Found a lizard, found it a home - and then things got complicated
June 13, 2017 11:05 PM   Subscribe

I found a bearded dragon on the bus. A friend helped me re-home him in a ridiculously speedy fashion. Now the lizard's old family is looking for him. What do I do? Have I handled this right? Details inside.

Last Thursday I found a small (adolescent) bearded dragon on the bus on my way home from work in an urban area (medium sized city). Went to get off at my stop, and there it was - lizard on my shoe. Very docile, seemingly in ok shape under the circumstances. Probably cold because it clung to my (warm) cell phone.

I live at the end of the route and was the only person on the bus at this point. I tell the driver, "hey, lizard." He says yeah, other people getting off the bus had told him and that he was going to toss it off at the next layover. This is not somewhere that this lizard would have lasted an hour, so I took it home and put it in a clear container with some water and some bok choy and said "WTF am I going to do" because I had about 45 minutes to change and catch another bus to an unskippable obligation.

So, a friend who lives a few blocks away is driving by, sees me on the porch and pulls over to say hello. I explain the lizard, and CRAZY COINCIDENCE she knows a couple who had two bearded dragons, and one recently died (old age) - they would surely be interested in the little guy. She calls them, and sure, they'll come get him on their way home from work. She'll hang out until they get there, so I can get my bus. Two hours later she texts me pix of the lil guy in a really nice setup, with heatrocks and climby things and a big momma lizard that he is all over. Couldn't have worked out better, right?

Saturday a poster shows up on a pole more or less 10 paces from my front steps. Looking for the lizard - belongs to a 9 year old who had it on the bus - it got away from him - they got back on the bus after the layover on its way in the other direction, and the driver says "a lady found it". They are looking for the lady. I AM THE LADY. But I gave away the kid's pet. And I have no idea what to do, so I decide to send a picture of the poster to the new family, and let them decide.

I guess they did not follow up in any way, because yesterday on the bus home I go to get off and whaddyaknow, there is the dad and the kid, handing out new lost-lizard posters on the bus. We hit the spot where I am (as usual) the last person on the bus. And they say "hey, have you seen this lizard? A lady on this route found him around here last week." And I just have a feeling that the dad knows it is probably me. But I panic, because I don't want to tell the kid that I gave away his pet right then and there (we'd have both started crying, I am pretty sure), or get into a confrontation of any kind. And I say I'll take a poster to show around to people in the neighborhood and wish them luck.

And now I feel hideous for lying to them, and not being more forthcoming about what actually happened. I had no idea how to handle the interaction on the spot. I'm a crier, and the kid was right there. And I really don't want to be involved in a lizard custody battle. I feel like I did a good deed in scooping him up off the bus, and my friend did me a solid by finding him somewhere to be, and my part in it is done. But I also feel like the kid deserves some closure. I'm panicking about seeing them on the bus again, looking for "the lady who took him home". I am trying to refrain from making judgements re: the kid's fitness to care for the lizard, but I do think the lizard is in a more stable, public-transit-free environment? (No judgement on taking pets on the bus when necessary - I don't drive and my cats come on the bus with me to get to the vet, etc.)

I sent a picture of the second poster to the family that has the lizard, and also called my friend who was the intermediary to let her know what happened/that the family is still looking. It is breaking my heart to think about. Is there anything else I can/should do at this point?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (36 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- LobsterMitten

It's great that you rescued the lizard initially. I think your best next step at this point is to get the contact information of the lizard's foster family so you can pass it on to the kid's family. You know where the lizard is; it is your obligation to get the family in contact with the people who now have it.
posted by epj at 11:28 PM on June 13 [32 favorites]

I think I would have to tell the kid who lost it that his pet isn't dead, because imagining being the kid imagining that the animal died destroys me. Really, I think the adopters should promptly have given it back, but that's not under your control (and therefore not your moral quandary).
posted by clew at 11:28 PM on June 13 [6 favorites]

You have to tell that kid where his lizard is. You know these people stole it; the kid knows you know; the bus driver knows you know. And YOU know you know. You say you are a "crier" and seem like a really empathic and compassionate and conscientious and also anxious person, and I can tell you right now, just based on the way you wrote about seeing that kid and his dad, that if you let this kid's lizard stay stolen, it's going to be the kind of thing that will make you feel wracked with guilt for years if you let it slide. Your part is not done in this if you know that friends of friends are wrongfully keeping a child's beloved pet, come on. I'm sorry, but you really have to do this.

Things to remember:

a.) The MOST likely possibility right now ime is that the couple and your friend fully intend to get in touch with lizard's rightful fam but just haven't gotten around to it. Giving the dad and kid their information will speed up the process but won't necessarily result in drama.

b.) if that isnt the case, juvenile beardeds are really ridiculously cheap and easy to find, like $15-40 bucks. There is no reason not to replace one the normal way instead of stealing some kid's beloved pet. If the couple really are keeping this particular bearded dragon on purpose, an animal they have no attatchment to and know a kid really DOES have an attatchment to, they are totally out of line. More than out of line, their behavior is super bizarre. It's unlikely that they'll double down on this, and in the super unlikely chance that they do, you cannot reasonably be blamed for them doing this, and its not likely any drama the dad starts with them will backwash onto you. Also, your friend probably should know that her acquaintances are pet stealers in case she ever asks them to watch her cat when she's out of town or whatever.

c.) You sound like you are really anxious about confrontation, but remember that you were already braver than every other person on that bus when you were the one to scoop up a strange, big, spiky critter. You can do this. Get in contact with the family using those LOST posters and send them the info of the couple who has their pet. Tell them the truth about what happened when you saw them-- you're a crier, and you felt awful about the situation, and you didn't want to make a big public scene and make their kiddo even more upset than he already was. Text them the phone number of your friend and the photo of their lizard safe and unharmed right now, so they get it in the morning and know lizard isn't dead, and snuggle your kitties, and get some sleep. You had a hectic day and you're doing good.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:34 PM on June 13 [30 favorites]

Oh my God I would go over to those people's house and ask for the lizard back.
Or give the kids dad the foster family contact info.
They'll get over it. The lizard belongs to that kid.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:37 PM on June 13 [9 favorites]

Two hours later she texts me pix of the lil guy in a really nice setup, with heatrocks and climby things and a big momma lizard that he is all over. Couldn't have worked out better, right?


What's better for the lizard: loving kid or family with another lizard that it's already "all over"?

If I were the lizard I think I would unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the latter, and I think you should too. What's best for the lizard trumps property rights and the kid's feelings, in my opinion.
posted by jamjam at 12:50 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]

Just tell them what happened. It won’t be as bad as you think.
posted by pharm at 1:31 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]

Go with moonlight on vermont's advice. I too am someone who's rescued pets and done my best to get them back to their families, because I know if I don't, it will stay with me for my whole frickin' life.

I say this as someone who has a fluffy fluffball who'd been abandoned in a building entrance 9 years ago. We looked for his family, no one claimed him, and yet to this day I wonder. This sort of thing stays with you. Put the kid and his parents in contact with the foster family.

I'm also a kid who had pets die and get lost. I also took in my best friend's rabbit when his mother moved him to Idaho – we were eight. For god's sake, do what you can to get the kid his lizard back. It would have destroyed me to read something like jamjam's "rationale". You'll feel so much better if you do what you can.
posted by fraula at 1:33 AM on June 14 [11 favorites]

I don't think you can make any solid comparisons between the (standard, would come with the lizard, I used to work at a reptile shop) setup the couple have going vs what the kid and his family have at home. You don't know how or why the kid took his pet on the bus, although I would guess after this he's never going to pull that shit again. Also, keeping two beardies of different ages and sizes in one enclosure looks cute but is a really bad idea, there's a huge chance the older lizard will attack or hurt the baby. Jamjam's "adult animal lovers saving a neglected pet from some snot nosed kid" narrative might be a tempting rationalization for disengaging, but there is REALLY not enough evidence of abuse for this to be a legitimate animal "rescue". Assuming this couple hasnt just been busy and lagging on response, people who snatch up other people's pets on the assumption that they can take better care of them, ime, are really bad news; they're operating on a scary ego high and generally do not have the animals' best interest at heart.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 1:40 AM on June 14 [16 favorites]

You have to tell that kid where his lizard is. You know these people stole it

Whoa. You're talking about a living being, not an "it". That being was going to die if OP hadn't intervened. OP's friends further helped by providing a very comfortable spot for said lizard to live. Helping living (lost, nearly dying) beings in need is generally not considered stealing. Furthermore, people who rescue such beings tend to form legitimately protective feelings for them.

OP, you said you texted a photo of the poster to your friends. Did you also tell them that the kid showed up in person and that he rode the bus to the end of the line and was asking about the lizard? Did you tell them you wanted them to follow up? The fact that this wasn't a perfunctory effort makes a difference which might not have come through from a poster photo alone.
posted by SakuraK at 1:44 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]

OP's friends further helped by providing a very comfortable spot for said lizard to live. Helping living (lost, nearly dying) beings in need is generally not considered stealing.

It was nice of them to take care of it but refusing to return it to its rightful owner is stealing.

OP, obviously you shouldn't have given away this pet without giving the owner a chance to find it but I understand that you panicked, you didn't know how to take care of it and didn't have the time. You need to get in touch with the family that has the lizard - actually call them, don't text. If they wont take your call, you need to give their name and address to the kid's family. Explain what happened and help them in any way you can to reunite them with their pet.
posted by missmagenta at 1:54 AM on June 14 [5 favorites]

You did a nice thing, now you need to get the lizard back to its rightful owner.

Contact the people who have the lizard and tell them they need to give it back and that you're giving their information to the kid and his dad. Then give their contact info to the kid and his dad, telling them you know someone from the bus had friends who could keep the little dude safe until the owners showed up.

This doesn't need to become a custody battle.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:35 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]

moonlight on vermont said keeping two beardies of different ages and sizes in one enclosure looks cute but is a really bad idea, there's a huge chance the older lizard will attack or hurt the baby.

So if it was me, I wouldn't contact the kid about the lizard yet, I'd contact the adopters and make sure it's alive first.
posted by glasseyes at 3:12 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]

Contact the adopters. This kind of thing happens a lot with adopting lost pets. I mean, they are lost, not feral or something. Anyone accepting a found "gift" would not be that surprised if the original owner showed up whether they be an animal or a phone.
posted by friendofstone at 3:51 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

You did the right thing. Don't feel bad.

You don't have the lizard anymore. You did the best thing you could for it, and have passed on the previous owner's contact information to the new owner.

Maybe the kid lost the lizard due to circumstances completely beyond his control and wasn't being irresponsible with it on a bus, but, ehh.

You're in a bit of a bind if you get directly confronted about this, having pretended to know less than you actually did about the fate of the lizard, but if the dad corners you or something you can tell them the lizard was rescued by some acquaintances of yours and you have shown them the posters. That's really all you can do, anyway. You're not in the lizard repossession business.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:11 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]

You did the right thing by getting the lizard into a safe environment. But you were really, really wrong to lie to the dad and kid's faces when they were obviously putting out a lot of effort to look for this lizard. To right that wrong, you need to get the Dad direct contact information for the people who have the lizard now and then let them work it out.
posted by kimberussell at 4:24 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]

Just bite the bullet and tell the truth. I don't know why you wouldn't. Sure, it's hard now that you've avoided them, but you have to just do it, no matter how embarrassing it is. You did the right thing; your only mistake was not letting them know.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:36 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

The lizard adopters should not have their contact information given to anyone without their permission.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:55 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]

Yes, everything you could have done, you did. You rescued a pet that shouldn't have been in a position to have been lost in the first place, then when you had more information you told the people you gave the lizard about the previous owners.

You have no further responsibilities to anyone in my book and you didn't steal anything. Definitely follow prize bull octorok's excellent advice and don't feel bad.
posted by winna at 5:05 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

If it were not for you, the lizard would be dead. I can kind of see where you panicked at meeting the kid and his dad because if you told them the truth, it leaves you as an awkward go-between in a situation that is really not your responsibility at all and between people you don't know at all. I'm not sure what you can do besides try to contact the people you gave it to again. I agree that you shouldn't be giving out these people's contact information without their permission. But since you don't know any of the people involved, you also don't want to end up as the contact person in a nasty lizard custody battle all because you decided to do the right thing.

So I would contact the new owners again, and then follow prize bull octorok's and winna's suggestions. You feel weird and awful because it is a weird and awful situation but you didn't do anything wrong.
posted by tiger tiger at 5:16 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]

A lot of people are being reallllllllly nice to you by saying you did everything right, but I disagree. You did many good things, but you dropped the ball by not allowing for the possibility that the owners were looking for their pet. I get that you're an anxious person, but sending pictures of posters and the like is easy to ignore. You should ask your friend to help you get the lizard back, because that is something you could try that it seems like you're not doing. Don't let your anxiety get in the way of helping a 9-year-old who seems to be trying really hard to find his lost pet.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:16 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]

Call the kids family, tell them you are the lady who found the lizard and that you gave it to a friend. Give the kids family your friend's number.

Then call your friend and tell them to expect a call from kid's family.

It's kind of blowing my mind that you didn't do this in the first place. Your friends are doing something wrong by not contacting that kid IMMEDIATELY, and now it's your responsibility to step in.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:30 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]

Phone the adopters, and say something like the following:

"Hey so you know the posters about the lizard I sent you the picture of? So, I actually ran into the kid who was putting them up the other day, and it turns out he is really upset about losing his lizard. I really appreciate you taking the little guy in, but I think he should probably go back to his owner. I'd love to give them your contact info so you all can make arrangements. Is that OK?"
posted by Rock Steady at 6:43 AM on June 14 [8 favorites]

I seriously doubt you'd be posting this if you'd found a puppy or a kitten. Do what you can to get this kid his pet back.
posted by pandabort at 6:47 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

OP, I'm sorry for the multiple posts, but this question has been eating at me.

Saying that the couple need to give consent for their number to be given out is crazy talk. When you take in a lost pet, you are giving blanket consent for your information to be given to the searching family. That's part of the package; it's a basic social rule of adoption and rescue, and if people don't want to deal with strangers calling them about what is essentially a family emergency, they can buy baby animals from a breeder or get their pets from literally any other source than "obvious lost pet, found less than a week ago."

The number of people here saying "oh well, you did what you could" is honestly making me scared and paranoid; I want to get even more forms of ID for my dog in case she gets lost and someone decides that, you know, oh well, they already did a good deed.

OP, you *did* do a good deed-- you were amazing in saving this animal from certain death and finding it a safe place-- but you absolutely need to follow that rescue through to the end. I think you know this, too, or you wouldn't have Asked this question anonymously, and wouldn't be talking about how "hideous" you felt lying to this family's face about what happened to their pet. It honestly sounds like you are struggling with some serious and debilitating social anxiety if fear of an awkward social encounter is so overwhelming that you are doing something you know is deeply wrong to avoid a minor conflict. I really hope you can find a way to get help dealing with that anxiety after you do the right thing here, because whichever mystery mefite you are, you sound like a good, brave, resourceful person whose anxiety is putting them through a lot of unnecessary torment. Please take care. And please let that kid know where his pet is.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:53 AM on June 14 [25 favorites]

Yeah, you need to do what you can to get the kid his pet back.

That includes giving the contact number of the adopters, who so far are failing to return a child's lost pet. They lost their anonymity privilege.

You don't need to talk to the adopters anymore if it makes you anxious; just give their contact info to the dad. Call the dad; he won't know it's the same lady he saw on the bus. And once he has that contact info he won't come on the bus again.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:58 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

You did the right thing. You are not equipped to care for a lizard. If I'd been you, I would have had to find a place for the lizard right away because my cat would have eaten it. You absolutely did the right thing.

I wouldn't want my contact info given out without my consent if I was the adopter. If you contact the adopter again and ask if it's okay to put them in touch with the family that's looking for the lizard, and then act according to their wishes, that's what you can do. If they decline to be contacted, you can also rightfully tell the people who are looking that you found their lizard, could not care for it, and a third party who is not your actual friend/person you know adopted the lizard. I would tell that to the adult in the situation, obviously not the child.

If you can put them in touch with the adopters, you can say something like this: "Hi, this is anonymous from the bus, where you were looking for your lizard. I apologize that I didn't get in touch sooner, I was surprised at the time, but I wanted to let you know that after I found your lizard, I couldn't care for it, and X Person took your lizard in. You can contact them at [number]."

If you can't tell them who the adopters are, then you can say, "Hi, this is anonymous from the bus, where you were looking for your lizard. I apologize that I didn't get in touch sooner, I was surprised at the time, but I wanted to let you know that after I found your lizard, I couldn't care for it, and I didn't want him to suffer. I found someone to take him in through a third party, and unfortunately I don't have their contact information. But your lizard is safe."

The second one is a white lie, but you can't give out their info in that scenario, so IMHO it doesn't matter and is kinder. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:10 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

Wait, what? This kid wants his pet back. It's not good enough to tell him that the lizard is safe. If these people didn't want the lost lizard's family to contact them then they shouldn't have fostered the lizard. They don't get to essentially steal a little kids pet and then hide behind a shroud of anonymity.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:14 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]

Contact the adopters directly, and tell them that you will provide the family with their contact information if they don't contact the family themselves. Give them a deadline. If you adopt a lost pet, you take the chance that they really were lost and not abandoned. If they're nice people, they'll understand that and do the right thing. If they do not meet the deadline, give their email to the Dad.
posted by frumiousb at 7:27 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]

[Folks, this is AskMe, it's not a debate space and you don't need to post lots of comments. Don't get into escalating back-and-forth with other commenters. Trust that OP is reading your advice and using their good judgment.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:37 AM on June 14

The people who are taking care of this lizard KNOW that he was a lost/stray. They will not be shocked to be contacted by the original owners. The only mistake in the whole train of events was if the words got away from you and the story shifted from "I found this fragile lost creature wandering and I don't have the supplies to look after even temporarily" to you telling your buddy "I need somebody who can keep this little guy alive" to whatever story they told their friends, which may have been "hey, free lizard!" But you did right, and the little guy is alive and healthy because you took action. Now you just have to do a bit more. They surely are prepared for the chance the original owner will be looking for it. Do you have their phone number or will you have to go through your buddy to talk with them? If you want to do less effort and remove yourself as intermediary, just call/text to tell them that there's a kid looking for his lost lizard, and give the kid their number.
posted by aimedwander at 7:48 AM on June 14

I think you did a wonderful thing taking responsibility for this animal's safety, but unfortunately (I hate conflict and uncomfortable social interactions too) your responsibility isn't over until you've made best efforts to connect the kid whose pet is missing with the people who have the pet. You can do this.

If it helps, imagine this is a cat that escaped from a window, a puppy that got loose from the yard, a phone left in a taxi, a baseball card collection on the bus. It's not up to you to decide if the adopters are better owners of any of these than the real owner-- you know someone is missing something, and you know where it is-- and you had a hand in getting it there. You didn't have to take this on, but you did. Now see it through.

You have the power to make this right, or at least to try your best. I don't think you'll feel okay until you try. What about telling the adopters that if they don't connect with the family, you will put the family in touch with them-- give the adopters one more chance to do the right thing.
posted by kapers at 7:51 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Animals are possessions. You found someone's possession, couldn't keep it safe so you gave it to someone to keep safe with the best of intentions and now the original owners have contacted you to retrieve their possession. If the fostering family is unwilling to return the pet I would say it would be fair to contact the police and seek their assistance in returning their possession. You can give the police both contact info and they can be the go-between and assert the original family still has legal rights - we don't operate on "finders keepers"
posted by saucysault at 8:30 AM on June 14

If you can't tell them who the adopters are, then you can say, "Hi, this is anonymous from the bus, where you were looking for your lizard. I apologize that I didn't get in touch sooner, I was surprised at the time, but I wanted to let you know that after I found your lizard, I couldn't care for it, and I didn't want him to suffer. I found someone to take him in through a third party, and unfortunately I don't have their contact information. But your lizard is safe."

Anonymous, if you decide to protect the anonymity of the people who have the lizard, I would advise against using this phrasing. If I heard that, as the dad or the kid, I'd just ask for the contact information of the intermediary, and if you responded "I don't have the intermediary's contact info either", I would find that so hard to believe that I might assume you have the lizard - and that seems like it would magnify your anxiety over this instead of relieve it.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:34 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised nobody has suggested this yet, but I would tell the foster people that the police will return the pet to its rightful owners if they don't give it back immediately. I think the threat of the police getting involved will get them to move quickly doing the right thing.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:25 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

I can't disagree strongly enough with everyone basing their answers on the idea that the lizard is "property" or a "posession." He's a living, feeling creature, and I think his interests are most important in this scenario.

That being said, it sounds like (given the amount of effort being put into finding the little guy) the kid's family would be a good home for him, and maybe the bus incident was an honest accident rather than carelessness. It also sounds from moonlight in vermont's post that the lizard's current residence might not be ideal anyhow. If I were you I would try to get the lizard back home. I think at minimum, regardless of how you handle everything else, it's critical for the kid and family to know the lizard is safe and OK.
posted by Gymnopedist at 10:11 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

My assumption is that the adoptive folks did not contact you, OP, because the lizard did not survive (was already injured, or was injured by the bigger lizard) or they are assholes. I think at the point the original owner and his family have gone multiple times passing out flyers, they have shown commitment and responsibility.

(A 3rd possibility is the lizard was already sick and died, which has happened to me and is not uncommon when purchasing reptiles from a store. This does not excuse the folks who adopted the lizard from getting in touch with you, OP. Just letting you know they may be embarrassed or similar in this circumstance.)

As I stated previously, the kind thing to do is replace the lizard yourself since they are inexpensive as juveniles.

I would still text a pic of the receipt to the adoptive folks because I'm shitty like that sometimes, so instead just do the good deed and don't be me!
posted by jbenben at 10:57 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

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