagination.

My writings *are* based on experience — but they also contain a lot of theory to fill in the gaps of my naivete. Well-researched theory (at least research is something I can say I’m well experienced in), but it’s still theory. The premise of ReptiFiles is to be an all-in-one reptile database of sorts. Anecdotal information based solely on experience can be found in countless forums and Facebook groups.

I just want to give people a place where they can get the information they need in order to keep their animals alive, and preferably healthy. But in a world of expert reptile breeders, zoo keepers, herpetologists with Master’s degrees and PhD’s, etc., this blogger pales in comparison. An imposter.

I’m just a 24-year-old English major — heck, I’m still five online classes away from graduation. I desperately regret not choosing Biology or Zoology or something else that would give me the credibility my readers expect me to have, but there’s nothing I can do at this point to change that path. So instead I’m curled up in the Internet’s closet, teaching myself reptile biology, ecology, and herpetoculture from scratch.

Am I good enough? Am I making a difference? Maybe I should just quit.

But no one else is doing this. Breeder websites, lifestyle blogs, pet stores, magazines, Tumblr accounts, forums, Facebook pages, and Instagram accounts — they try, but they’re like thrift store puzzles whose pieces have been dumped into a bowl and mixed around. Trying to put just one of the original puzzles back together can be a nightmare: missing pieces, pieces that look like they fit but don’t, pieces that don’t work altogether.

I’m trying to put the puzzles back together. One at a time, as many pieces as I can find, then setting them in a frame for others to reference all in one place. Some puzzles are missing more pieces than others. And perhaps I didn’t see the original artwork, or maybe I’m not even working with physical pieces. But if this young English major who loves to write and research doesn’t do it…who will?

I’m not giving up. I may not be the most qualified, but I have to believe that what I am doing is important.


 

7 Comments

  1. Don’t beat yourself up it’s now a learning experience! Sorry still for your loss.

  2. I’m sorry for the loss of your baby. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for it. No one, not even the experts can know everything about an animal. Even IF it was a mistake, it happens. I have only had my lizards for less than a year, but I know that I would also feel the way you’re feeling. You can’t help that, they are our babies, and we love them very much and would do everything in our means to take care of them. My confession, I was dead set against having any kind of reptile in my house, until my daughter talked me into getting , not 1, but 2! Bearded dragons. I am so in love with them now. We now have our beardies, a gecko, and a newly acquired chameleon. So, just learn as we go, I guess. Good luck, and chin up! We’re all behind you.

    • Thank you for the words, Anne. 🙂 Glad you’re having good experiences with your new reptiles! They are definitely an addiction.

  3. Mariah, You’re being way too hard on yourself. Things happen that are beyond our control, and the learning never ends. I just left a cage unlatched and am missing a 2-year-olf hognose snake that I bred, hatched and hand-fed to get him where he is today. I may find him alive and I may not. It was a stupid mistake on my part and I should know better. Yes, I’m kicking myself, too, but you can bet I won’t do it again. I’m sorry for your loss, but don’t give up over one mishap. We often learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes, and quitting benefits no one. We need you! Keep up the good work!

  4. I am reading your blog and I am fascinated for the thought-provoking posts. Unfortunately failures do happen to all of us. I have also lost animals, some by my own fault and some because they couldn’t live anymore. Each failure is of course a sad event, but we lern from it. Have you ever thought that the dragons was just too old? The symptoms seem more like senescence to me rather than any specific disease. Breeding feemales live even shorter lives. Generally this species isn’t particularly long-lived.

    • Senescence has occurred to me as a possibility; although according to the age provided by her previous owner she would have been about 7 years old. There’s no way of knowing how accurate that information was, but general life expectancy for captive bearded dragons is currently understood as 10-15 years, with many cases of older individuals,so living to be 7 would still be an unusually short lifespan. Breeder females do tend to have shorter lifespans, and it’s possible that she didn’t receive the best perinatal care, which would also contribute.

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