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WHY BIG RO­DENT IS MORE TO LOVE

Buda woman shares a bond with world’s largest ro­dents When you fi­first see Mud­skip­per Rous, the 6-mon­thold capy­bara that be­longs to Buda’s Me­lanie Ty­pal­dos, a lot of crazy things go through your head. Is there a mad sci­en­tist in one of the rooms down the hall with an en­larg­ing ray? And where’s the over­sized ham­ster wheel which, if wired up, could power the en­tire town? Have I be­come trapped in one of those body-switch­ing movies in which a guinea pig and a dog have come to in­habit each other’s skins? It’s not that Muddy looks strange, per se — it’s just that, well, the per­spec­tive is all offffffffffff. How can this ro­dent that looks like a 60-pound ham­ster even ex­ist, much less obey com­mands to sit, shake, stand on its hind legs and jump over a hur­dle? If any­body knows the an­swer to that, it’s Ty­pal dos, who has be­come more or less an ex­pert on the crea­tures — which are na­tive to South Amer­ica — since bring­ing home her fi­first one, Caplin, eight years ago. “My two adult chil­dren and I went to Venezuela,” the tall, thin woman re­calls, “and we saw them in the wild. My daugh­ter got to hold a lit­tle, baby capy­bara and they seemed aw­fully calm for wild an­i­mals.” When they re­turned, her daugh­ter kept pes­ter­ing her, say­ing they should get one. “But she meant me, be­cause she was liv­ing in an apart­ment,” Ty­pal­dos says, laugh­ing. She found a breeder here and went to visit with no in­ten­tion of bring­ing one of the crit­ters home. But the breeder had just one left and told Ty­pal­dos he had been saving it for her. “That was my fi­first capy­bara,” Ty­pal­dos says. “Caplin was so brave. I took him every­where. I took him to all th­ese school vis­its and to a home in Buda for peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties and we would go out to eat ... he wasn’t scared of any­thing.” Their fast friend­ship ended sud­denly when Caplin died at 3½ years old from liver dam­age, pos­si­bly caused by lin­ger­ing efffffffffff­fects from a bad re­ac­tion to anes­the­sia when he was neutered. Ty­pal­dos was dev­as­tated, but soon had the op­por­tu­nity to nurse a difffffffffff­fer­ent capy­bara back to health: a ro­dent lo­cated in Ohio that had been kept in a base­ment with­out proper food and had de­vel­oped scurvy. She named him Garibaldi. “Here was a capy­bara that seemed to need me. Maybe we two lost souls could con­nec t,” Ty­pal­dos wrote on her blog, gi­antham­ster.com. De­spite con­stant and ded­i­cated care, the is­sues with Gari’s diet and his lim­ited ex­po­sure to sun­light prior to Ty­pal­dos ob­tain­ing him — which re­sulted in the an­i­mal’s de­creased bone den­sity — caused den­tal is­sues that claimed his life just shy of his fourth birth­day in April 2014. “Al­though Gari had a short life, he had a full one. He loved his new own­ers and knew he was loved through the end,” Garibaldi’s vet­eri­nar­ian, Dr. Shar­man Hoppes of the Texas A&M Col­lege of Ve­teri­nary Medicine & Biomedic al Sci­ences, wrote at the time. Ty­pal­dos and her un­usual pets are fa­mil­iar faces at A&M, where doc­tors are still learn­ing about the crea­tures. In honor of Gari, Ty­pal­dos es­tab­lished the R.O.U.S. Fund — “rous” be­ing a com­mon acro­nym for “ro­dent of un­usual size,” which also in­spired her pet’s last name. The fund com­pen­sates the univer­sity for the cost of necrop- sies, pathol­ogy and lab­o­ra­tory tests for capy­baras and other large ro­dents and to bet­ter understand the diseases that threaten their lives and health. The loss of her pet was com­pounded by Ty­pal­dos’ own brain hem­or­rhage, an event that left her dis­abled, house­bound and un­able to see any­thing to the left. She had just been home from the hos­pi­tal for a couple of months when Gari died. “I didn’t want to get an­other capy­bara,” she says. “I mean, it was pretty hard los­ing him and los­ing Caplin.” She even­tu­ally con­soled her­self by vis­it­ing the Snake Farm Zoo in New Braun­fels, where she met capy­baras Wes­ley and Fiona, the lat­ter of whom turned out to be Gari’s younger sis­ter from the same breeder. Fre­quent vis­its helped her to heal. Ty­pal­dos brought the one-week-old Mud­skip­per home from the Hous­ton sub­urb of Spring last Fe­bru­ary. “She was ex­tremely skit­tish,” Ty­pal­dos says. “She’s over it a lot, but not com­pletely. She’s really sweet; they’re hard an­i­mals not to fall in love with.” Muddy is half her full­grown weight of prob­a­bly 120 pounds, and she makes a quiet, purring noise that Ty­pal­dos says in­di­cates anx­i­ety from hav­ing a strange re­porter nearby. But the crea­ture jumps right up on the couch next to me when I say, “up, Muddy” and shake a con­tainer of good­ies — a mix­ture of rat food and cat treats that she eats out of my hand while I stroke her coarse, bristly hair. The del­i­ca­cies are re­wards; the capy­bara’s main diet is grass. Mud­skip­per is smart. Ty­pal­dos has trained her to sit, shake, lie down, walk in a cir­cle and, most im­pres­sively, jump over a short hur­dle her owner con­structed with PVC tub­ing. “She’s pretty fast and she’s really crazy when she runs around (in the yard),” Ty­pal­dos says. “She jumps up in the air and she flflips her­self; she’s pretty ath­letic.” And, ap­par­ently, lots of fun as a swim­ming part­ner. Capy­baras don’t nav­i­gate the wa­ter like dogs do, Ty­pal­dos says, com­par­ing them in­stead to ot­ters or sea li­ons. “Caplin was very fast in the wa­ter; he was like a bul­let . But Gari wasn’t bec ause he was too busy spin­ning around.” They do walk on leashes like dogs, but Ty­pal­dos has trou­ble get­ting one on Muddy be­cause of her skit­tish­ness — an es­cape artist, she’d jump into the pool and then come out not wear­ing it. Muddy’s still fed goat milk re­place­ment by bot­tle, though her owner says she’s get­ting too old for that. Still, it’s hard to over­state the cute­ness of the capy­bara nudg­ing Ty­pal­dos’ leg with her nose when she wants to be fed, or sim­ply ly­ing on the rug where she’s been fed since she ar­rived at the house, wait­ing for her meal.A herd an­i­mal need­ing com­pan­ion­ship, Muddy pals around with a guinea pig that was not much smaller than her when they fi­first met. It’s adorable to see them now, at such dis­parate sizes, nuz­zling up to one an­other on a win­dow seat. Her other pal is a cat Ty­pal­dos ob­tained at the same time as the capy­bara. Maybe that ex­plains those purring noises.

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