— By JUDY SHERIDAN | firstname.lastname@example.org
MILLSAP – Sometimes people are willing to work extra hard to seek out the perfect gift, something with an element of surprise, perhaps, that delights because it fits its recipient like a glove.
Janna Cosgrove, of Millsap, is one of those special people. Her birthday present to her Australian-born fiancé, Geordie Richardson, is off the charts for being both appropriate and unique.
Cosgrove has given Richardson a baby red kangaroo, a cuddly, doe-eyed critter with super-soft belly fur that wears diapers and rocks its tiny T-shirts.
Richardson, a construction superintendent for Environmental Noise Control in Aledo, is quite rightfully thrilled. He has named the little roo Bruce, a common name in Australia.
“He’s really hard to shop for,” Cosgrove explained, describing a typical gift-giving dilemma. “He said it would be neat to have one. If he wants something, he goes out and buys it.
“I started looking at wallabies, but there were none available, and you have to feed them every two hours. So I found a kangaroo breeder in Lampasas who e-mailed me right back.”
Cosgrove, who returned about three weeks ago from Safari Limited with the 4-pound bundle of disproportionately large hind legs and a tail, initially hoped to spring the unusual present on Richardson.
She soon realized, however, that she would need his help to install an 8-foot no-climb fence and build a small barn.
“I told him I really wanted to surprise him with a gift, but I wanted to discuss it first,” she said. “When I told him I’d found a kangaroo, he was really excited. He wanted to know when we would get him and what we needed to do.”
Kangaroos are marsupials, which means they give birth to very small young that develop mainly in a pouch outside their mother’s body. Bruce was the size of a lima bean when he was born, Cosgrove said; the event is so inconsequential — the doe or flyer simply sits — that the breeder has to check for a baby by feeling the doe’s pouch weekly.
Cosgrove first saw Bruce, or, more accurately, felt him, when he was about 2 months old, still hairless and living in his mother’s pouch. By the time she left the Lampasas ranch he was bred on, she had committed to buying him and paid a portion of his $1,500 purchase price. The females are higher, she said, about $3,500.
“The momma kangaroos were really sweet and super friendly,” Cosgrove said. “The lady called them, and they came hopping. I stuck my hand in the pouch to pet him, so I could bond with him.”
Bruce was supposed to go home with Cosgrove and Richardson at the end of January, Cosgrove said, but the breeder “pulled” him early to cement the animal/owner bond before the couple left for a three-week trip to Australia.
“He was already poking his head out of the pouch,” Cosgrove said. “They usually spend several months getting out and then going back in.” She said Bruce would stay with breeder Janice Castleberry during their upcoming trip.
The bonding process has been a little rocky, Cosgrove said, and Bruce requires a lot of her time, much like a human baby would. The little joey spent his first couple days crying, but then settled in with his new mom.
“He’s supposed to be Geordie’s, but I get up with him at night,” she said. “He wants a bottle, or I have to wrap him up; he sleeps with an electric blanket.”
When Bruce calls for her, he makes a mechanical sound, she said, a sort of punctuated bark.
Kangaroos are sensitive to stress, Cosgrove has learned, and their blood sugar can drop to a dangerously low level. She said Bruce showed signs of stress at a recent Christmas party that was attended by a lot of people.
As office and breeding manager for Slate River Ranch cutting horses, Cosgrove has a fairly flexible job and totes Bruce around during the day. He literally dives headfirst into a big floppy floral bag, custom-made by one of Cosgrove’s friends, and tucks himself in without anyone knowing he’s there.
Cosgrove feeds Bruce a bottle of kangaroo formula every four hours — he bites her nose when he’s hungry — and changes his diaper five or six times daily. The animals can be house-trained, she said.
Bruce also nibbles kangaroo kibble and attempts to consume the Christmas tree’s leaves, which are made of plastic.
“They love [real] leaves,” Cosgrove said. “Geordie shot kangaroos, growing up in Australia, because his dad was a farmer and they would eat the crops. There are so many there you have to cull them.”
Bruce mostly stays inside for now, Cosgrove said — moving slowly on the slippery hardwood floors — and may do so for some time.
She showed photos of the breeder’s house, home to two does, one more than 2 years old. The animals are sacked out on a bed.
“Bruce follows me around inside, and grabs my pants leg when he wants to be picked up, which is a lot,” she said, “but he sleeps a lot, too. They grow slowly.”
When Bruce is allowed out on the couple’s fenced acreage, he kicks it into overdrive, Cosgrove said, displaying a phone video of hopping far faster than any bunny’s.
Cosgrove said Bruce will stand 5 feet tall when he reaches maturity. She said she doesn’t worry about the powerful kicks that full-grown kangaroos are known to deliver.
“He’s neutered,” she said. “He’s been around people, and all the ones I saw — including his father — were really docile.”
Richardson’s Australian parents are less than enthusiastic about the new pet — from their viewpoint kangaroos are a nuisance — but everyone else likes him, Cosgrove said, including the couple’s dogs.
“A little boy tried to put his hand in the bag, and the poodle growled at him,” Cosgrove said. “The corgi will lay down with Bruce and watch him.”
Despite his human and canine companions, Cosgrove guesses that this icon of the “Land Down Under” would do best with a friend.
“We’ll probably get another one,” she said. “They’re herd animals.”