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Kismet and the Pink Dog Shirt by Susan Glynn Mulé, Author

a lizard, a Ctenosaura similis, on a pink bed, surrounded by green plants and a pink leaf
Little Moira on her first pink bed.

Moira, my tiny Ctenosaura similis, has her first pink princess bed. Well, it is pink and it is a bed, but it doesn’t say “Princess” or have a little crown on it like Kismet’s old one did. Of course, it is a bed designed for tiny dwarf hamsters and cost all of $2.49, so I guess I can’t expect much, right?   

I know this will sound crazy, but Kismet, my cherished rock iguana, loved the color pink, especially bright, bold hot pink. From a scientific perspective, it likely reminded her of the delicious hibiscus flowers she so enjoyed. But she chose pink dog beds and pink blankets and stole the dogs’ pink toys.  Let’s face it—there was nothing scientific at all about Kismet. 

But back to pink. It’s important that you know I did not dress up my lizard every day and I never, ever forced her to wear the little costumes and outfits.  I was accused of this by a few individuals who really did not understand Kismet. As if anyone could force a half-grown Cyclura to do anything, anyway! Would I really be stupid enough to try to compel an animal with over 120 razor sharp teeth and a tail that can whip with the power to possibly break a limb to put on a pink dog shirt? Nope.

For reptile shows and school presentations, she was often decked out in a pink princess dog shirt. She even had a ruffled skirt for the first episode of my daughter’s short-lived YouTube series, where the scenes opened with my daughter and Kismet having a princess tea. Kismet’s unexpected death and my husband’s abrupt terminal cancer diagnosis that same summer deflated all our enthusiasm for putting that show together. The  final nail in the coffin for the series was when our filmographer moved away. Four or five episodes aired, but the rest never made it to final editing, which is really a shame because the show was adorable. When Kismet first died, my daughter considered continuing with Kismet’s mate, Sebastian. Then we found out about Mike’s cancer and . . . well, it just wasn’t in the cards.

Kismet loved people and she loved riding in the car, and she had already stolen several pink dog toys from our greyhounds, when a friend and I took Kismet for a ride. We stopped at this cute little pet shop on the way home. I walked around the store carrying Kismet and suddenly heard screaming. A woman was yelling something about an alligator in the store. It took me a minute to realize she meant Kismet. I tried to explain that she was a harmless rock iguana from the Caymans, but the woman remained unconvinced. The clerk told me not to worry about it, but I did worry, because this was very bad PR for the reptile community. Her reaction is an example of why so many people post on social media that we have a responsibility not to bring our reptiles out in public. But, is that really fair? Some people are afraid of dogs, but no one tells dog owners to keep their pets home. I did not want anyone to be upset by Kismet’s presence, but I also did not want to leave the store before I had finished shopping. I was in a store that welcomed animals, including my scaly princess.  

Princess. 

a rock iguana in a hot pink dog t-shirt on a white blanket, eating a green leaf
Kismet wearing her hot pink dog t-shirt.

I looked up and saw a rack of dog t-shirts. There was a hot pink sleeveless t-shirt that would fit Kismet. I walked over, bought it and put it on her right there in the store. Not only did she not object—she seemed downright pleased.  She crawled up to where her front paws were on my shoulder and she could see behind me. With her body stretched up, her hot pink t-shirt was clearly visible.

“Excuse me.” 

I turned around and saw the lady who had screamed a few minutes before. I bristled, but she seemed calm enough now.

“Yes?” I asked politely. “Were you talking to me?” 

She nodded and took a tentative step forward. “That’s such a cute little animal. I was wondering what she is.”

Sarcasm played at the edges of my lips. “The same animal you thought was an alligator and freaked out about, right over there.”  I didn’t say it, even though I wanted to. Instead, I smiled. “She’s a rock iguana from the Cayman Islands.” 

“She’s very sweet.”  The lady looked her up and down, her gaze going back and forth from Kismet’s face to the hot pink t-shirt. “Can I touch her?”

 I nodded and repositioned Kismet with my hand under her chest. “Yes, “ I said. “Of course.”

The woman petted the t-shirt first and when Kismet only cocked her head, she moved her hand down to Kismet’s side below the bottom of the t-shirt. “Ohhhhhh,” she said, “she feels like upholstery fabric.”

I laughed. I had heard that a number of times. “I guess she kind of does.” 

She asked more questions and I answered them. By the time she left, she knew about the endangered Cyclura lewisi and how, at that time, there were very few left in the wild. By the time she left, she knew about the International Reptile Conservation Foundation and the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. She had listened with fascination, petting Kismet the entire time.

All because of a hot pink dog shirt.

A rock iguana on a pink Princess bed near a window, covered in a pink blanket.
Kismet on her Princess bed, enjoying the view out the window.

After that, Kismet wore that shirt, and others that followed, every time we left the house. Every place we went, people asked questions and asked to pet her. Never again did we have anyone act afraid or scream “alligator.” Instead, we were often able to educate people on the iguanas of the Cyclura genus and various conservation efforts to save them. Kismet, for her part, got to be petted and fawned over.  People can think what they want, but anyone who ever watched Kismet being petted and fawned over could tell she enjoyed it. And when the cameras came out . . . well, that is a whole other blog post.

Moira is much too small for even the tiniest dog t-shirt. Even if they made t-shirts for mice, I think they would be a bit too large. And, of course, I do not know if she would take to them with the same enthusiasm that Kismet did, or the dignified resolve of Sebastian (who has his own set of costumes). 

For now, though, Moira is sitting in her tiny pink bed, looking rather pleased with herself.  

Susan Glynn Mulé is the author of Princess Tien.

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Mindful Betta Care by Susan Glynn Mulé, Author

I am taking a little break from tales of Moira and Kismet to discuss a completely different, but very important, topic.  It occurred to me recently that I had broken one of my own rules and, as a result, I’d become a serial killer. 

“It takes three,” I thought to myself as I buried my third betta fish under the statue of Saint Francis in the backyard. I had killed three and a fourth was on the brink of death. I doubted he would live the night. I was done with betta fish.

A dying betta fish

I had not researched betta care because, after all, everyone knows how to take care of a betta, right? And hadn’t my late husband and I both kept betta fish alive for years in a beautiful decorative vase with pothos and other plants growing out of it?They had made such beautiful display pieces and the fish thrived and even made the occasional bubble nest. Right up until they died. Sadly, these last three had each lasted just past the 30-day health guarantee the pet store offered. It wasn’t something the pet store had done. I was murdering my fish.

So I typed “betta fish care” into my search engine and started reading about everything I was doing wrong. My fish needed more room.They were too cold. They really didn’t like the water *that* stagnant. Waves of guilt ran over me.  I had been so happy when I’d purchased a nice one gallon “Betta Bowl” from Amazon and was now devastated that my beautiful fish died just a month later. I had thought one gallon was practically a betta mansion. I sat at the kitchen counter, staring at my last betta, Kronos, as he lay on his side and gasped. I had just cleaned his bowl, the same way I always did.

Was the water too cold? Was he dying or just in shock? Should I euthanize him?  I started to, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. The next day, he was still alive and no longer on his side. He still didn’t look good, but I was bound and determined that if he did die, he would be the last betta I ever killed.

I ordered a small aquarium, complete with filter and heater. If he was still alive when it arrived the next day, I would set it up for him.If he was gone, I would still set it up and give caring for betta fish one last try.  After all, the one I had at work still seemed to be doing well. I’d brought him one day for Story Time when we read The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfifer and never brought him home. (It was true, though, that his predecessor at work had died.) I ordered a second tank. 

Kronos moved into his new tank today. I set it up yesterday, used a good water conditioner and let the pump run over night. It isn’t huge, but it is a definite upgrade and I am working towards bigger and better things. Keshet, the fish I have at work, will need to wait until after the weekend to move, but I made sure the room was warm enough and aerated his water before I left.

turquoise green beta fish happily swimming in his aerated, algae-free, warm tank
Kronos, happily exploring his new home, just the way a betta fish should be.

I cannot wait to move Keshet because in the few hours that Kronos has been in his new tank, he has become a different fish. He is happily swimming all over the tank, exploring the alien skull that sits on the bottom. He has a variety of live plants, including a floating moss ball to keep the water oxygenated and a snail companion named Mystique to keep the algae under control. I don’t think I’d ever realized just how beautiful Kronos is. I’d never seen him with his fins and tail so fully extended. The poor fish had always been too cold. I am sure all of this has been a big shock to Kronos and, as he was not doing well previously, I hope he survives the transition and goes on to live a long and happy betta life.

 Susan Glynn Mulé is the author of Princess Tien, now available at Amazon.

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Kismet: The Love of my Little Dinosaur, by Susan Glynn Mulé, Author

My mood was dark. My birthday had just passed. It had been another birthday alone and it would be another set of holidays alone. Not alone in the sense of not being with anyone. Thanksgiving had been a lovely celebration at the home of my daughter’s future in-laws and I had felt totally at peace. But still a certain loneliness.

The day before my birthday, my daughter, her fiancé and I had attended a Knights of Columbus Memorial where, for the fourth year in a row, my late husband’s name would be called. Could it really have been my fourth birthday since he died? I thought about what he might have given me. Roses, of course — and dinner at our favorite little Italian place. There would probably have been something tangible as well; an article of clothing or earrings perhaps. He would have ordered me wine, smiled, and taken my hand across the table.

a Ctenosaura similis iguana on furniture
Moira, a Ctenosaura similis iguana

Trying to brush my sadness away, I open the cage sitting on the chest of drawers in my living room. I place my hand inside and little Moira climbs down from her branch and settles on my hand. I study her intently – all 16 grams of her. Perched on my fingertips, I marvel at how tiny she is.  And I wonder: How is it that my heart is so stirred by such a tiny creature whom I barely know? How is it that holding this tiny creature has just turned my day around and cast a ray of sunlight into my dark mood? I have only had her a month, this tiny Ctenosaura similis that I brought home from IguanaFest, despite reminding myself again and again that I did not need another lizard. She cocks her head, looking up at me and there is so much depth to her gaze – as if she is looking into my very soul. Only one other lizard has ever looked at me quite this way. Kismet. Kismet, who will always be loved and never be forgotten…

It had been another horrible day. It wasn’t long after my father’s unexpected death and our daughter was away, probably spending the night at a friend’s house and I did not have my motherly duties to distract me from my sorrow. All I can remember is feeling as though the earth had been pulled from beneath my feet so that my stomach lurched and my head ached. I was lying across the old worn couch that had been my husband’s grandmother’s. It had looked like new when he brought to our Texas home from Norco, Louisiana. One year in our house, with animals jumping on it and a plethora of roving teens plopping on it, and it looked every bit of its ninety years. It smelled old and the dampness from my tears accentuated the musty odor. I had been crying for what felt like a century. I could hear the clicking of the keyboard as my husband, Michael, worked in the other room. He had been unable to console me and had abandoned the task and returned to working on his project. I knew he ached at not being able to help me and I felt guilty for pushing him away — which only made me cry all the harder.

hand of a nine-pound iguana
Kismet’s hand.

When I opened my eyes, I could see Kismet under her basking light. She was perched on the shelf we built for her. Her head was cocked. She was studying me. I closed my eyes again and returned to my tears. The kerflump of her body hitting the floor as she jumped down from her roost and the click of her toenails on the floor until she reached the carpet opened my eyes again. I watched as she moved toward the couch. She cocked her head again, and then jumped up into the space between my body and the edge of the couch. Snuggling close to me, she reached over and with her right paw, gently stroked my cheek with her claws. The touch was more soothing, more calming, than I would have thought possible. A wave of affection for this nine-pound lizard washed over me and I stroked her back. As I marveled at the intuitiveness of my little dinosaur, a slow smile found its way to the corners of my mouth – and even to my eyes.

Michael, who also heard the kerflump and the clicking toenails stood in the doorway between the office and the living room and just watched as I scratched the scales along both sides of Kismet’s spines. He smiled slightly, shaking his head.

a nine-pound iguana on tile floor
The beloved and loving Kismet

“How did she know to do that?” he asked.

I shook my head. “I have no idea.”

He crossed over and sat down next to us. He stroked Kismet under the chin and looked at me. “No one is ever going to believe this, you know.”

I smiled at him. “I know.” I paused and looked into his warm and gentle brown eyes. “I’m sorry, I pushed you away, Mike. I was just too far away to let you in.”

“It’s okay,” he said, reaching over and stroking my cheek in the exact same spot as Kismet had. “I’m just glad she brought you back.”

I look back down into Moira’s soulful eyes. The expression is the same. Moira’s tiny tongue licks my fingertip, perhaps hoping that I have a tasty morsel. I don’t, but she licks my fingertip again and cocks her head to look at me. Her tiny claws wrap around my fingertip. I look back down into her soulful eyes that are so different — and yet somehow so very familiar.

No, I did not need another lizard. But I needed this one.

Susan Glynn Mulé is the author of Princess Tien: A Mountain Horned Dragon Tale.

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It was Kismet! by Susan Glynn Mulé, Author

A Rock Iguana hybrid, wearing a leash, outdoors on the sidewalk, ready to go for a walk.
Kismet, out for a walk.

Hello, everyone! I’ve never actually written a blog post before, so please bear with me. It is a rainy Sunday morning as I sit typing and the atmosphere has everyone around here, mammals and reptiles, sluggish and sleepy. There is a new reptile in the house and her presence has me reflecting, as I often do, on my favorite reptile of all time.

It was spring 2004 and my telephone rang. The caller was an officer of the Louisiana Gulf Coast Herpetological Society. “Hey, Susan, you have experience with big lizards. We have a rock iguana that kinda looks like a big fence lizard. It’s mean and as aggressive as heck. We need a home for it.”

I hesitated a moment, “Mean as heck” worrying me a bit. I had experience with green iguanas but didn’t even know what a rock iguana was. At the time, however, I was co-owner of a company called Suburban Safari. My partner and I gave educational presentations about various domestic and exotic creatures and we had been looking for new education-animals. I spoke before I had time to think it through. “Sure, I’ll take it.”

It was in that serendipitous moment that Kismet Ramoth Mulé entered my life and wormed her way into my heart. From the Herp Society’s description, I was expecting a much larger beast than the 18-inch nose-to-tail baby that arrived at my home; and it did not take me long to realize that the animal was neither mean nor aggressive–just scared. The woman who had relinquished her to the Herp Society included paperwork from Kismet’s breeder, so I soon learned she was a hybrid, a mix of Cyclura lewisi, Cyclura nubile, and Cyclura n. caymanesis. Having a weakness for hybrids of any kind (probably stemming from my childhood crush on Mr. Spock, the Vulcan/human hybrid from Star Trek), I immediately loved her and within a short few months she could be held, albeit with caution.

One lovely autumn afternoon, I put Kismet in her outside sunning cage. Fall in Southeast Louisiana can range from 90-degree days to 40-degree nights, sometimes within the same 24-hour period. When I went outside to retrieve her, I found her sunning cage open . . . and empty. Panic struck my heart. We’d made so much progress. At just two-years-old, Kismet was only two-feet long and her brown and gray coloration was going to make it difficult to spot her among the dead leaves that littered the service alleys behind the neighborhood houses, or in the front gardens lined with mulch.

A Rock Iguana hybrid, wearing a pink sweater, resting near the computer display on a desk
Kismet keeping warm at the computer desk.

I went straight to the computer to make flyers while my husband and daughter started the process of knocking on doors, asking people to search their yards. But when night came, her cage remained empty. I prayed and cried until I had no more tears and fell into a restless sleep. The next day brought more of the same. Although we received reports of a giant lizard in various neighbor’s yards, she was always gone by the time we arrived. She seemed to be circling the house and that made us wonder if she was trying to find her way back to warmth and food. We put the parrot outside hoping his calls and cries would lead her home, but to no avail. That night, cooler weather moved in, bringing a raging thunderstorm, and my heart felt like it would break with worry. More prayers and more tears filled the hours until dawn when it was light enough to look again.

By the third day, the weather had mostly cleared and it had warmed up a bit when the doorbell rang. It was a man the next-door neighbor had hired to do some yard work. He’d heard we were looking for a giant lizard (her size becoming more and more exaggerated as the days passed) and there was “a big thing that looked like an alligator on the neighbor’s driveway.” The man was too scared to try and catch it but wondered if it could be ours.

Kismet was hunched in the neighbor’s driveway when we arrived. We were cautiously moving toward the frightened lizard when my neighbor came out of her house, screaming, “I can’t believe that thing is on my driveway!” Kismet bolted, but somehow my husband managed to dive onto the concrete and grab her. He handed the squirming, gaping lizard to me. I took her into my arms and felt her entire body relax. She snuggled her face against my neck and I held her and cried, but this time with tears of profound relief and quiet joy.

The bond that forged between us on the day of her rescue proved solid and only continued to grow. Never in my life had I known such an intelligent and perceptive reptile. Her personality was so completely different from that of my green iguana, Mayan. Kismet was almost dog-like in her interaction with our family.

At the end of summer 2005, we evacuated from our home for Hurricane Katrina and after finding it was destroyed by flood waters, we resettled in Texas. The East Texas Herpetological Society helped us find caging and a good reptile vet.

Kismet continued to grow, as did our bond.

TO BE CONTINUED

Susan Glynn Mulé is the author of Princess Tien: A Mountain Horned Dragon Tale.