Drue Sokol's high school classmates and friends, girls like furry pets and scaly animals are for boys. Then they met Drue -- and Zelda. "People say, 'Where did you get your scratches? A kitty cat? A dog?' " says Drue, rubbing the faint red marks on her arms. "No, a four-and-a-half-foot iguana."
Other children beg for a puppy, a kitten or a bunny. Drue, coming from a reptile-loving family, always wanted an iguana. So when her grandfather -- a long-time reptile owner -- gave her the salamander-sized baby Zelda more than a half-dozen years ago, she was as happy as a lizard lounging in the sun.
For Drue, Zelda isn't as good as her friends' and neighbors' pets. She's better. The green iguana -- a type indigenous to Mexico, southern Brazil, Paraguay and the Caribbean Islands -- cuddles up to Drue when she's at her laptop. She plops her long, slithering body on the keyboard at just the moment Drue begins tackling a serious math problem or huge paper. "She has a keen sense of knowing when I'm doing something really important," Drue says. "She just sits in the middle."
Drue, a straight-A 15-year-old student at Albany Academy for Girls, doesn't mind the occasional distraction. When the reptile isn't feeling frisky, she can be good homework company, scooting up alongside Drue and resting there for an hour or more. If the teen steps away for a snack or to take a phone call, Zelda lies by the computer watching the screen saver, an ocean scene. Drue used to carry Zelda upstairs, and the girls would hang out in Drue's room -- but now that Zelda's so big, the 5-foot-4 Drue trips on Zelda's tail going up the stairs, a painful experience for both. So they stick to the first floor, where Zelda is free to roam -- when someone's home. Zelda also loves curling up on Drue's lap for a little TV. Animal Planet is the girls' favorite channel. It's one of the few times Zelda -- whose brain is smaller than a nut -- looks alert and completely clued in. The other time is dinner.
Zelda's diet consists of leafy greens, kale and bananas. She inhales each of her three meals in less than a minute. Her favorite family members are the ones who feed her. She shies away from men, like Drue's dad, who is the medicine deliverer and nail clipper. "I used to think it was love," says Drue. "But one day I realized she's more excited to see me when she's knows I'm going to feed her." Despite her voracious appetite, Zelda only uses the bathroom a couple times a week. She uses a litter box, a skill she picked up after only a few tries. She was so successful, that it led the family to believe Zelda may actually be pretty smart. Then Zelda falls off her indoor, window-side perch out of sheer fear of the lawn mower two houses away or can't figure out how to get out of her climate-controlled habitat, despite its exit. "I try to show her that there is an open door in which she can get out of," says Drue. "But once she walks out, she walks right back in and is amused for another fifteen minutes or so." Then she starts clawing at the wall again, unable to find her way out.