VIDEO

Wallaby owners hopeful rabies concerns cleared up, state will let them keep pet

Posted July 01, 2012, at 2:23 p.m.
The wallaby Michelle Charette and Jay Batchelder bought as a pet cuddles on Batchelder's shoulder at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on June 6, 2012.
The wallaby Michelle Charette and Jay Batchelder bought as a pet cuddles on Batchelder's shoulder at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on June 6, 2012.

ISLAND FALLS, Maine — The couple who unknowingly ran afoul of state law on animal importation are hopeful they will be able to keep what is now a beloved pet.

Michelle Charette and Jay Batchelder were denied the right to keep Kingston, the wallaby they purchased at a New Jersey breeding ranch. After bringing the young animal to a children’s baseball game in town, a complaint was made to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Two wardens visited the couple’s house and told them that wallabies — animals that look like small kangaroos — are not approved for importation in Maine.

The wardens told the couple to apply for a permit to keep the critter, but the state department denied their formal request. At an appeals hearing on June 6, department officials indicated that their primary concern was that the wallaby be immunized against rabies. The couple was allowed to keep the animal when they assured DIF&W that they could find a rabies vaccination.

On Saturday, Batchelder said he had tracked down a rabies vaccine that is appropriate for wallabies.

“I called the breeder in New Jersey and he called his vet,” he said. “The vet said, ‘No problem,’” and faxed information about where to obtain the vaccine to North Country Animal Hospital in Caribou, the clinic Charette and Batchelder planned to use for the wallaby. The couple said North Country would soon hire a veterinarian from Australia, where wallabies are native, and that the new vet was familiar with the animals being kept as pets.

Batchelder said he then faxed the information about the vaccine to DIF&W a few days after the appeals hearing. Contacted on Thursday, Suzanne Zayak of DIF&W said the department was still awaiting information from the couple.

The vaccination cannot be administered to the animal until it is “16 weeks out of the pouch,” an age reference, Batchelder said. The wallaby will be the appropriate age in mid-September.

“The only thing [DIF&W] required from me was proof of the rabies vaccination, and I faxed it to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kingston the wallaby is thriving.

“He’s doing awesome,” Batchelder said.

The couple purchased a 10-by-10-foot dog kennel with six-foot-high walls for the animal to be outside in the yard.

“It’s a place he can hop around and play,” he said. And he can hop, already clearing heights of almost three feet.

Someone is usually at home with the wallaby, but if Charette and Batchelder are both gone for an hour or so, they leave Kingston in the house. They have made gains in training Kingston to urinate on pads that are typically used for dog training, but when he is alone in the house, “he slacks off.”

“We’re working on it,” Batchelder said.

In fact, Kingston acts much like a puppy when he is home alone.

“He hops around the house and plays and does whatever he wants to do,” he said.

The DIF&W appeals board was concerned about the animal being an attraction to friends of Batchelder’s teenage son and Charette’s 9-year-old son, but that has not been a problem, Batchelder said.

“We haven’t been taking him out and showing him off,” he said, though they would like to do so. And at home, the family and visitors are careful to not “maul him” with affection, he said.

“We haven’t changed our lifestyle at all,” Batchelder said.

The couple remain hopeful that they will be able to keep Kingston.

“We’re pretty much attached to him now,” he said.

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