Yesterday night as I was drifting off to sleep, after I was done playing around with my camera trying to take pictures of my arm, I started to think about my iguanas. My first iguana was named Dino, and he is he reason I have a tattoo around my left forearm, just below the elbow. It reads:
четыре с половиной фута
длиной и зеленый!
This translates very roughly to “Four and a half feet long and green!” I am not seeking corrections for this, as 1) it’s years too late already, and 2) I’m aware, as I was at the time I got this tattoo done, that the imperial system of measurement is not really a part of the Russian language.
The reason I got this tattoo to honour Dino is simple but it runs very deep within me: his presence in my life changed me. It was the first time in my life I felt fully human. He was my rock while I went through a very turbulent period in my life as I struggled to climb out of abject poverty and homelessness. He needed me, and until I acquired him, I had no idea how much I needed someone who needed me.
Dino was raised in what started as a loving environment, with a female handler who had a daughter who was enthusiastic about their beautiful little lizard. That is, until their little lizard got too big for her taste. That’s when the female handler took what she alleged was a family heirloom, and turned it into an enclosure with rubber lining the bottom and polyester carpet throughout the rest. By the time she finally put him in the paper for adoption to a new handler, he had grown so large that he couldn’t turn around inside without dragging his tail through his own waste. I remember spotting the ad and, simply not having as much money as she was asking for, I decided not to answer. But then the next issue advertised a smaller fee. My friend Otto helped me retrieve him, and she gave me the enclosure to keep him in even though I had no plans of using it (she later became very upset when she learned that we left it outside when it couldn’t fit through the door where I was living).
I left Dino alone in my 6-foot-by-8-foot room (with the door closed) and when I came back from work, I couldn’t find him. But he had smeared fecal matter everywhere, as iguanas will do when they are frightened or angry and confined to a particular space, so I knew he was terrified out of his wits. Eventually I found him hiding in one of my boxes, on the very top shelf of the only piece of furniture I had at the time. I quietly cleaned in the room and then brought all 18 pounds of him down from his hiding space. He never made that kind of a mess again in all the years I had him. The next morning, I found a note in my door explaining that I had 24 hours to vacate my room and take my animal with me. Otto came to the rescue, and took both Dino and I in as housemates.
Despite virtually no indications of what was to come over two weeks of living with him and giggling over Dino running down our hallway with all four limbs flailing simultaneously, Otto drove to the city limits and committed suicide in his truck. This resulted in my eviction from the property, and when I was moving Dino, he escaped from the truck. I was devastated beyond reconciliation until, shortly after moving into my first apartment, the person I was dating at the time recognized the iguana in a rather odd news story in the local paper. I couldn’t possibly make this up, so I’m attaching a picture of the newspaper clipping I’ve saved:
Obviously my favourite part is about how the people who discovered him at the oilfield distribution company where he ran to, assumed he must have hitch-hiked on the slow boat, and still had the energy and strength left to terrorize them. And I’ll be honest — the 45-minute long chase scene that plays out in my mind is pretty entertaining too. But I might have had a very different perspective if he hadn’t been returned to me. When I got to the SPCA, he had bruised himself, broken off one of the little horns on his nose, and injured his mouth trying to bite the ten-foot pole that was used to secure a loop around his neck. His eyes were bloodshot and he was terrified for his life, but I knew he recognized me. I was sobbing, but I spoke really softly to him, reached out for him, and promptly sustained a fucking nasty welt from being hit square in the middle of my knee with the very tip of his tail when he leapt back a foot. I felt like going to work after bringing him home that morning was akin to torture. And when I came home, he was still in the box in my bedroom. Just silently waiting for me. Two days later, I was phoned by the paper for an interview about my big guy, and the day after that, this story was published on the front page of the second section of the paper:
Dino also came to BC with me when I finally moved away from Edmonton. And back to Edmonton for the four months I was out there for my medical office administration diploma. And that’s when the person I was dating at that time gave me the ultimatum: it’s him or the iguana. I regret ever choosing a person over my iguana, who never yelled at me, belittled me, or manipulated me. I especially regret choosing that particular person over Dino. But while I was in BC with Dino, when I was moving every two months, someone called on me to take a second iguana when she was abandoned by a reptile hoarder. This second iguana’s name was Lizzie, and she had been battered and fed toxic foods. As a result, she didn’t trust anyone of the human species. And because she was so aggressive towards people, she was locked into a cage with chicken wire on the bottom above a tray to catch her wastes, and when she was beaten over the head with her food dish, she frequently broke her toenails off on the wire. But Dino helped her become socialized to me by socializing with her. And that was what made Dino so special — he was so uniquely dosile, he could keep anyone calm (and that included me on multiple occasions).
With Dino, and a lot of patience on my part, I tamed Lizzie, and she came to trust me exclusively. She grew a bit while I cared for her, and she learned all the house-broken lizard ways of Zen master Dino, who never once showed aggression towards her, even when she would bite his jowls (the iguana equivalent of your cheek) for something to hang onto while she climbed on top of him (her favourite place in the open roost they shared). When she was at the prime of her health, she became gravid (egg-bearing), and tragically, they became bound together as they grew inside her. Because the person I was dating at the time was also my long-term partner, with whom I was financially co-dependent, I needed his support to get her help. But he didn’t care, and had already told me to get rid of the iguanas if I wanted to stay with him. She died as a result of egg-binding, shortly after a failed attempt to adopt her out to a new home, where she attacked everything in sight from the moment I walked out the door until I came back to retrieve her from a very distressed young man.
I adopted Dino out to my previous partner after Lizzie died. The only peace I’ve been able to give myself over her death is the quality of life I was able to give her in the last year of her very short life. I still miss her and Dino, every day. They enriched my life when no human being would (arguably, I did the same for them in the same circumstances). I will always be grateful for the experience — I couldn’t think of a more powerful reason to get a tattoo to honour a pet, and I doubt that I will only ever have one tattoo for them.