San Franciscans generally fear the great unknown beyond their windswept peninsula, particularly when that unknown takes the form — so rare within city limits — of creatures with different preferences and instincts coexisting without a lot of howling and screeching.
And so it should come as no surprise that Gregory Pike, the mysterious animal guru whose pets have charmed millions of YouTube viewers, has had a mixed reception since arriving here last summer. Pike has trained a rat to stand on top of a cat, which stands on top of a dog. He says this act is a metaphysical statement on the ability of natural-born enemies to get along. It's also a remarkable source of cash: Pike has claimed he brings in $100 per day panhandling with the help of Booger the dog, Kitty the cat, and Mousey the rat, who predictably make passersby go gaga.
In January, San Francisco Animal Care and Control fielded a complaint from one onlooker worried that Pike might be mistreating his animals, according to Vicky Guldbech, the agency's operations manager. The complainant speculated that the mammalian stack might be lashed together with rope. Concerns like this have trailed Pike on his travels through cities in California and the Southwest; a much more common worry, he says, is that the animals are drugged to ensure they don't claw and bite each other. To investigate, Animal Care and Control dispatched an employee to check out Pike's act. Now the results are in. Rumors of rope or dope can be put to rest, according to Guldbech: "The animals were in great condition," she says.
Guldbech says concerns about the sedating of street-performer pets are fairly common, and frequently wrong. What spectators take to be a drugged stupor is simply the animals' normal acclimation to the presence and attention of strangers and relaxation in a familiar locale. "A lot of that is animals that are used to large crowds not reacting as we think they should react," she says. Complainants "will call us and say, 'They look like they're drugged. They're just lying there.' Well, that's where they live.'"
This is a welcome vindication for Pike, who says rumors of mistreatment result from confusion over the miraculous quality of the act. "It's so unreal that they think there's got to be some kind of abuse involved," Pike says. "What are they doing, pulling a plow? They're out there all day getting attention." And earning their keep by bringing in plenty of greenbacks for their owner.