New 'pet' for Lynette
LYNETTE LYON gazes with adoration at her new "baby" Galindo, an 8-week-old Geoffry's cat.
When you grow up surrounded by camels and zee-donks and ostriches, it's hard to imagine what sorts of wild creatures still inspire a sense of awe.
For Lynette Lyon of Lyon Ranch, it came in the form of a fuzzy, rambunctious, now 8-week-old Geoffroy's cat. The small wildcat, native to South America, is destined become an ambassador animal, and is already visiting classrooms to get kids excited about exotic creatures.
"The kids just go nuts for him. Who wouldn't with this face?" Lynette said as she buried her nose in his striped fur.
Galindo came to Lynette when he was just 2-weeks-old and not much bigger than her thumb, she said. He was named for a family friend who raised this species of wildcats before she passed away, and is the first exotic animal that belongs just to Lynette. While Lyon Ranch, which was established by her parents Rob and Robin Lyon, is home to dozens of wild animals, Lynette could only serve as a caretaker to these creatures.
That all changed this summer when Lynette learned she had been approved for 12 exotic animal permits from the California Department of Fish and Game, giving her the right to own her own brood for use as an animal educator. By law, in addition to the Geoffroy's cat, Lynette can now own a civet, ocelot, fennec fox, coati, genet, wallaby, porcupine, alligator, hedgehog and sugar gliders.
"I really want a Mexican porcupine," she said. "They're a tree-dwelling porcupine in South America."
To obtain the permits, Lynette had to apply individually for each animal she hopes to own. She said it took a grueling eight months to secure, during which she was quizzed on everything from how to care for the animals to how they would be housed and secured.
"And that's not including all of the experience with exotics I had to have prior to even apply," she said.
But the piles of paperwork were completely worthwhile when Galindo came home for good. Lynette is working on socializing the wildcat to make sure he can handle working in classrooms and other community events.
"They're one of the hardest cats to take in public places," she said, adding that it requires regular exposure to the outside world. "He goes with me everywhere . He's been in movie theaters and restaurants under the table. Most of the time people don't even know he's there."
Galindo is getting used to the sights, sounds and smell of the human world, and in just six-weeks with Lynette has grown deeply attached to the 22-year-old. She is, for all intents and purposes, his mother. She spent their first few weeks together with little sleep to make sure he was fed every two hours, just like a new mom. Now the cat gets upset if he can't see Lynette, which is exactly the way she wants it.
"These guys bond really well, but only with one person. Nobody will ever be able to handle him but me," she said.
Lynette is already using him in her work with Classroom Safari, a Petaluma-based organization that brings exotic animals into schools. She may also use him as a therapy animal along with the other creatures at Lyon Ranch.
Geoffroy's cats live in the rugged terrain of the Andes Mountains in the southern region of South America. They are one of the smallest wildcats on the planet, reaching about the same size as a house cat. In the wild, they eat any insect, rodent or lizard they can find; but Galindo lives on a diet of raw chicken, special milk formula and baby food. Like most cats, he is endlessly curious, eager to explore the world and other creatures at Lyon Ranch.
"They don't know they're small cats, they have lots of attitude," Lynette said, adding that the nearly 1-pound Galindo has challenged her 80-pound yellow Labrador. "He's also discovered hunting, and by hunting I mean attacking the lumps in my bedspread."