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Warm and Not-So-Fuzzies

I'll admit it: I'm not a big pet person. Three separate internet

quizzes intended to direct me to my ideal pet-friend all concur:

I should have a fish. A couple of years ago, my husband and I

decided to bring a dog into our home and give it a go. It lasted four

painful months. We're just not dog people. Or cat people. And in reality, I'm not all that warm to the idea of puckering up to anything with gills. So what's a pet-seeking family like mine to do?

The dog-cat-hamster trifecta might be as stereotypical of the average American household as the 1950s nuclear family once was. Like so many other aspects of everyday life, the human-and-furball dynamic has changed. People are entertaining some non-traditional animal friends as pets in their homes, many of them not quite so fluffy.

A creature many of us might feel inclined to run away from is making a

surprising appearance in some Northland homes. Though it's illegal to own a skunk as a pet in Duluth, Wisconsin laws take no such umbrage. There's no need to invest heavily in potpourri if a skunk is joining your household; babies have their scent glands removed early, rendering them capable of producing only typical animal odors.

Skunks are known to be intelligent and sociable pets, and can be litter

trained. A skunk is not a low-maintenance pet, however. They require a substantial amount of attention and interaction. While considered to be friendly and interactive, many sources advise against bringing skunks into households with very small children. They may not have the requisite temperament to tolerate the poking and prodding of little hands.

If visions of snuggling up to Pepé le Pew strike you as less than appealing, consider another fine, pint-sized critter: the hedgehog. Dr. Lisa Jeanetta, DVM, at Dougherty Veterinary Clinic in Duluth indicates that aside from being "really neat looking little critters" they're pretty engaging as well.

"(Hedgehogs) have interesting personalities. They are small critters and fairly easy to care for," says Jeanetta.

Hedgehogs are housed in cages, can be litter-trained, and are hypoallergenic. These hollow-haired fellows can poke or bite and demand careful handling, so a hedgehog may not make the best pet for your cuddle-hungry five-year-old. Hedgehogs are nocturnal by nature. They need to be socialized and played with daily. The more they're tended to and doted

on from an early age, the more friendly and affectionate they'll become.

If you're not keen on the idea of potential pricklers in your digits, a fluffier version of the atypical pet is being touted at pet stores

nationwide. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on the joyful ferret, a pet who adds excitement and energy to a home. These fuzzy creatures love to play, and they don't slow down much with age. They need a lot of time to run, and love to follow their owners in daily activities.

When not being played with, ferrets are kept in cages and can also be litter-trained. They enjoy feeling cozy and are known to act as mischievous little thieves, making off with garments left lying around in order to enhance their own little nests. Ferrets are notoriously curious and owners must thoroughly ferret-proof their pets' environments. They can be socialized from an early age to interact well with children, but should always be supervised to ensure the safety of both parties. Ferrets are

also known to exude a notably musky odor which is primarily a result of the critters' own body oils. Like the hedgehog, the ferret is a hypoallergenic pet.

Finding a doctor for a unique pet is critical but sometimes challenging.

"It is probably a little more difficult to get veterinary care for these creatures because a lot of vets feel that they don't have the training or experience to treat them," says Jeanetta. "In some cases, we really don't

know a whole lot about the habits or nutrition of the animal in their natural environment, so it can be difficult to know how to care for them in captivity."

As with any pet, it's best to acquire your new friend from a reputable breeder or source. Wherever your interests lie, be sure to do your homework before bringing a unique pet into your life. Your new friend may pose unusual challenges, but will also bring extraordinary rewards.