"Spiny" lizard is actually a technical term. I know this because when they started showing up in my backyard 5 years ago, I went to half-price books and bought a book called Lizards. These are not your average, run-of-the-mill geckos, no sir. Unlike their slim, smooth brothers, spiny lizards are...well, spiny. They are bigger and more fierce looking. They are a little bit more shy than geckos, I've found. Although they look scary they are very not scary. Nice, even.
I have always loved lizards. I don't know why. I just know that as a kid growing up in Texas, for the most part, I had to come to terms with the fact that wildlife still roams free in our great state. I would catch geckos and watch, fascinated, as they changed colors in consternation. I would then gently set them free again. For years, there was nothing quite as thrilling as spotting a green gecko hiding in a bush -- it was like a treasure hunt! I even used to catch locusts when I was a kid and put them in a bug jug. I see these f***ers now and think HOLY COW why did I ever touch one of those?? Actually, all I ever see now are their barren, brown see-through shells clinging to an occasional wood deck or tree. But. I digress.
This is all leading up to something. I am going to share my illicit spiny lizard experience. For I did something forbidden. I brought a spiny lizard into my air-conditioned world and we both lived through it. Here is my story:
The summer of 2002 I was unemployed, for the most part. I had a LOT of free time, people. I slept a lot (too much) and stared out my window into my backyard, where there used to be a giant, majestic tree. The tree is dead and gone now, but not the memory. No, not the memory. The giant tree was contained in a "tree pit" the builders built up around it -- which is eventually what killed it. Anyway, these spiny lizards used to cavort and romp around this area, jumping from the tree trunk to the railroad-tie border, skuttling into hidden crevices when I let the cats play outside on occasion, almost always with my rapt supervision. My cats are so indoor-ized that I figured there was no way in hell they'd EVER catch a lizard. Oh, I was so wrong.
One day I was sleeping very late. I had gotten up earlier and opened the back door a crack so the kitties could go in and out. This kept them off my head and allowed me to sleep longer. At some point I became aware of a ruckus in my bathroom. I think I yelled a few times, something like "SHUT UP", but i'm not clear on the details. There was clattering and such. I ignored it and kept sleeping. Some time later, maybe an hour, I finally got out of bed. And saw. On the floor by my bed. A large. Spiny. Lizard. Motionless. And as I looked closer, wounded. It's long tail was amputated at the thick base. I looked even closer, and it had two fang-marks in its back. I immediately reached for it, as I finally noticed two of my cats lurking nearby, proudly letting me know it was a present for ME, look what they brought ME, weren't they wonderful hunters, this was so much better than the usual Roach, blahblahblah. I snatched up the lizard and it was still motionless. And cold. Very cold. My heart ached for this lizard. I was grieving, especially for the fact that I had slept just a few feet away while it was tortured and terrified by at least two felines for what seemed like a very long time. I carried it into the bathroom and saw a bunch of bubble bath and stuff on the floor. And. And. I almost can't say it. And the rest of the tail. On my bath mat. Spattered with tiny drops. Of lizard blood. (Note to the faint-hearted: don't freak out, the story gets better, i promise.)
I was horrified, I felt like I was going to throw up. And still the cats preened. I couldn't really take it out on them, I realized it was an instinctual thing and they had no idea how this offense would offend me. I kept reminding myself that they were animals, after all. But I thought lower of them at that moment, I'll admit it. Predatory BASTARDS.
Still the lizard lay in my hand, cold and still. It was breathing, though, and its eyes were open. So I carried it outside and set it down in the tree pit, by the tree trunk. It still didn't move. I went inside and cleaned up the bathroom a bit. I picked up the lizard tail, and for some reason, wrapped it in a kleenex and set it on the counter. (I know, ewwww.) Then I went back outside, only to find that the lizard had not moved, but was now covered in ants. I gasped and snatched it up again, brushing off the insects. It blinked but didn't move. People, my heart was breaking. I couldn't take it. So what did I do? Guess. Just guess.
Ok, i'll tell you. I did the only thing I could do and still live with myself. I tried to make it right.
First I put the lizard in a shoebox. I then found a vet in the yellow pages who specialized in lizards (a herpatologist). I called the vet and they said to bring him in, but there was probably nothing they could do. However the woman on the other end of the phone must have sensed my grief, because she didn't laugh at me or anything. I dressed my unemployed ass and drove in a panic to the vet, lizard in tow. I had to repeat my story several times before I got the right person to look at my lizard friend. I said "He's so COLD. I can't believe how COLD he is." and the vet said "Yes, he's a LIZARD. They're COLD-blooded." Oh. Yeah.
The vet told me the tail wasn't that big of a problem, although it looked gross. I knew, of course, that lizards grew their tails back, but I wasn't sure how high up it could be broken off and still come back. (And yes, I had the broken part with me, although she threw it away -- this wasn't ER, after all). She said it would probably grow back partways, but not to its full length. However, the more troubling issue was the teeth marks. The vet told me the lizard would probably die from infection, if not internal injuries. I must have looked crestfallen. She then laid out a plan where I would need to put the lizard in the shoebox on a heating pad set on low. I would need to administer a liquid antibiotic 3 times a day, by syringe. I would also need to syringe-feed it canned catfood and water twice a day. All this, for 10 days. I looked at her and said "You know this lizard is from my backyard, right??" and she nodded and said "10 days." So then my unemployed ass paid $100 and went home to care for the lizard. Yes, I did it. I did everything she said. After a couple of days the lizard began moving around a bit, although oddly, it never tried to escape. It also wasn't so excited about my forcing a syringe into its mouth several times a day, but I got the hang of that too. Thank God my sister came to visit later that day, because at first it took both of us to get the job done. And bless her heart, my sister is probably the only person in the world who didn't think I was insane for doing this. She completely got it. If she did think I was insane, she didn't let on. Much.
After 10 days it was time to free the lizard. I called the vet and she sounded surprised that it was still alive. Nice. But she said that was a good sign. Encouraged, I took it outside and set it gently on the railroad tie around the tree pit. It didn't move. I went back inside to watch it. And people, I am not making up what i'm about to tell you. It is TRUE.
As I watched out my window, about 30 seconds later another spiny lizard appeared to greet my little guy. At the sight of the other lizard, my guy moved around a bit. The other lizard then bumped noses (YES IT DID) with my guy, then climbed on its back and just sat there for a moment. Then it leapt off and both lizards scuttled into a crevice and I didn't see them again that day. It brought literal tears to my eyes. It could only have been more perfect had a John Denver song been playing in the background.
And the best part of all? My lizard is STILL OUT THERE. He lives back there and I have seen him every summer since then. I know it's him because of his stubby tail! This all came to mind because I saw him hanging out on my house just the other day as I went out my front door. I stopped and put my face close to him and said "hello spiny lizard" and -- you got it -- he didn't move. I have no regrets about saving that lizard's life. I think it's special that he didn't relocate after such a trauma, and my cats even still go outside sometimes.
So whenever you see a spiny lizard, be kind. I truly believe that mine genuinely appreciated what I did for him -- and what comes around goes around. Oh, and please don't anyone try to tell me that a lizard's lifespan is shorter than 3 years, because I absolutely won't believe you. This is MY lizard with his stubby tail. I just know it.