Most folks would probably be a bit unnerved if they knew a large rodent had made a nest and was sleeping on the floor directly under their bed – but Chackbay’s Iva Evans says she sleeps like a baby every night.
“I put two blankets behind my bed. She sleeps there all night,” Evans said, as if she was describing a little puppy or a kitty cat. “If I sleep, she sleeps. Whatever time I get up, 10 minutes later she’s up.
“When she gets up in the morning I put a towel on the floor in the laundry room and open her a can of corn. She’ll eat that, come by my feet, take a nap and then she’s ready to go outside.”
To be clear, this corn-fed rodent who sleeps under her mattress every night isn’t a tiny mouse or even a fat rat, for that matter.
It’s Gizmo, a full-grown, house-broken nutria that tips the scales somewhere north of 20 pounds and has a diet that would make most college kids jealous: Moon Pies, oatmeal cookies, Sweet Tarts, powdered doughnuts, Skittles, peanut butter crackers, Vanilla Wafers, malted milk balls, peanut M&Ms and her personal favorite, Snickers.
“She’s got a massive sweet tooth,” said Emily Lagarde, Evans’ granddaughter. “Any kind of pie, she loves.
“She eats more than a human, I think.”
And to make sure those big orange teeth aren’t damaged by all that sugar, Evans balances out the candy with twice-daily servings of canned corn, whole potatoes, carrots, parsley, lettuce and broccoli.
“My granddaughter said, ‘Granny, no wonder she’s fat; you need to calm down with it. We’re going to have to bring her to the gym to work out,” Evans said with a chuckle. “She’s a mess. She’s not normal, she really isn’t.
“She doesn’t think she’s a nutria. She thinks she’s human.”
The tale of how Evans and Gizmo met and how her family has adopted the nutria reads like a mix between "Bambi" and "Old Yeller."
“It was actually a present for my grandma,” Lagarde said. “Everybody knows that my grandma is an animal lover, and Gizmo’s mom got killed.
“They found a bunch of the babies, so of course they came and brought one to her.”
Back then, Evans, who over the years has enjoyed guinea pigs, parakeets, squirrels, dogs, a chicken and a raccoon as pets, said the baby nutria easily fit into the palm of her hand.
“I got some cat milk at Wal-Mart, and I’d put that in a bottle and get up every two to three hours to feed her all night long,” said Evans, who used to let the nutria sleep with her in the bed early on. “But every day I had to change my sheets.
“I said, ‘This isn’t going to work. I’m not changing sheets every day sleeping with a nutria.’”
Before Gizmo adjusted to living inside, Lagarde said she chomped on things like a young puppy.
“When we first got her, she chewed up the wall and the floor in my granny’s room,” Lagarde said. “We just kept whipping her and finally she learned that when we’d say, 'no,' she’d stop biting on stuff.
“Now she knows to stop biting. But at the beginning it was trouble.”
And speaking of biting, Lagarde said the big nutria has never bitten anyone.
“Gizmo’s friendly. She knows when she gets too rough,” Lagarde said. “If you hit her on the nose like a dog, she’ll stop if she get too rough. The little neighborhood kids will come play with her.”
During the day, the nutria splits her time between a bed under a covered awning outside and a big container of water that resembles a kiddy pool in the backyard. Watch Gizmo sing here.
“Usually she comes to the door and scratches to come inside around 5:30 or 6,” Evans said.
But Gizmo’s idyllic lifestyle got disrupted earlier this year when the family suspected the nutria needed more room and released her back into the wild about three miles from their home.
“We were all sad,” Lagarde said. “She kept getting out of the fence, so we thought she wanted to be in the wild.”
Evans made arrangements with folks down the road who had great nutria habitat, and Gizmo’s gravy train of canned vegetables and dessert trays came to an end.
“I brought her to a friend’s because I figured she needed more than I could giver her with the little yard. And these people had a big old pond and a canal, with woods where she could roam plenty,” Evans said. “I’d go every couple of days and bring her snacks and play with her and run, and then I’d leave.
“One time she tried to follow me, and I tooted the horn and she went back.”
But after several weeks, the rough and tumble life of a wild nutria (probably the part about eating all of that bland vegetation) apparently didn’t sit well with Gizmo, who did her best lost-dog impression and actually navigated the three miles back to her old neighborhood.
In doing so, she dodged a bullet – literally.
“About 1 that evening, a little boy’s daddy who lived down the street ran outside with a gun to shoot a nutria,” Evans said. “The little boy said, ‘No daddy! That’s Gizmo.’”
But the man knew Evans had brought Gizmo to the pond far down the road, and didn’t think it was the same rodent.
“He said, ‘Daddy, please just call Ms. Iva. I’m telling you that’s Gizmo,” she said. “So he called me, and when I drove up, sure enough it was Gizmo. I stopped and got out of my car, and she ran up between my legs.
“So we had the neighborhood watching out for Gizmo. I told her, ‘You’re not going anywhere anymore.’”
She returned home no worse for the wear, although her time in the wild made her look like she had participated in the "Nutriasystem" diet plan.
“Before we first let her go, when she’d sit down you couldn’t see her paws because her fat was rolling over it,” Lagarde said. “I guess from all the swimming and stuff and walking three miles, she lost a bunch of weight when she came back.”
So Gizmo is now home to stay, and apparently is eager to make up for the pampering she missed during her stint in the wild.
Lagarde said the nutria doesn’t swim in her pool when the water gets a little dirty.
“It has to be clean,” she said. “She’ll swim all day, but if it starts getting dirty, she won’t swim in it. Granny goes to the bayou and gets her some lilies every time she cleans it and puts them in. She doesn’t eat them but she likes to swim under them.
“She’s got way too good food to eat some lilies.”
Evans said her husband has long known of her love for animals of all kinds, and tolerates the return of the nutria like a good sport.
Not that he has any real choice in the matter.
“He knows either the animals stay or he’s gone,” Evans said with a laugh. “After 49 years of marriage, we’re fine.
“I know people think I’m crazy, but it doesn’t bother me. I love animals.”