Animal society brings owners, unusual pets together 

Charleston's Wild Kingdom

click to enlarge Percival the pig (with Kay Hyman, Right) is just the latest in a long line of exotic animals the Charleston Animal Society has taken in - KAITLYN ISERMAN
  • Kaitlyn Iserman
  • Percival the pig (with Kay Hyman, Right) is just the latest in a long line of exotic animals the Charleston Animal Society has taken in

The Charleston Animal Society has been a barnyard for the last few weeks. Chickens have been clucking, a calf was millin', and a nearly 500-pound pig bounded in about two weeks ago.

The cow went home, and Percival the pig and the chickens found new farms to roam, as the group that traditionally finds families for pups and kittens took on its less well known role as an exotic animal adoption agency.

Over the years, the animal society has taken in a variety of wild or unusual fare — miniature horses, rare birds, huge lizards, an armadillo, and lots of rats. The group works hard to place every animal in the right home, but an extra effort is made when it comes to unique animals, says spokeswoman Kay Hyman. The animal society checks for previous cruelty charges, as usual, but also has specific applications that address concerns about a particular animal.

"We want the people to have experience with them," Hyman says. "We want to make sure they know what they're taking on."

There's been a bevy of odd animals with strange stories. An exotic 40-year-old Blue Nape parrot, with a foot tag that noted it was from Beaufort, was found on the Charleston peninsula a few years ago by two college girls sunbathing on a roof. Many of these exotic birds, as well as wild animals like the armadillo, deer, and others, are taken in by organizations familiar with their particular needs.

But some of the stranger animals can be found in local homes.

Trouble the peacock was brought in to the animal society after scaring a local boy. Trouble's caretaker passed away and his mate died as well, so the man left responsible for the peacock decided the animal society could find Trouble a better home. Fortunately local Live 5 News anchor Debi Chard was up for the task of taking in one more. Chard has about a dozen peacocks.

click to enlarge Debi Chard added trouble to her gang of peacocks earlier this year - KAITLYN ISERMAN
  • Kaitlyn Iserman
  • Debi Chard added trouble to her gang of peacocks earlier this year

"I thought he'd be as happy as a clam," Chard says. "He got a girlfriend right off the bat."

But she says Trouble has "earned" his name.

After wandering off into the highway with another peacock, his friend died and Chard had to carry the dead bird back to the house because Trouble didn't want to leave his fallen buddy.

Another time, Chard got a call at the TV station that one of her peacocks had found his way to a nearby church. Chard found Trouble at one in the morning standing on the roof. She came back in the early morning and had to chase him around the church before she could wrangle him back home.

After that, Chard put him in a kennel of sorts for a few weeks to keep him from wandering.

"It was the only thing we could do," she says.

Now, he's out of the kennel and behaving, mostly.

Thomas Grafe has taken in his share of needy pets, too — only they're short and scaly and typically only roam around his apartment. Grafe has taken in two lizards from the Charleston Animal Society — an iguana named Lilly and a bearded dragon named Ellis. He's also taken in an iguana named Angel from another local shelter.

click to enlarge Thomas Grafe lets his lizards hang around the house at their leisure - KAITLYN ISERMAN
  • Kaitlyn Iserman
  • Thomas Grafe lets his lizards hang around the house at their leisure

Grafe had nursed reptiles when he was living in Tennessee, so it wasn't much of a stretch when he found these lizards in need after moving to Charleston a few years ago.

"Dogs and cats are high maintenance compared to reptiles," he says. "They're pretty much self-sustained."

The lizards only eat about twice a week, and Angel, the larger iguana, is paper trained. When he took her in, she was half starved and had burn marks on her back, apparently from being too close to a heat lamp. For Grafe, it's important to get them out of the traditional cramped cages.

"You take them in your home and let them loose, and they'll calm down and start eating," he says.

That doesn't mean that he hasn't had to take precautions — including pillows surrounding his wine rack. The iguanas like to climb it to get to a good spot to sun themselves.

After years of caring for lizards, Grafe says that his family and friends have gotten used to seeing the unique pets, but he's not looking to add a pig to the brood.

"I told my folks I wasn't going to do that," he says.

There were at least five people interested in adopting Percival. With Tropical Storm Hanna coming, the animal society worked quickly to get the pig adopted by a St. George farmer with two female pigs for the stud to warm up with. Because of his size and age (and because he hadn't been castrated), it became clear that Percival was made for breeding instead of eating.

While the animal society farm was quiet by the end of last week, the latest storms could provide a fresh batch of wildlife. Hyman says the animal society sometimes gets baby squirrels after storms like Hanna. But, with the wide variety they've encountered over the years, Hyman says they're ready for anything.


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