British Columbia

Okanagan hunt for huge cold-blooded lizard has warm ending

Warm hearts find cold-blooded “brute” of a lizard missing for almost two weeks in the north Okanagan.

Argentine giant tegu lizard named Kitty came back, but not the very next day

A staff member at the Vernon Veterinary Clinic holds a giant tegu lizard named Kitty, who was rescued after escaping his enclosure in the North Okanagan (Jamie Klein / Submitted)

After almost two weeks of searching and worry, Jamie Klein is one very happy and relieved mom.

"He's doing awesome," Klein said, eyeing Kitty, her rescued 1.2-metre-long, 5.4 kilogram Argentine giant tegu lizard.

"He's snuggly and he's great." 

The massive reptile disappeared from Klein's home in the SilverStar area of Vernon, B.C., in mid-August, leading to a two-week search that captivated the community.

Klein says warm hearts saved the cold-blooded, scaly, hissing creature from near-certain death.

The Argentine black and white tegu, or giant tegu, is known for its unusually high intelligence and can also be housebroken. (Jamie Klein / Submitted)

"It was amazing. The community really did come together ... even if they were scared or unfamiliar or worried about coming across him, everyone just really tried to get him home," she told CBC's Radio West host Sarah Penton.

"He wouldn't have survived the winter here."

Big Kitty a 'brute of a lizard'

Kitty doesn't have much in common with the usual furry friends Klein sees working at the Vernon Veterinary Clinic.

"He's black and white and big,"  she said.

"He's about the size of a house cat, big low body, just meandering brute of a lizard that likes to, normally in the wild, be out there eating ... bird eggs, frogs, fish, anything rodent-wise that he could come across and snap up."

Tegu lizard Kitty was originally adopted by clinic staff member Jamie Klein after he was found abandoned and injured in the Lower Mainland. (Jamie Klein / Submitted)

But this lizard's tale is not that different from those of many other household pets.

Kitty was a rescue.

Abandoned outside in November in south Surrey, veterinarians weren't sure he could survive the cold and a broken leg.

But he did. Klein adopted the reptile and then started using him as a hands-on patient at the Vernon clinic, to train staff on the proper handling of exotic animals.

As this summer's heat wave hit, Klein decided to keep Kitty in an outdoor enclosure because of the more reptile-friendly temperatures.

That's when the mini-dragon made a middle-of-the-night dash for freedom.

Kitty escaped during heat wave

"We can't figure that out,"  Klein said of Kitty's escape. "He doesn't climb, there were no signs of digging … [but] he made his way out and went on the lam for a while."

After looking for the normally lazy, lumbering, animal in the scrub on her five-acre property,  Klein put out a call for help.

Hundreds of people shared information about the search and followed sightings on social media.

"It was such a nice feeling to get that support out there,"  Klein said.

In the end, it turned out Kitty hadn't strayed far from home. 

Tegu lizard Kitty recovers after surgery for a broken tail. The reptile escaped in August, leading to a two week-long search effort that captivated the community. (Jamie Klein / Submitted)

A neighbour found the beast lurking in an open carport last week. He was thinner and his tail was broken, but he was happy to be reunited with his owner.

"I think he recognized me and totally relaxed in my arms," Klein said.

Veterinarians are treating the now voraciously hungry Kitty, and Klein isn't going to test if lizards have nine lives.

For the time being, this lizard is going to be an indoor Kitty.

"He's going to be grounded for while," she said.

A four foot long tegu lizard goes on the lamb for two weeks near Silverstar, his happy owner recounts his escape and their reunion.

With files from CBC's Radio West with Sarah Penton