Pet Guide - Exotica

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

Meow Mixes

Here are some unusual cross-breeds of felines and their origins. They fetch anywhere from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on bloodlines and demand; whether they are a show, pet or breeding cat; and how many generations removed they are from their ancestors.

Savannah (Above)
African Serval and domestic cat

Asian Leopard Cat and domestic cat


South American Geoffroy’s Cat and domestic cat


Jungle Cat and domestic cat




In Cassadaga, a Psychic’s Read on Furry Friends Past or Present

“People want to know if their pets are happy and how to understand them better,” says Jamie Ruiz as she prepares to tell me what’s going on in my cat’s head. A pet psychic practicing in Cassadaga, a community of spiritualists near DeLand, Ruiz (386-228-2323) says she can tune in to the spiritual vibrations of living or deceased pets via photographs, or you can bring your pet to her. Ruiz has performed readings—$55 for 30 minutes—on hundreds of animals, helping their owners learn everything from petting preferences to whether a lost dog is still living. So I hand the 15-year pet psychic a photo of Max, our chubby family cat. “There’s something new in the house that Max doesn’t like or understand,” Ruiz says. That’d be my 1-year-old, who greets poor Max with ear-piercing squeals and bear hugs. No worries, Ruiz assures me, Max is still happy. “He just needs a little more attention.” I think she meant from me, not the kid.

—Kristen Manieri



Squirrel Skis, Film at 6 and 11

A slow news day gave ‘Twiggy the Water-Skiing Squirrel’ its big break. By Bill Bauman

On a summer day in 1978 I was operating the assignment desk at WFTV-Channel 9. The assignment editor coordinates reporter assignments and news coverage, and then funnels everything that comes in to the producers, who put the news on television.

Just before noon I fielded a call from a man who identified himself as Chuck Best from Sanford. He said, “I’m down on the southeast corner of Lake Monroe, and I’ve taught a squirrel how to water ski. I glued two popsicle sticks together, mounted a little set of handlebars, put some peanut butter on them, and then attached a line to a battery-powered boat. I thought you guys might like to see it.”

I offered a response that went something like “smoke another one and call me back later.” We got a lot of prank calls.

Half an hour later, one of our best reporters at the time, Ron Comings, who covered Seminole County, called in a panic from Sanford. A story he had been chasing was not coming together, and he was desperately trying to find another one. I told him, “Why don’t you go down to the southeast corner of Lake Monroe and tell me if you see anything unusual.” I was too skeptical to tell him what he might find.

At 5:30, the back door of the newsroom flew open. Ron and his photographer, Jeff Moorman, came sprinting in, waving a ¾-inch videotape while Ron shouted, “You won’t believe this. Get [Bob] Jordan,” the station’s news director.

We crowded into a small edit room, and Jeff hit the play button. Up came the most fantastic video—a tight shot of a small squirrel standing on what looked like water skis, and its front paws clutching a small stick mounted straight up from the skis. As the critter moved across the water towards the camera, Jeff did a slow pullback to reveal a small boat pulling the squirrel.  Ron said, “His name is Twiggy.”

Jordan said, “Call New York.” Twiggy debuted to Central Florida that night on our 6 and 11 newscasts. The next morning the water-skiing squirrel made its national debut on Good Morning America, and that evening Peter Jennings put it on World News Tonight. As they say today, Twiggy went viral. Ron and Jeff won an Emmy for their segment on Twiggy, and Chuck and his squirrel went on to tour
the convention circuit all over the world.

The original Twiggy died some years later, as did Chuck in a 1997 boating accident. But the franchise lives on through Chuck’s widow, Lou Ann, and subsequent Twiggys. 

Bill Bauman was the assignment editor at WFTV from 1978-1981. He retired as president and general manager of WESH-Channel 2 in 2007.


A Pocket Pet

“They’re more like a little dog than a hamster,” says Adam Wayne, referring to the behavior, life expectancy and companionship of the exotic pet commonly called the “sugar glider” (also known as “sugar bear” or “honey glider”). Indigenous to Australia and Indonesia, sugar gliders (they like sweet food and can glide through the air, hence the name) are palm-sized marsupials (Petaurus breviceps) that have caught on as low-maintenance (no shots or baths) pets. Intelligent and trainable, they can be taught to use a litter box, but they’re also clingy, preferring to hang on to their owners and snuggle in shirt or coat pockets. Wayne, of Southwest Florida, sells sugar gliders for about $500 a pop (cage and food included), but “I won’t let someone buy them on the spot,” he says, trying to discourage impulse purchases. He has forms for would-be buyers to fill out and encourages them to research the pros and cons of sugar glider ownership at his website,, and the Association of Sugar Glider Veterinarians’ site:

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