updated 10/21/2009 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 10/19/2009 AT 7:45 AM ET
A pet iguana? Sure, why not. A cuddly newt? Knock yourself out. A lizard nicknamed Sal A. Mander? Been done.
But a cranky, carnivorous, bone-crushing crocodile as family pet? Say hello to Johnie, a 13-year-old saltwater crocodile who lives with Vicki Lowing and her teenaged son in their suburban home in Melbourne, Australia. “She’s just like a cat or a dog,” Lowing, 52–who walks the 5-ft.-long croc on a leash, cuddles with her on the sofa and even naps with her in bed–told the Herald Sun. “She knows when the fridge door opens there is a good chance of a snack, so she shuffles in for a feed.”
Lowing, a lifelong reptile-lover and trained nurse who has cared for abandoned animals for years, found the little snapper abandoned on her doorstep in 1996, and has raised it as part of the family ever since.
Johnie loves chicken wings and red meat (you’ll find frozen rats in the fridge), basks under UV lights set up in most rooms to stay warm, lounges by her own indoor heated pool and even has a sibling rivalry going with Lowing’s son Andrew, 15, who was a toddler when the croc showed up and grew up alongside her. When they were younger, “I once heard Andrew screaming ‘mummy, mummy,’ and I ran in to discover Andrew crying, saying Johnie had taken his toy,” Lowing recalled. “Sure enough, there was Johnie in his water tank, with the toy in his mouth.” To this day, Johnie will sometimes barricade Andrew in the bathroom (and if Andrew finds her in the shower when he wants to use it, he’ll turn on the cold water to shoo her away).
When Lowing’s husband Greg grew tired of all the attention lavished on Johnie, he gave his wife an ultimatum–it’s me or the croc. She chose the croc. “Husbands can look after themselves,” she explained of her 2005 divorce, “but my crocodile can’t make meals.” Besides Johnie, Lowing has two other young crocodiles, Fovian and Jilfia, as well as pythons, lizards, turtles and horses.
But she has a particular soft spot for Johnie, who she only recently discovered is a girl. Initially, no one dared flip the frisky croc on its back to check for its sex. But when Lowing learned the truth, “I was secretly thrilled,” she said. “I’ve always wanted a daughter.”
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