Ask Otus: Putter’s plight still has happy ending

Otus Rufous, an Eastern Screech-Owl, was born on Siesta Key and is a full-time resident there.

An avid hunter, accomplished vocalist and genuine night owl, Otus is a keen observer of our local wildlife and knows many of nature’s secrets.

Otus will answer your questions about our amazing wildlife, but only if you Ask Otus.  So please send your questions and photos to  Thank you.

Dear Otus,

Last October, Putter the prairie dog, who was discovered living high and low at the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Course, was relocated to the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. Would you check to see how he is doing, as his relocation anniversary is coming up? If he’s not doing well or something terrible has happened, please don’t put it in the SNL.

Thank you.


Dear Kathie,

File photo

I was so intrigued by your question that I swooped by Sarasota Jungle Gardens (SJG) the other evening to ask my friend Squint what the hullaballoo over some flea-infested rodent was all about.

Putter, a black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), was probably one of those “adorable” (i.e., almost as cute as an owlet) pups bought as a child’s pet by well-intentioned but rather uninformed parents. “Mommy, Daddy, he’s sooo cute. Can I have him? Pleeeeeease!”

Poor family. Poor Putter! But what wonderfully kind and dedicated staff at the Bobby Green Golf Course and Sarasota Jungle Gardens, who rescued him and allow him to live out the rest of his healthy, but rather lonely life, in a safe environment.

Squint the Owl. Photo courtesy Sarasota Jungle Gardens

According to Squint, a marvelous gossip who eavesdrops on all SJG staff conversations, Putter is a great pet during the first few minutes you bring him home. After that, it’s all downhill — literally!  Prairie dogs can only live their lives to the fullest when they are a part of their “coterie/town,” the terms for a group of prairie dogs. The instinctive ethos of that coterie is that they live, love and breed, and die — sometimes even sacrificing their lives — for the benefit and survival of that coterie.

What the new pet owner ends up with is a feral rodent with little scissors-sharp teeth and claws meant for digging burrows that can be up to 10 feet deep and 30 feet long. Even worse, Putter can’t be litter-box trained.

As buyer’s remorse sets in, what is the rueful, but well-meaning pet owner to do? The most commonly chosen solution is to dump Putter into the wild; after all, that’s where feral animals belong, right? But Putter is non-native to Florida and quite out of his element here.

It’s at this point I wish Charles Dickens had chosen Putter rather than Oliver as his protagonist because you now would be reading a true tale of pathos rather than bathos. Here’s this abandoned orphan: He’s starving; he’s deprived of his natural birthright, his family and friends; and he’s preyed upon by the “lowest and most vicious” elements of our society — the alligator, the pygmy rattlesnake, the hawk, the eagle, the fire ants, and the rains that suddenly flood his new burrow.  And he’s all alone. That is, until Sarasota Jungle Gardens agreed to adopt and maintain him. But even then, Putter must be quarantined (alone) for several weeks to insure he cannot transmit the bubonic plague to Bob and Pork Chop, his new prairie dog companions, with whom he has a cordial relationship.

PLEEEEEEASE, dear readers, if you are considering acquiring an exotic pet, know that there are ways to enjoy one without the painful scratches on the ankles or bites on the hands and face; without the expenses of veterinary care or pet-boarding and those hard-to-remove stains on your wall-to-wall carpeting. Sarasota Jungle Gardens has an Adopt An Animal program which, for as little as $35 a year, will allow you the privilege of knowing that “your” pet is in good hands, in good health and is educating us a on what makes it so unique and wonderful. See

Kathie, I was quite touched by your concern that Putter might have died and that his death would have made you sad. Look to the bright side! If beloved animals did not die and people did not cry, we would have missed out on lots of great movies — Bambi, The Yearling, Old Yeller, Cujo and perhaps the saddest of all, Jeux interdits (Forbidden Games). Here’s the link to the film’s haunting musical theme: I guarantee it will make you cry, especially when it is accompanied by a glass or two of Beaujolais. Oh, what the heck! Make that a full bottle and a whole box of Kleenex!