李慕白 and 秀蓮

let me tell you the sad, sad tale of li mu bai (李慕白).

on tuesday 2006.0620, jarom and I went to petco to see about getting me an anole. the whole thing actually started because lo and behold my sister got a pet bird, when (if you will recall) my parents had told me very specifically NO PETS. so I gave them a lecture on fairness and went to buy a lizard. but, there were many other interesting reptiles at the store: iguanas, geckos, chameleons, water dragons…I really wanted an iguana, but they grow awfully big; or a chameleon, but they were awfully expensive ($90). such being the case, I decided to think about it overnight and return the next day.

so on wednesday, we headed to petco again, and the consensus was that we should get a water dragon. this little guy was so pretty–a beautiful dark brown with just a hint of green up by his face and front arms. we talked to two managers; both had water dragons at home. the guy said he built a big cage for his because they grow about half as big as iguanas, but a 1.5′ x 1.5′ x 1.5′ cage would be fine for at least a year. the lady said water dragons can change from shades of brown to bright green, depending on mood and the color of their bedding. we liked him a lot, so we bought the recommended cage, lighting, bark, water and food dishes, heating pads, temperature/humidity guages, and mealworms to build a nice new home for the lizard we had already started to call mu. it was lots of fun to set everything up–and he gladly ate the three or four mealworms we gave him. the whole habitat was set up on top of my dresser.

the next day, mu was remarkably greener. you could see markings on him: white-ish stripes on his sides, and browner stripes all along his tail. over the next few days we figured out that he’d like to have more mealworms. once he ate 15 in one sitting! musta been hungry. unfortunately, he rubbed off one of the scales on his chin, and because he’d been digging in the bark, it got dirt in it. so we took him to see a vet over in suisun.

weren’t we surprised to find out that mu was extremely sick! he had a big sore on his mouth, where we thought his mouth was just interestingly shaped, and he was stressed, underweight, poorly fed (mealworms aren’t great for him), and being kept at the wrong temperature/humidity combination. mind you, we’d followed the instructions given to us by the folks at petco. but the vet told us that the more stressed and unhealthy water dragons are, the darker they get. poor mu was so sick!

you can imagine that we were a little put off by this. since mu had only been getting greener since we bought him, the logical conclusion was that he was sick when petco sold him to us. selling a sick lizard is not really very good. so we went to petco the following day. they’d gotten a new shipment of water dragons in since we bought mu — three bright green, lively lizards. one of the things we really liked about mu was his temperament. he was really relaxed and calm. little did we know that it was due to poor health more than anything else. and when we saw those three lizards romping around the cage, I got upset with petco. I talked to the managers there, who said I was more than welcome to exchange mu for a healthy one, and they’d take mu to the vet and help him get better.

now, a lot of people seem to think I’m tetched for this, but I really wanted to keep mu. I didn’t want a different lizard. what if I gave him back to petco and they “took care of him” in a euphemistic way? besides, the new lizard just wouldn’t be the same. so I asked if I could just have them treat mu until he was better, and they said of course.

it was thursday 2006.0629, just barely a week after buying him, that we took mu back to petco. they said they’d get him in to the vet the next day. well, I called about every other day, and by the next thursday, mu still hadn’t been seen by a vet! during this what’s-happening week, jarom and I decided that we should build a bigger cage for mu. it’s hard to buy something the size we needed (water dragons grow to be about three feet long, tail included). we started planning a 3′ x 2′ x 1.5′ cage. but just our luck, when we went to talk to a manager one day, petco had just gotten a shipment of 3′ x 1.5′ x 1.25′ cages for the same price as our 1.5′ cube cage! ahh what a pleasant exchange. we began setting the new cage up to be a more tropical environment, with softer bedding, higher humidity, lots of plants, and a hiding spot for mu.

the day that we bought the cage, we looked at the new water dragons again. they were getting darker, and instead of running around, they were just sitting there…hmm…poor care maybe?

mu finally got to see the petco vet on 2006.0707. I talked to the manager who was there that day, who told me the vet’s diagnosis: mu isn’t eating so he needs to be force-fed mealworms; he is in constant shock, which is why he’s dark brown; and he’s dehydrated.

I had several issues with this.

1. mu ate mealworms very well while under my care, regardless of how good they were for him. he gobbled those things up. if he stopped eating, it was while under petco’s care.

2. constant shock? who comes up with that? my only feeling is that the setup in his cage at petco, and at my house where we tried to mimic the petco environment, was lacking in hiding spots. he was always visible. wouldn’t that be stressful? they also had no heat lamps or basking lamps. I blame petco for his shock, if that’s what it really is.

3. not my fault if he isn’t drinking. he used to sit in the water bowl for a long time, and I sprayed him with water during the day. what more could be done?

so the manager told me to call again on monday (today) to see how he’s doing. and when I called today, they told me that he’ll need to be there at least another week because they have to feed him by hand. I guess he isn’t eating. hmm.

I decided enough was enough. I wanted a new lizard. there was only one left of the new b but it was jarom’s favorite. even though this one isn’t bright bright green, and it looks rather skinny, I’d finished waiting for them to kill mu. besides, this one is lots of fun…it suatch,re likes running around…the big cage is perfect.

we decided on a name when we first found out mu was sick: shu lien, li mu bai’s opposite in crouching tiger, hidden dragon.

秀蓮, welcome home!

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