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Orphan animals: Lizards, ferrets, pigs among unusual creatures turned over to Grand Forks animal shelter

Circle of Friends director Lauralee Tupa hangs out with "Bruno," a bearded dragon abandoned in a Grand Forks city apartment and rescued by Brian Samson, a community service officer with the Grand Forks Police Department. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS—Bruno, a bearded dragon, started out his new life on the wrong foot. Considering he's missing one of his hind feet, that's really saying something.

Bruno was one of a pair of lizards—the other being a fat-tailed gecko—abandoned in a Grand Forks apartment a few weeks ago. Bruno and his scaly friend ended up at the Circle of Friends Humane Society.

Brian Samson, a community service officer with the Grand Forks Police Department, was the one called to recover the lizards. Though Samson doesn't typically find reptiles, he said the basics of their scenario aren't uncommon in the city.

"What had happened was the roommate ended up moving out and they left a bunch of stuff behind—but they also left behind two lizards," Samson said.

The lizards had food and water, and one of them had its heat lamp still turned on.

Samson finds abandoned pets, most often cats, in apartments perhaps once every few months. "Generally we see people who I think don't know what to do," he said, "so they leave their pets with food and water knowing that apartment managers will go in the day after they leave and find the animals."

That's not ideal, but it is accounted for. Circle of Friends director Lauralee Tupa said the shelter has contracts with the city of Grand Forks and Grand Forks County to take in stray and abandoned animals. As such, the shelter is no stranger to cases like Bruno's.

An escaped boa constrictor caused a stir two summers ago when it was discovered slithering on a Grand Forks roadway. The snake, which was about 6 feet long, was taken to the shelter and was quickly adopted by a member of the UND football team.

Other unusual rescue stories, Tupa said, include the discovery of a "box of guinea pigs" left behind by a former owner. The shelter has also provided refuge to a runaway pet pig and a loose ferret that had spent its time on the lam playfully approaching students on the UND campus.

Tupa was somewhat lighthearted when she recalled those incidents, but others have been more pitiful. Circle of Friends had a case earlier this winter when someone abandoned a dog to its care by tying the animal up outside the building during its closed hours. When staff arrived at the center, the dog was waiting, shivering in the cold.

The dog was OK in the end, Tupa said, but the incident was an example of how not to leave an animal with the Humane Society.

Samson said it's possible for the Grand Forks Police to prosecute individuals who abandon pets so long as officers can "show the right kind of mindframe of why they were doing it" to invoke animal cruelty codes.

But more often, he said, abandonment is due more to ignorance than malice.

Rather than leaving an unwanted pet for an apartment manager to deal with, Samson said the best course of action is to call the police non-emergency line and ask for a community service officer to transport the animal to shelter. If pet owners have some advance notice, Samson said, they can also inform the shelter ahead of time and leave their animals directly with them.

As for Bruno, his experience with abandonment ended pretty well, all things considered. He was adopted within days by an employee of the shelter who said she "has a thing for special needs animals."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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