Tales of furry friends

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Clients who brought exotic companion mammals to Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital in suburban Skokie on a recent morning each had a story to tell about their animals.

Chris the guinea pig
Chris the guinea pig undergoes an annual examination at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital. (Photo by Katie Burns)

Colleen M. Barnett got her ferret, Gary, after her dog died when she was 16. Now Gary is geriatric at about age 8.

“He’s fun,” Barnett said. “He’s always been like an old man. He’s always been very laid-back.”

Gary has various conditions common to geriatric ferrets—insulinoma, adrenal problems, and an enlarged heart. With medications, he seems to be doing OK, Barnett said.

She had another ferret, a female, who died two years ago. She said ferrets are quirky and curious. They like to steal stuff; she found a trove of film canisters behind a dresser.

“When they’re up, they’re up, and then they pass out,” she said.

Gary sleeps more these days, but he still does his curious walk-around. He wouldn’t snuggle when he was younger, but now he passes out in Barnett’s arms.

Daniel Kovacevich said his wife got their first rabbit, Buster, from a relative. They thought rabbit care would be easier, yet fell in love with the soft and friendly species.

After Buster died, the couple adopted Mickey. Kovacevich built Mickey a rabbit house in the basement. She developed heart disease, but she is doing well on medication.

Now Kovacevich and his daughter, age 1 1/2, go down to the basement together to feed Mickey.

Colleen and Gary the ferret Lauren and Pickles the hedgehog Daniel and Mickey the rabbit

From left to right: Colleen M. Barnett brought Gary the ferret to Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital for a checkup on geriatric conditions. Lauren Karavites brought Pickles the hedgehog in because of diarrhea. Daniel Kovacevich brought Mickey the rabbit in for a recheck for her heart disease. (Photos by Katie Burns)

Mary Kay Lorenz and her husband got their daughter, Megan, a guinea pig for Christmas a few years ago. Megan, now 11, named him Chris in honor of the holiday. Lorenz and Megan would like to have a dog, but the family lives in a high-rise in downtown Chicago.

Lorenz said her husband and Megan love Chris. Her daughter plays with the guinea pig and talks to him. Lorenz brings Chris in for annual examinations.

Chris is pretty low-maintenance, Lorenz said, but he has a gourmet diet—endive and parsley along with carrots and hay.

Lauren Karavites is helping her boyfriend watch a hedgehog for a friend who is studying abroad. Karavites said Pickles is cute and quirky, if not always the friendliest creature.

Pickles has her own little personality, Karavites said. The hedgehog acts grumpy, huffing and puffing, but then she’ll come over to see people. Karavites and her boyfriend bought a wire pen and toys for Pickles, and all the hedgehog tries to do is escape.

Karavites brought the hedgehog in for diarrhea. Otherwise, the hedgehog has been pretty easy to care for, and Karavites wants to get one of her own.

Ellen Lekostaj and her boyfriend have two rabbits. Late last year, they adopted a Flemish Giant that turned out to have a heart defect and died. They said to each other, “We have a rabbit-shaped hole in our hearts.”

They adopted another rabbit, Vivian, probably a mixed breed with Flemish Giant in the mix. Then they adopted Garbanzo, a Flemish Giant who was 3 months old at the time of his initial visit to Chicago Exotics.

Lekostaj has had dogs and cats “forever,” but her boyfriend never had pets. He wanted a pet that was more his, and he fell in love with bunnies. She said, “To have a bunny hop up to you and look for attention is the sweetest thing in the world.”