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Originally published May 30, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified May 31, 2011 at 2:49 PM

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Woodinville family still dedicated to raising wandering wallaby

The Porters wanted an exotic pet and they certainly have one — in this case, a pint-size version of a kangaroo, with all of the effort it takes to own an animal that lives in the wilds of Australia and nearby islands.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes Foolish people. Poor animal. Sad story. Read more
quotes The headline is VERY misleading as it suggests the family is fostering an animal in nee... Read more
quotes I live in the neighborhood where the wallaby was found. This is not an individual who... Read more

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The young wallaby living at the Woodinville home of Colleen Porter, her two sons and her elderly mother seems to have recovered from its recent weekend ordeal.

The Porters wanted an exotic pet and they certainly have one — in this case, a pint-size version of a kangaroo, with all of the effort it takes to own an animal that lives in the wilds of Australia and nearby islands.

Despite warnings from websites like the one run by the Woodland Park Zoo, which proclaims, "Exotic animals aren't pets!" there are people who decide they simply want something different, whether a cockatoo, gecko, snake or the wallabies that have become popular in recent years.

The zoo warns it doesn't accept exotics no longer wanted by their owners.

"We simply don't have room for 1,000 iguanas," it says, iguanas being exotic pets that can grow up to 6 feet.

The Porters' wallaby had escaped and had to fend for itself in the elements for a day and half.

That may not seem a long time, but Marley, as they named him, had spent all of his 19 months of life indoors.

The family worried that Marley couldn't handle even wandering around the nearby golf course; if not the cold at night, maybe a dog or coyote, or stress, would get him.

That was on Easter weekend, sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning, that Marley managed to get out of the house, probably through a partially open garage door.

That led to an exhaustive search of the neighborhood, in which homes are located on large plots of land. Eventually, on Monday, a man who lived two miles away called and said that Marley was on his property.

Marley is back to hopping around the three-bedroom home. He does this in an adult diaper that's changed three to four times a day. That's another aspect of what can happen when owning a young wallaby.

A cat you can train to do its business in a litter box. A dog you can train to ask to go outside.

So that's one reason why half of American households own a cat, dog, or both, preferring to have a domesticated pet, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The Porters weren't able to train Marley to use a large litter box, and he'd just pick whatever spot in the house was handy.

A wallaby like Marley can grow to 35 to 50 pounds, and stand 2 1/2 to 3 ½ feet tall, with a 3-foot-long tail. Marley likely will live 12 to 15 years.

Wallabies certainly do look cute, with their long eyelashes, velvet ears, fur that begs to be stroked and big rear feet used for catapulting.

They are marsupials and, once born, crawl into their mothers' pouches to continue growing. Here, they are bred in captivity.

It was Cole Porter, 15, a freshman at Monroe High, who got the idea of getting a wallaby. He happened upon a Facebook page of someone who owned one.

"I got it in my head that it'd be pretty neat to have one. It's not something you'd see every day," says Cole.

It didn't take long searching online for the high schooler to find the website for Fall City Wallaby Ranch, owned by Rex and Tawny Paperd.

The more that Cole read, the more he wanted to adopt a wallaby, even with prices for "one incredible infant" ranging from $1,200 to $3,500.

You buy an infant so you become its new parent.

The number of wallabies as pets is hard to pin down.

In Puget Sound, says Paperd, "I suspect that's in the hundreds."

He adds, "In a lot of ways, people keep these things quiet."

Regulations at various locales differ on ownership of wallabies. Woodinville lets King County run its pet enforcement.

The county licenses only dogs and cats. It does ban ownership of specific exotic animals. For example, you can't keep in your house a bear, crocodile, venomous snake or "nonhuman primate." Wallabies are not mentioned.

Seattle is considerably stricter, banning all exotic animals "capable of killing or seriously injuring a human being."

Don Baxter, enforcement supervisor for the Seattle Animal Shelter, said the city considers a wallaby an exotic animal.

That is an assessment disputed by Paperd. He says he knows of no instances of a wallaby harming a person.

"It's more like raising a farm animal," he says.

Cole Porter had managed to save up $1,200 by doing various odd jobs, such as working at a nearby horse stable.

It didn't hurt that his mom enjoys having animals around.

Right now, on the property, there also are a number of cats and dogs she has rescued. Unusual people are perhaps the best fit for an unusual pet.

Marley was about 7 months old and weighed maybe four pounds when the Porters brought him home.

He had to be bottle-fed six times a day.

He had to always be in a pouch, a fabric contraption worn around the neck or hung from a bedpost, but always within sight. That lasted for about six months.

While Cole was at school, his mother took over those chores, wearing the pouch when going shopping, for example, with a coat over it. His older brother, Logan, 21, is attending Bellevue Community College. He sometimes helped and even took Marley to classes.

Cole would time it so he bottle-fed Marley at midnight and then again at 6 in the morning.

"He's just like a human. I love him to death. He knows that I love him. He follows me around all over the house," he says.

Now that Marley no longer uses a pouch, at night he sleeps with Cole, under a blanket, head on the pillow.

Colleen Porter says she likes Marley, too, although, she adds, "He's dumb as a post. He's not like a dog or cat, that come running when you call their name. I don't know if he knows his name or not. He does come running when he hears food."

As the weather improves, the Porters will build an outdoors enclosure with a 6-foot fence, and Marley will begin spending his time there. He'll be welcome indoors during bad weather.

In a few years, Cole expects to also attend Bellevue Community College.

He plans to live at home but his mom knows that means she'll be taking on more of Marley's care.

She says she doesn't mind, as the wallaby will be outdoors much of the time.

Still, says Porter, to those of you thinking a wallaby might sound like a pet for your home, "A wallaby is for someone that's home eight hours a day, or all day.

"And someone very patient."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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