Schafer: I’m hyperfocusing on… trust, role models and dinosaur cards

Columnist Cameryn Schafer discusses the importance of trust in owning pets through her Halmahera blue tongue skink, Tsuchi.Tsuchi has been socialized for several months, which requires significant trust from a reptile. He spends part of each day exploring or relaxing with his owners outside of his enclosure and will soon help educate people interested in owning reptiles.

Cameryn Schafer

Editor’s Note: This column is a part of a series called “I’m hyperfocusing on…”.

When you live with an animal, trust is one of the most important things to establish. My chameleon used to feel threatened every time my boyfriend or I would open his enclosure to give him food, and although he doesn’t have the courage to actually bite, he certainly has the audacity to pretend he’s going to. It took a lot of patience to get to the point that he didn’t feel threatened by me, but I don’t think he fully trusts me yet. He still avoids coming out of his enclosure when we need, like for vet appointments, moving days and showers during shed. Chameleons are solitary by nature, and they would normally only interact with another animal for mating or to defend their territory, so we don’t push him too hard, and we work at his pace.

My blue tongue skink, Tsuchi, on the other hand, only took a couple weeks to socialize. We adopted him Oct. 4, gave him about 10 days to himself and then began handling him daily. We started slow at first, only handling for five or 10 minutes, and worked it up over time. We use cues to let him know when he’s going to be handled so he doesn’t get stressed and pay attention to his body language.

Since then, I’ve noticed our trust most significantly when I lay down near him. Tsuchi has crawled up next to my face to take a nap, climbed onto my chest to sit over my heartbeat or burrowed under my legs or back for shelter. Whenever I wear something with a hood while holding him, he climbs up my arm, over my shoulder and into my hood. I love that he’s so willing to interact, and I notice my stress level hit the floor during our “cuddle time.”

This weekend, while I was getting ready to take a shower, I heard my boyfriend talking in a hushed tone in the other room. I opened the door and found him sitting in our play pen. He had Tsuchi in there with him, and I could see him holding a deck of cards. I caught on to the subject of his conversation and realized the cards were his flash cards with pictures of dinosaurs. While Cole explained what made each dinosaur special, Tsuchi sat in place looking at the picture. This continued for half an hour, and I overheard bits and pieces of Tsuchi’s lesson.

“This one is a pachycephhlosaurus. It had a hard head, like you, but theirs is used like a weapon.”

“The oviraptor was thought to steal eggs, but they were really protecting their own eggs like good parents.”

“This is an ankylosaurus. It had a club tail. You kinda have a club tail, too. But don’t hit anybody with your tail, that’s not nice.”

When I asked Cole about this afterward, he explained to me that he wanted to give Tsuchi good role models to look up to as he grows up. Tsuchi sat through the whole thing, and as soon as Cole finished talking about the last dinosaur, he finally started exploring the play pen, almost as though he’d been listening. The interaction showed trust between a pet and their person, and it hit my emotions pretty hard.

We’ve established trust with Tsuchi, and we’ve known for a while that he doesn’t dislike interactions. Now we know that he understands that cuddle time is more than just an opportunity to find a new spot to burrow.