Finksburg family's pet business -- what a zoo


July 01, 1996|By Lois Szymanski | Lois Szymanski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"IT ALL STARTED with one miniature Sicilian donkey." That's what Finksburg resident Denise Duvall said of the hobby that has become a family business featuring miniature Sicilian donkeys, sugar gliders, miniature opossums and African pygmy hedgehogs. "I just wanted one as a pet," she declared.

Her husband, Charlie, made her wish come true when he gave her Hannah, a miniature Sicilian donkey, on their 21st wedding anniversary two years ago. "The next day we went to Philadelphia and bought two more," she said.

This year they had their first miniature donkey foals. There are two. "Next year we will have five," she predicted.

But miniature donkeys were just the beginning for this animal-loving family. Six months later, after trips to Delaware and New Jersey, the family was exploring other exotic breeds. With the interest of sons, Jason, 19, and Brandon, 22, a family %J business sprang forth.

"They look like miniature squirrels, or koala bears," Charlie said of the sugar gliders. With eyes as big as an owl's, this marsupial that fits in the palm of a hand stares out with the quiet mystique of a koala. But the sugar glider, also known as the lesser gliding opossum, has a small flap of skin under the forearms that allows it to glide like a flying squirrel.

"They are closest [in ancestry] to a koala bear, and they are from Australia," Charlie said. "They are real pocket animals. The females have a pouch, and they love to get into your pockets. They love fruit of all sorts."

Affectionate and loving, sugar gliders have a life span of 14 or 15 years and sell for $200.

Six years ago, pygmy hedgehogs sold for $5,000 a pair. Now, the Duvalls sell them for $89 apiece.

"Their only defense is to curl up into a ball," Charlie said. "In the wild they can put up quills like a porcupine, but ours don't," he said, noting that the hand-raised hedgehogs are gentle, quiet and friendly.

The miniature opossums the Duvall family raises originated in Brazil. "1978 was the only year they were allowed to be exported," Charlie said. "The National Zoological Society brought nine pairs into the United States that year."

From them, pairs were shipped to various breeders.

With big eyes and a prehensile tail that can curl around a hand to hang, this pouchless marsupial is only the size of a hamster.

"They are ugly when they are born," Denise noted. "They look like maggots. When we had our first litter, our son Jason came downstairs and said, 'Ugh! She had her litter.' "

After six weeks the babies detach. "They are cute then," she said. "They hang all over her. It looks like she can hardly walk."

If Denise had to pick her favorite of the exotic animals, it would be her donkeys. She told of the family that picked up a pregnant jenny to take home to North Carolina.

"They just backed up their Chevy Astro van and walked her right into it. They are just naturally friendly," she said. "A horse will come to you for food. The miniature donkeys come just to be petted."

The Duvall family owns Carroll County Tack on Old Gamber Road in Finksburg. Charlie said folks are welcome to stop by and see their animals. Information: 833-2835.

Lois Szymanski's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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