Couple Shares House With 600 Animals

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BREAUX BRIDGE, La. (AP) - Some people may joke that their house is like a zoo, but for Brett and Lori Matte, it's more than just a figure of speech - it's a daily reality.
The Mattes, who call what they do "Zoo-Zoom 'The Little Zoo on Wheels'," house rescued exotic and not-so-exotic pets. The current menagerie includes sugar gliders (a kind of possum), bearded dragon lizards, an African Desert Fox and goats,

BREAUX BRIDGE, La. (AP) - Some people may joke that their house is like a zoo, but for Brett and Lori Matte, it's more than just a figure of speech - it's a daily reality.

The Mattes, who call what they do "Zoo-Zoom 'The Little Zoo on Wheels'," house rescued exotic and not-so-exotic pets. The current menagerie includes sugar gliders (a kind of possum), bearded dragon lizards, an African Desert Fox and goats, just to name a few.

The Mattes, who are licensed to care for exotic animals, follow the same set of rules as a zoo and are surrounded by animals and animal paraphernalia.

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"We've got probably 600 animals here. We share a house with a lot of animals," Brett said. "Everywhere you look, it's animal related. When we're here, we work. There's not a lot of time when there's nothing to do."

Some people's altogether too dismissive relationship with their pets, exotic or not, bother the Mattes. Brett, 45, an Australian native, called the pets "disposable," and said that people really need to consider all of the future possibilities before they commit to an animal.

A small snake grows into a huge snake, tiny Easter bunnies become big bunnies who poop a lot, and some pets get more difficult to handle as they grow.

The Mattes do not accept cats and dogs, but are happy to give out references.

"The stuff we see! Iguanas are not good pets," Brett said in example. "You can't do a lot with it."

An Indonesian Palm Civet named "Tinkerbell" was surrendered to the Mattes when its owners realized that it was not what they had bargained for. Tinkerbell was purchased on a Florida vacation and was touted as being like a kitten.

"It's not nice at all," Lori Matte, 43, admitted.

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Also, potential breeders, beware. Two animals can quickly turn into 20 or more.

The Mattes now own a whole passel of king snakes that came from a man who found the experience a little rattling.

Some animals are not that far removed from the wild and don't exactly make lap pets. The African Desert Fox, Kujo, is one of these cases.

"Two generations ago his peeps were running around in Africa," Brett said.

The variety of animals running around in their enclosures in the Mattes' backyard is stunning. There's Pinkston, the pig who sits on command, goats named Mary-Kate and Ashley, and a rabbit named Car Crash, who is a little more lop-necked than lop-eared.

"Somebody hit her and threw her over the fence," explained Lori, a native of Patterson.

There's also a raccoon named Velcro, and wallabies Joey, Jack, and Bindii.

"Looking after them is a major job," Brett said. "We've had to make ourselves available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for animals. We really get nothing from nobody. Every cent we get, we work for."

The Mattes offer animal "adoptions" that allow people to sponsor the feeding of a specific animal. Each adoptee receives a fancy certificate designed by Brett. Some of the non-exotic pets are also available for permanent adoption if the right home is found.

For a closer experience without a commitment, the Mattes also offer parties with about 17 to 25 animals.

"We are one of the best party ideas out there," Brett boasted. "It's a really good time to spend together. We get to teach the kids."

Some of the party animals include bunnies, guinea pigs, wallabies, snakes, and hedgehogs. One animal, Kiwi the Sugar Glider, even has a reputation as a party-goer.

"She always gets a piece of birthday cake," Brett said.

Jamie and Angie Bourgeois recently booked a Zoo-Zoom party for their daughter Angelle's third birthday.

"Oh, it was great! They have all kinds of different things," Jamie Bourgeois said. "They talk all about the animals and why you should be nice to them. They're very nice and very knowledgeable. The animals are in great shape. I would advise anybody to have them."

Party attendees get to look at, touch, and learn about the animals that the Mattes bring with them. They try to alleviate some of the fears that people have about the animals, and they teach the children to be quiet, calm, and respectful of the animals.

"People are afraid of our animals, but what about mosquitoes? That's a death sentence flying around," Brett said.

The way a person reaches out to touch an animal matters as well. A running, yelling child who comes up and forcefully pokes an animal may not enjoy the experience, but Brett pointed out that this applies to more than just animals.

"If you go rushing up to a toothpick, it's going to stick you," he explained.

Feeding the animals is a bit more involved than just throwing out a handful of kibble twice a day. Each animal has a specific diet, and the Mattes keep a detailed log of which one eats what and how much. The cost of feeding the animals is about $12,000 per year.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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