LUBBOCK, Texas — To some, prairie dogs are cute, and to others they’re pests. But for one Texas Tech librarian, they’re his “babies,” and he’s been raising them in his home for more than 20 years.
“You don’t own the prairie dog. You’re their human,” Rob Weiner, popular culture librarian at Texas Tech University said.
Weiner started keeping prairie dogs as pets in the 90s after he watched an episode of “Regis and Kathie Lee” that featured a man with one as a pet. From there, he headed to purchase one from Walter’s World of Pets, and he was “stuck.”
Although Weiner raises them and doesn’t sell them, he said that during the pandemic, prairie dogs pets were more popular than ever. Lately, he’s seen people asking for them from Florida, New York and even overseas.
“I know a lot of people don’t care for them and consider them vermin, but they can and do make affectionate and loving pets,” Weiner said.
He recently remodeled his home to turn his garage into a prairie dog colony. Each of his prairie dog pets has a name, such as “Tulip” and “Paws,” and a distinct personality “like people.” He added that they could be naughty sometimes, and they love to chew on everything, including fingers.
“They can and do bite sometimes, but it’s a small price to pay for unconditional love,” Weiner said.
As inherently social creatures, he said they need attention and care constantly, or they could actually get depressed and die. He said while they wouldn’t make great family pets, they would make great pets for people working from home in an apartment.
“I would leave their cage open at night, and I’d wake up and have a visitor cuddling with me,” Weiner said.
Local pet stores that sell prairie dogs also said they’ve seen a spike in demand for the rodents, as well as for other exotic pets.
“[Prairie dogs] get to where they know you, and they want to hang out with you. They’re just a lot more intelligent than people give them credit for,” Ryan Blakley, founder of Walter’s World of Pets said.
Blakley said that while the prairie dog pet business is usually good in Lubbock, the pandemic has only made them more popular.
“This year, they’ve been good on a retail level with people staying at the house. They’re buying a lot of pets…a lot of feel-good stuff, and how does [a prairie dog] not make you feel good?” Blakley said.
Some states don’t allow residents to keep prairie dogs as pets, but the City of Lubbock currently doesn’t have any rules banning them as pets.
Weiner added that some owners like to dress up their prairie dogs, but he’s not a fan of that. He said he loves cuddling them and seeing the way they greet him with “yahoos” when he gets home from work.
“Every day, I feel more connected to nature by taking care of God’s little creatures,” Weiner said.