The Magic Dragon
When my best friend Rosemary/Rosie Lawrence got Freddy, he was about six inches long and probably weighed in at only a few ounces. When he passed away
ten years later, he was six feet long and weighed in at well over thirty pounds. He was the love of her life. His remains rest in a silver jar on her mantle to this day.
If she was your friend, you got used to Freddy. I’d often visit for an evening of popcorn, chatting and watching favorite TV shows with her, while Freddy either laid on the back of the sofa with his head resting on her shoulder or curled up across her knees while she stroked the dewlap under his neck. He loved that and fell asleep in her lap.
Freddy was an Iguana; a South American iguana, not a Mexican iguana; which I didn’t know anything about until Rosie told me. To me he was just a big, green lizard. But to Rosie, there was a big difference. She said the South American version is a richer green in color and not as hostile. Mexican iguanas were more of an olive, dusty color of green and had longer spines on their back and hotter tempers. I took her word for it. They all look the same to me: medieval dragons, except they don’t breathe fire.
Rosie found him in a pet shop, when she was buying food for her tropical fish and it was love at first sight. She said there was something about the way the little green guy looked at her that melted her heart. She asked the store clerk about him and how to care for him and he recommended a book about keeping the scaly green creatures.
When she read that they were vegetarians like her, that was it. She bought him and a terrarium, some alfalfa pellets and a bird harness for her new friend. She scooped up Freddie and all his paraphernalia and on the way home she stopped at the grocer to pick up extra greens and fruit. I don’t know why she named him Freddy. Rosie was an artist. They do strange things sometimes.
That was the start of a beautiful friendship. Rosie made her living as a commercial artist and worked from her home office. Her fish and her cat were her only companions.
As I said, originally Freddy was about six inches long, but in a month he was a good foot long and growing rapidly. Rosie would take him outside to get exercise by putting the parakeet harness on him and walking him like a dog. Dogs, however, don’t climb trees. Freddy was a great jumper and superb climber. She had to call me to help her several times get him out of neighbors or sidewalk curb trees.
As he grew past three feet long, she stopped walking him, breaking the hearts of the neighborhood kids. But she did allow them supervised visits now and then. She let Freddy roam in her back yard, wearing his harness attached to a tether to restrict how far he could wander. He was good at leaping and this kept him a safe distance away from the brick walls that surrounded her yard. At first it was just Freddy and her one-eyed tom cat, Cinnamon, but one day a dog got into her yard when a meter reader left her gate open. She heard the cat yowl and barely got it out of the yard before it could attack Freddy.
She immediately added a dog named Sam, to her menagerie for protection. If any critter or person came near the gate, the dog would begin a volley of loud barking. Sam was a shelter rescue dog of highly mixed ancestry about the size of a large Springer Spaniel; but size is where the comparison stopped. He had small pointed ears, a wolfish snout, wide, flat feet and stubby legs. Part of his mix must have been a sheepdog or husky because of he also had a very thick coat of tan, gray and black speckled hair.
He was about a year old when Rosie found him at the shelter. The cat that got along great with Freddy, but she wanted a dog to protect her green buddy when he was outside. First, she took Sam home for a trial run to make sure he wouldn’t hurt Freddie or Cinnamon. He looked like a very easy-going dog, but you could never tell. After one or two sniffs between the dog, cat and reptile it was pretty safe to say that all the misfits got along quite well.
It was common to visit Rosie and see Sam sleeping in the grass or on the back porch, with Freddie laying on his back, using the dog as a fluffy, warm bed; the cat laying net to them.
Eventually, the reptile began to outgrow the dog and started using him as a head pillow instead, snuggling his large, green spiked head and front feet in the dog’s fur with the rest of his five foot body and tail stretching out behind him. Cinnamon often climbed on top of the lizard, which Freddy seemed to greatly enjoy.
Rosie was a delicate woman, small boned and petite. Freddy had outgrown her capability of lifting him by the time he’d hit four feet. She didn’t have the strength to carry him around, so she relied on a heavier leash and harness for him all the time when he wasn’t in the house. He took it in stride and adjusted to her leading him around by his leash, when exiting and returning to the house. When he was in the house, he had a large, heavy weight, plastic dog house in a corner of the living room with a padded cushion on it’s floor. But most of the time when I visited Rosie, Freddie was still draped on the back of the long six foot sofa, and he covered every inch of it..
All the animals had their water and eating dishes along one wall of the kitchen; kibble for Sam and Cinnamon and alfalfa pellets for Freddy, always with a side plate of fresh, leafy greens.
All was peaceful in the little household until Freddie’s front foot began to swell. Rosie called me and I drove them to the vet who said that this was a common problem for pet iguanas; they easily fell prey to infections from small cuts or stickers/thorns/rock bruises on the pads of their feet that go unnoticed until they’re infected and swollen.
He gave Freddie a shot and gave Rosie some antibiotics to give him for the next week. It took a long time; a few months and a lot of vet care, but eventually, the swelling and infection went down but it left a hard spot on the pad of Freddie’s one front foot. It didn’t seem to bother him, but it bothered Rosie terribly. The vet told her not to worry, but after nine years, with her scaly friend, that’s all she could do.
Maybe it was a sixth sense or maybe it was a mother’s love, I don’t know. All I know is that just after Freddie’s 10th birthday, I got a call from Rosie who was crying hysterically. I rushed over. Freddy was laying on the back of the sofa as usual, but barely breathing. His front foot had swollen up to the size of a cantaloupe again. The cat was meowing and Sam was whining. Rosie was sobbing.
We carried Freddy Freddie to my car and I drove as fast as I could to the vet, without breaking any laws. Now was not the time to get busted with a traffic ticket. Rosie sat I the back, stroking Freddie’s big green head that was resting her lap; a broken hearted magical princess trying to breathe life back into her faithful dragon. The sight broke my heart.
By the time we pulled up into the vet’s parking lot, he was gone. The vet said this happened often to these reptiles and it was amazing that Freddy had actually lived this long outside of a zoo. Not many did.
That didn’t help Rosie though. She was devastated. She had Freddie cremated and chose the most beautiful golden colored urn the vet had to hold his remains after the deed was done. As I said earlier, it sits on her living room mantle. Cinnamon and Sam are getting up in years now too, but I think both have at least another good seven or eight years in them. Someday they will join Freddy on the mantle.
I asked Rosie if she planned to get another iguana, since she loved Freddie so much. She said no. He was special and magical. There could be no replacement. There was only one Freddy in anyone’s life in a single lifetime.
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