While some people may beg their parents for a puppy or kitten, eighth-grader Isabella Gauthier takes the term “pet” to a new level. With 108 pets, including a zebra, sloth, otter, llama and camel, Gauthier’s responsibilities differ from a typical eighth grader’s.
Gauthier’s parents began obtaining exotic pets long before they had a daughter. The first animal they purchased, a 24-year-old bird, is one of 52 birds they own. Gauthier’s parents also initially housed traditional farm animals such as goats, lambs and horses.
As time progressed, the pets became more exotic. Gauthier’s parents acquired the proper permits and travel to auctions such as the one Gauthier and her family drove to in Madison, Fla. this past summer. Her parents have different permits for each category, including exotic pets and farm animals.
The Gauthiers have different homes for their pets, both indoors and outdoors. Three of the pets live in their house, including a dog, two sloths and an otter, and the rest outdoors in a variety of enclosures. An employee takes care of their overall maintenance, but sometimes Gauthier helps out, something she considers as the less glamorous side of owning so many pets.
“My parents were in Guatemala and left me in charge of the otter, Stella. I cleaned her cage twice a day. I had to put her outside then back inside, which made her dirty,” Gauthier said. “She’s so messy, especially when she eats; she gets in the food. Cleaning her up is the not-so-fun part.”
Gauthier houses her collection of pets both indoors and outdoors, with animals like the zebra, named Tiger, residing outside. (Photo submitted by Isabella Gauthier)
Although cleaning after Stella doesn’t rank as one of Gauthier’s top ten most fun activities, Gauthier considers Stella one of her more intriguing pets. “Our otter actually eats cat food and fish,” Gauthier said. “She’s kinda like a cat, but she runs like a dog. She’s kind of scary.”
On the other hand, Gauthier’s least favorite pets include the birds. With a set of lungs that alerts everyone of their presence, the birds squawk whenever someone walks by them. They also have a powerful beak, a force Gauthier experienced first hand.
“We have this hyacinth macaw, like from the movie ‘Rio,’ whose beak is strong and can open tough things like macadamia nuts. I had her inside and she’d always walk around outside of her cage,” Gauthier said. “One day I went to put her back in the cage and she bit me. My nail turned purple and I started bleeding. She bit me so badly, but she acted like she was so good. Now we keep her outside.”
Despite experiences like these, Gauthier considers becoming a veterinarian, with a focus on domestic animals rather than exotic ones. “Our vet comes to the house to check out some of our animals. Sometimes I shadow him, seeing what he does with the animals,” Gauthier said.
With 108 pets and counting in their care, Gauthier and her family surely have a zoo of their own. In the future, Gauthier and her family hope to include Capuchin monkeys and a clouded leopard in their family.