Wild, ex­otic crea­tures all in the fam­ily.

Illi­nois cou­ple de­vote life to ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers about their scaly, furry fam­ily mem­bers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - SH­ERYL DEVORE

AN­TI­OCH, Ill. — Hu­mans love pigs and goats, but opos­sums may have a bit of an im­age prob­lem.

An­i­mal Quest founders Jes­sica Reedy and her hus­band, Steve, say they are on a mis­sion to change that.

When An­ti­och-based An­i­mal Quest takes Opal, the opos­sum, to one of many ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams it gives through­out Illi­nois, Wis­con­sin and In­di­ana, hu­mans learn the good side of these mar­su­pi­als.

“They eat ticks,” Jes­sica says. Within an hour af­ter show­ing Opal at li­braries, mu­se­ums and other venues, “peo­ple are up touch­ing her and say­ing we’ve changed their minds about opos­sums. She’s su­per friendly,” Jes­sica says.

An­i­mal Quest’s mis­sion ex­tends far be­yond get­ting some re­spect for a skinny-tailed mam­mal. The Reedys and their part-time em­ploy­ees work to teach young and old to re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate wild an­i­mals as well as un­der­stand that most ex­otic an­i­mals do not make good pets.

In fact, Jes­sica says, nearly all of the an­i­mals they keep and take to ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams are ne­glected and/or aban­doned ex­otic crea­tures bought as pets.

Jes­sica talked about An­i­mal Quest’s mis­sion in her back­yard while pet­ting Zoey, a Scot­tish ter­rier, one of three dogs the cou­ple owns.

Be­hind her in a large en­clo­sure, sev­eral goats and sheep, a pig and one large at­ten­tion-crav­ing goat named Bart me­an­dered. Next to the en­clo­sure, a cou­ple of African sul­cata tor­toises caught some rays near the cou­ple’s 4-year-old-daugh­ter Ava’s sunny play­ground. A rooster crowed even though it was noon.

While Jes­sica pet­ted Bart the goat’s nose, he closed his eyes. If she walks around the fence, he fol­lows her and asks for more pets. Some­times, he’ll try to take a bite of her sleeve, she says.

Be­fore they took charge of Bart, he was kept in a crate and was ne­glected, she says. “Steve made this whole yard for him — and we ended up get­ting more goats.”

Since they started An­i­mal Quest in 2011, they’ve moved from an apart­ment in Schaum­burg, Ill., (where for two weeks they kept a baby pot-bel­lied pig, Nor­man) to a oneacre prop­erty in In­gle­side, Ill., and now five acres in An­ti­och. Nor­man is now a 7-year-old, 200-pound pig who pa­trols the part of their land where a rac­coon, fox, rab­bits and ducks are kept. The rac­coon and fox are un­able to be re­turned to the wild, Jes­sica says.

“Nor­man is kind of a sassy guy,” she says. He seems to only like her and her hus­band, she says. He’ll be with them for a while — he can live to be 20.

Both grew up lov­ing an­i­mals — Jes­sica in Bri­tish Columbia, where her par­ents al­lowed her to keep chin­chillas as pets as long as she pro­vided what they needed and took good care of them, and Steve in Crys­tal Lake.

“Steve, how­ever, wasn’t al­lowed to have any pets,” Jes­sica says. “He’s got his fill of them now.”

The cou­ple met while at­tend­ing Amer­ica’s Teach­ing Zoo in Moor­park, Calif., where they learned hands-on an­i­mal hus­bandry, ed­u­ca­tion, con­ser­va­tion and ve­teri­nary work. They worked with ca­puchin mon­keys, hye­nas, lizards, snakes and hawks, in­clud­ing a golden ea­gle, among many other ex­otic an­i­mals, as well as those na­tive to North Amer­ica, Steve says.

They mar­ried just be­fore grad­u­a­tion, then moved to Illi­nois to take sum­mer jobs car­ing for an­i­mals. Within a year, they started An­i­mal Quest, which is li­censed by the USDA, Jes­sica says.

The cou­ple started with 15 an­i­mals, mostly rep­tiles, Steve says, and now, Jes­sica says, “We have about 100. I have to count them again.” These in­clude the al­bino Burmese python, Kenyan sand boa, Flem­ish gi­ant

rab­bits, rose-haired taran­tula, African pygmy hedge­hogs, bearded dragon and Mada­gas­car hiss­ing cock­roaches, among oth­ers.

TIME FOR BED AND MEDS

That’s a lot of crit­ters to tuck in ev­ery night — and the Reedys need to be home at dusk ev­ery day to get the an­i­mals ready for bed. Some of their charges also re­quire med­i­ca­tion morn­ing and evening. Clean­ing up af­ter the an­i­mals is done daily as well.

Tak­ing care of so many an­i­mals is time con­sum­ing and some­times un­pre­dictable. Once a goat ate an im­por­tant con­tract, Jes­sica says.

Twitch, the coa­t­imundi “al­ways gets a lit­tle crazy dur­ing the din­ner hour so we have to make sure we bring his din­ner with us if we are at a show dur­ing this time,” Steve says. His wife does not rec­om­mend keep­ing coa­t­imundis as pets — they’re re­lated to rac­coons and can tear up your house, she says.

One of the rab­bits has a prob­lem with his hips and needs med­i­ca­tion twice a day. The rab­bit’s fa­ther, Mon­roe, had sim­i­lar prob­lems and re­cently had to be eu­th­a­nized.

“Even though we have so many an­i­mals, when we lose one, we’re heart­bro­ken,” Jes­sica says. “Mon­roe was one of my all-time fa­vorites. He was so laid back. He was with us al­most from the start. My day started and ended with him when I gave him his meds. At bed­time, I made sure that he was on his pil­low.”

Mary Ann Gaw­lik, a part­time em­ployee, says she ad­mires the cou­ple’s com­mit­ment to their an­i­mals. “I’ve seen how lov­ing they are. They have taken a ham­ster for mas­sages and for chi­ro­prac­tic work,” Gaw­lik says.

The ham­ster — ac­tu­ally a guinea pig, Jes­sica says — had an ear in­fec­tion and strained its neck — the vet­eri­nar­ian sug­gested they take it to a chi­ro­prac­tic vet­eri­nar­ian.

“We don’t spare any ex­penses for our an­i­mals,” she says.

KEEN ON REP­TILES

Gaw­lik, of Lib­er­tyville, Ill., says she has al­ways loved an­i­mals and has served as a foster care­taker for un­wanted pets, but be­fore com­ing to An­i­mal Quest, she says she “wasn’t re­ally keen on rep­tiles. But that’s past tense.”

Now she holds, with ease, Jig, the 8-foot Burmese python.

“It’s re­ally cool. I de­scribe it to kids say­ing it’s like car­ry­ing a hug … I just went from there to a mon­i­tor lizard, which is 3 feet long — and I even held their taran­tula,” she says.

Gaw­lik has learned to slowly ap­proach peo­ple who might be afraid of snakes and guide their hand to touch one if they want.

Jes­sica says she be­lieves An­i­mal Quest is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

“We tell peo­ple the truth,” she says. “We ed­u­cate them. Peo­ple have run up and banged on a tor­toise. I tell them a tor­toise is not a rock. It feels it when you bang on it.”

They ro­tate the an­i­mals to give them a rest, and af­ter rep­tiles have been fed they get a day off to di­gest.

The fam­ily eats meat that’s raised hu­manely and or­gan­i­cally, she says. In ad­di­tion, they grow veg­eta­bles, in­clud­ing corn on the cob, which some of their an­i­mals eat raw.

Re­cently, Jes­sica saved a painted tur­tle that was cross­ing a road and al­most got hit by a car. “I swooped it up and ran through the tall grasses and put it in a pond,” she says. Last week, she took in a do­mes­ti­cated duck that was found hob­bling down a street in Waukegan, Ill.

Ava says she en­joys be­ing around the an­i­mals. “I like pet­ting them.”

“Ava has a spe­cial bond with both Nuna [a chicken] and Waldo [a Patag­o­nian cavy, a large ro­dent na­tive to Ar­gentina],” Steve says. “Both let her touch them as much as she wants but they don’t like oth­ers touch­ing them.”

“We love to be around an­i­mals,” Jes­sica says. “It’s calm­ing. It’s what makes us happy. We don’t go on va­ca­tion. I take Ava to Canada to be with my fam­ily once a year, but Steve stays here to take care of the an­i­mals. We’re happy here.”

Chicago Tribune/TNS/SH­ERYL DEVORE

Jes­sica Reedy, co-founder of An­i­mal Quest with her hus­band, Steve, pets Bart, a goat who lives on the cou­ple’s five-acre prop­erty in An­ti­och, Ill.

Chicago Tribune/TNS/SH­ERYL DEVORE

Jes­sica Reedy, who co-founded An­i­mal Quest with her hus­band, Steve, ad­mires an African pygmy hedge­hog, one of sev­eral they keep at their prop­erty in An­ti­och, Ill.

Chicago Tribune/TNS/SH­ERYL DEVORE

Bart the goat was res­cued from an in­hu­mane liv­ing sit­u­a­tion by Jes­sica and Steve Reedy, co-founders of An­i­mal Quest.

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