Donâ€™t call Stitch a flying squirrel.
Heâ€™s a sugar glider, a marsupial native to Australia.
Stitch belongs to Keith and Sherry Sampson, who also sell the little creatures at a store at the Springs Road Flea Market in Hickory.
Besides Stitch, the Sampsons also own Skittles, Stitchâ€™s girlfriend, and Gizmo.
Their interest in sugar gliders began with a walk through the Jamestown Flea Market in Morganton. They were on their way out when they noticed a big white banner advertising â€œAustraliaâ€™s Flying Marsupials: Your Next Best Friend.â€
The Sampsons had never heard of sugar gliders.
â€œWe walked in the store and came out half an hour later with Stitch,â€ said Keith.
They loved the little guy so much that they went back and bought him a friend. But unfortunately, the two never really hit it off.
â€œThey have personalities,â€ said Sherry.
Gizmo joined the family soon after and luckily turned out to be a better fit.
The Sampsons took Stitch and Gizmo to the people they bought them from for grooming and supplies. They ended up helping them sell sugar gliders and learned a lot about them in the process.
But the sellers decided to move out of state.
â€œWhen they decided to leave, they asked us to take over the store for them,â€ Sherry said.
At the store they call Pouches â€“ after the feature common to all marsupials â€“ the Sampsons sell sugar gliders and everything their owners need to take care of them, including food, vitamin supplements, leashes, pouches and information booklets.
It doesnâ€™t take a lot to care for these low-maintenance animals.
According to the Sampsons, one can feed a sugar glider with frozen mixed vegetables for about $30-$35 a year. Fruits and vegetables are the mainstays of their diet, but they also like eggs and sweet potatoes, among other treats.
At Pouches, the Sampsons sell nutritional items that sugar gliders also enjoy.
Aside from a simple and inexpensive diet, another reason sugar gliders make good pets is the fact that they arenâ€™t messy animals. Their waste is similar to rabbit pellets.
The little creatures are also intelligent animals. They canâ€™t learn to sit or roll over like a dog, but they will come when called.
â€œYou can see the little wheels in their heads turning,â€ said Sherry.
Sugar gliders are only about 11 inches long and weigh 4-7 ounces when fully grown. Owners can carry them around in bonding pouches that can be worn around the neck, keeping the animal close to its owner and giving it a feeling of security.
Sherry has even been known to carry Stitch in her bra, raising eyebrows when people see a lump moving around in her shirt.
Giving sugar gliders attention is key to making sure they remain good pets. The Sampsons say they will become mean if they donâ€™t get enough attention, and once that happens they cannot be re-tamed. They say theyâ€™d rather not sell sugar gliders to people who arenâ€™t willing to give them the attention they need.
â€œTheyâ€™re very nurturing, loving creatures,â€ said Keith. â€œThey need attention.â€
The little guys donâ€™t seem to mind being the center of attention either.
At their store in the flea market, the Sampsons have a bar that runs across the top of the stall. Keith says Stitch will perch atop the bar and, when Keith claps his hands, will fly off the bar, sometimes catching people off guard. He says sugar gliders are capable of gliding 150 to 200 feet.
â€œIn the wild, they live in these tall rain forest trees,â€ Keith said. â€œIâ€™ve seen videos of them jumping out of trees.â€
At the Sampsonsâ€™ house, Stitch, Skittles and Gizmo live in cages and have pouches they sleep in. The animals are nocturnal and Keith says his sleep all day and play all night.
â€œWhen I get up in the morning to go to work, theyâ€™re just tearing their cages up,â€ said Keith.
Although sugar gliders are fun and relatively easy to care for, the Sampsons offer follow-up care for all of their customers. They recently helped a customer who called worried that her sugar glider was depressed.
As for Stitch, he doesnâ€™t seem likely to get down in the dumps, although his playful nature did lead him to get down in a womanâ€™s pocketbook once.
â€œHe went in a ladyâ€™s purse one day and came out with a $100 bill,â€ Sherry said.
Stitch also once took a toothpick out of a girlâ€™s mouth and put it in his own.
â€œHeâ€™s a character,â€ said Keith.
The normal price for one of the Sampsonsâ€™ sugar gliders is $200. They will give a discount if a person buys two of the same sex, but they also discourage people from buying a male and a female because it is illegal to breed the animals without a USDA exotic pet dealer/breeder license, which the Sampsons have.
They are hoping Stitch and Skittles will become parents at some point. If they do, the Sampsons say both sugar gliders will share parenting duties.
â€œFrom what we understand, they mate for life,â€ said Keith.
For sugar gliders, a lifetime can be 15 to 20 years, another reason that choosing one as a pet is not a decision that should be made lightly.
The Sampsons say they wonâ€™t sell a sugar glider unless it has been out of its motherâ€™s pouch for seven to eight weeks.
They also say sugar gliders donâ€™t need to be vaccinated. Despite a state ordinance that says exotic animals must get vaccines, the Sampsons say most counties overlook the rule for sugar gliders since they know they arenâ€™t dangerous and are not normally exposed to wild animals since they donâ€™t even touch the ground.
â€œYouâ€™re not going to open the back door and let them go to the bathroom,â€ Keith said.
Perhaps the best indication that sugar gliders can make good pets is how well the Sampsonsâ€™ get along with their 4-year-old daughter Jayden.
â€œI like Stitch and Skittles,â€ she said. â€œBut Gizmo bites me.â€
In spite of occasional Gizmo bites, Jayden seems quite comfortable with the sugar gliders, as do the Sampsonsâ€™ cat and dog.
At the flea market, people seem to take to these unusual creatures right away.
â€œPeople love to see them,â€ said Sherry. â€œWe may not sell them right away, but they call us. Even if they donâ€™t buy, they love them and love to learn about them.â€
Want to learn more about sugar gliders and see if they could be your â€œnext best friend?â€ Pouches is open in the Springs Road Flea Market in Hickory every Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. You may also contact the Sampsons at (980) 429-0129 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
by Allyson Levine