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Lodi area has been home to its share of exotic animals, including alligators, tarantula and deer

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Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2006 10:00 pm

Considering the deluge of rain the Lodi area has had the past two months, it might resemble enough of a swamp that might attract alligators.

As it turned out, an Acampo man had six of these critters on his chicken ranch. However, the California Department of Fish and Game confiscated the gators against the will of the owner, Daren Augustin, on March 13.

Augustin said he fed the alligators dead chickens from his ranch, but Fish and Game authorities cited him for housing alligators without a permit. They were taken to Wild Things, a Placer County sanctuary. The alligators are still at the sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that houses injured and abandoned animals in Weimar, located east of Auburn.

Wild Things and Fish and Game officials are looking for a good home for the former Acampo critters, said Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy.

Last year wasn't the first time that Fish and Game wardens discovered an unusual pet in Acampo. In January 2006, a warden discovered a deer kept in a vineyard on Peltier Road by some farm workers, Foy said.

The Lodi area is home to other unusual creatures, including a pet tarantula and a Burmese python.

Annika Knutson, a senior at Lodi High, has a pet tarantula, Rosie, which is unusual enough, but how many of them can boast having their tarantula blessed by a priest?

Father Rick Matters of St. John's Episcopal Church did just that during his annual Blessing of the Animals last October.

Knutson, who will turn 18 on Thursday, enjoys exotic pets. She owned a snake before she acquired Rosie, an Argentina native.

"She's one of the less poisonous breeds," said Knutson, who acquired Rosie at Christmastime 2004.

"She's about 5 years old now," she said. "Tarantulas are known for their longevity. They live to be around 30."

Knutson said she takes Rosie out of her cage once a day and puts her on her shoulder. She feeds Rosie live crickets.

Besides having a tarantula, you get to hear crickets chirping all night, Knutson said.

Another Lodi resident, John Cox, has a Burmese python, which can grow to 20 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds.

"They can be kind of aggressive," said Cox, who works at a Stockton pet store. "Don't go there with rat smell on your hands."

Uh, yes.

Pythons enjoy rats, and if your hands smell like rats, the snake will get aggressive with you.

So then why would Cox have rat odor on his paws anyway?

"I feed the rats to my snake," he replied.

And another Stockton pet store employee, Robyn Norris, has a rat, but she doesn't feed it to snakes. In fact, it's a trained rat named Psycho.

"He runs around the house," said Norris, who lives in Stockton. "He comes when I call him. And he greets everybody, whether they like it or not."

Norris bottle fed Psycho because his mother died before she could nurse him.

"He even sleeps in my bed with me," she said.

Norris said she wouldn't mind having a pet tiger in her home.

"If they were legal, I'd have one."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

First published: Monday, April 17, 2006

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