Why this Northeast Philly woman keeps 23 pets in her house

All of Mary Ann Nixon’s animals have been rescued in some way or another.

Iguana pets house
Jenna Eason/Billy Penn

Mayhle, the 3-foot-long iguana who, naturally, uses the doggie door at Mary Ann Nixon’s house, went on the lam for a solid week. Maybe Mayhle (may-lay) left the entire confines of the yard and scrambled around her Wissinoming neighborhood for a while. More likely, she just hid in the yard and climbed a few trees.

Either way, after about a week in the “wild” and a panicked Facebook posting from Nixon, Mayhle appeared on a tree branch outside her house and came in through the bathroom window. She had returned home.

“It’s not the first time,” said Nixon, “it’s happened with my pets.”

Nixon owns 23 animals. There are four dogs, two spiders, two bearded dragons, two cockatiels, five parakeets, a leopard gecko, an eyelash crested gecko, two iguanas, a water dragon, a ball python snake, a rattail snake and a parrot.  

All of them have been rescued in one way or another. There’s Dunkin, a dog she found by the dumpster at a Dunkin’ Donuts. And Walker, the 12-year-old rattail snake who often bites. Asked why she continued to keep Walker if he routinely bites her, she opines that if she didn’t keep Walker, then who would?

Nixon has lived in her Wissinoming house since 2000. Her love for animals started as a child when she used to rescue dogs. Her work at a pet store led to several more adoptions.

The animals come to her in a variety of ways. She found Blue, her parrot, in an internet posting from someone who was having difficulties caring for him. A different iguana Nixon adopted had been dropped off in a box at the front door of the pet store.   

Mayhle, who eats pizza and tacos, measures about two-to-three feet. Nixon expects her to grow to be about twice the size.

And she’ll certainly keep a closer eye on her.   

“She has the best of everything here,” she said. “Her best friends are two cockatiels.”

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