Sugar gliders take up residence at animal shelter

Sugar gliders take up residence at animal shelter

By Derrick Perkins (Photo/Derrick Perkins)

It didn’t take long for Joe Seskey to find himself in a furry situation.

The retired police sergeant formally took the reins as Alexandria’s top animal control officer early last month. Just a few weeks later and he’s got a colony of cute, yet smelly, sugar gliders on his hands.

The squirrel-like marsupials, native to Australia, are popular exotic pets in the United States. A quick Google search on the animal brings up a bevy of websites devoted to breeding, buying and caring for sugar gliders.

Though adorable, the potentially noisy nocturnal creatures are hard to care for and breed rapidly, often without any outward signs of pregnancy, Seskey warned. They need a lot of space and can — blessed with a flap of loose flesh that allows for gliding — take flight.

“They’re pretty unique. A lot of the times they are an impulse buy,” he said, standing by the cage that serves as the temporary home for seven sugar gliders. “They buy it and realize they got more than they bargained for.”

And that’s precisely how the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria ended up with the unusual guests. The sugar gliders originally were reported as abandoned, but a little sleuthing determined that the man who brought them to the shelter’s attention was the colony’s owner.

He had taken them from a Woodbridge woman, who could no longer care for them, Seskey said. It wasn’t long before the new owner was in a similar situation.

Regardless of the circumstances, the shelter — which accepts surrendered animals — took in the exotic pets. While they are hopeful of finding the group a new home, Seskey wants the colony to serve a second purpose: raising awareness within the community.

“We want to really educate the public on responsible pet ownership,” Seskey said. “Sugar gliders, as an exotic pet, they require a tremendous amount of care.”

And the animals, considered invasive, are banned in some localities. While Alexandria permits owning sugar gliders, nearby Fairfax County considers them “animal non grata.”

“Our message is if you want to consider sugar gliders, look into your locality,” Seskey said. “Call the local animal control office and see what they can tell you.”

Seskey also is weighing whether Alexandria’s laws need updating when it comes to sugar gliders.

“We need laws in place to encourage responsible pet ownership,” he said.