A pathway in a southern Alberta community turned into a rescue situation for a tarantula that was left out in the elements by its former owner this week.
A group of concerned citizens in Airdrie were alerted on Facebook on August 11 about a tarantula that was left on its own in a greenspace on the east side of the city.
Cecelia Alexander says she was first told about what was happening by a friend of hers and immediately went to help out.
"I looked at my boyfriend Vic and said, 'We gotta go save a tarantula, babe. It’s on the east side by the overpass.' He’s immediately on board and we drop everything."
A short time later, Alexander and her boyfriend found the spot where the tarantula was spotted and met Heather Tuffnail, another resident who responded to the post.
"I asked her if we could see and she lifted the container, tears in her eyes, and shows us the little dear. It’s wet, it’s weak, it’s injured and bleeding."
A quick search of the area located a terrarium that had been left behind by the previous owner and Alexander says it was in bad shape.
"We were floored to see that someone would just put this animal in the ditch and leave her there to die."
Alexander, who has owned tarantulas before and has been fascinated by spiders ever since she was a teenager, decided to take in the injured arachnid to nurse it back to health.
"The first night was very hard," she says. "I’ll admit I was incredibly skeptical that she’d make it through the night with the extent of her injuries."
The tarantula, a Brazilian giant blonde, was renamed 'Tuffnail' in honour of the woman who helped Alexander with the rescue.
"What a perfect name for this tarantula! She’s gonna pull through this and be forever reminded that she’s tough as nails!" she says.
Alexander said she also created a Facebook page to help document Tuffnail's recovery because of the huge response she's already received. She adds the support since then has been overwhelming.
"It just went mental from there. People sharing, people telling their friends and family, everyone wanted to know. I’ve had a ton of help and support. Lots of people are giving advice and helping me with new ideas, mainly when it came to caring for her wounds. Lots of people have even offered to help pay for food, donating terrariums and wanting to buy decorations and presents for her."
When it comes to the abandonment, Alexander says she has theories but nothing concrete about why the previous owner left Tuffnail alone.
"I honestly couldn’t think of any reason to abandon any animal. A commitment was made when you brought that live creature home."
According to the Alberta SPCA, there are no specific regulations for exotic animals like tarantulas under the Animal Protection Act, but the rules apply to all animals equally.
There is also no specific offence for abandoning an animal, but charges can be laid if the abandonment causes the animal to be in distress, officials say.
"If someone has an exotic animal that needs to be rehomed, there are always options," says Dan Kobe, communications manager with the Alberta SPCA. "We would encourage them to contact a business that deals with exotic animals about finding a new home for their pet. It is never acceptable to abandon an animal that you have taken responsibility to care for and depends on you for its wellbeing."
Causing distress to any animal could lead to charges under the APA and, if convicted, the owner could face a maximum fine of $20,000 and a possible lifetime prohibition from owning animals.
Alexander says owning a tarantula is often a lifelong commitment as some species have a lifespan of anywhere between five and 30 years.
"If anybody is thinking about getting a tarantula as a pet, they really need to do their research first. Do you want a five year life span, or a longer life span? Do you want a tarantula that’s for show or one that’s best to just look at? Will it need a tall tank to burrow in or a longer tank to spin intricate webs about?"
She adds the best thing that's come out of this situation is how she sees more and more people getting interested in conquering their fears about spiders in general.
"Spiders and tarantulas are not something to be feared! It’s a completely irrational fear that’s imbedded into us as children. They are incredibly intricate and fascinating. With a little research and sometimes a bit of bravery, you can see that they’re not so bad."