Possibly evil Sloth bites teen during visit to Michigan pet store, ruining her lifelong dream (Saginaw, Michigan) photo by Christina Perez

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SAGINAW TWP, MI — Last month, a Saginaw Township teen girl was about to have a dream realized by interacting with a sloth at a local exotic pet store.

A sloth is her absolute favorite living creature,” said Christina B. Perez of her daughter’s affection for the animal.

The experience was marred when the slow-moving, tree-dwelling mammal bit the girl, delivering two deep puncture wounds to her skin.

“It was a strike like a snake,” Perez said. “It wasn’t in slow motion at all. It happened so fast I didn’t even realize it happened.”

What followed was a series of rabies treatments for the girl, while the sloth was put in quarantine. Due to the unusualness of the species, several government agencies would also get involved.

Complicating the matter is Perez had previously purchased another exotic mammal, a kinkajou, from the pet shop for which she still owed a debt. This in turn led the pet store to author a post on social media naming Perez and offering $3,000 for information leading to the kinkajou’s return.

Possibly evil Sloth bites teen during visit to Michigan pet store, ruining her lifelong dream (Saginaw, Michigan) photo by Christina Perez

The bite

Perez and her 15-year-old daughter Amarianna Ramon on Sunday, Feb. 12, visited Custom Creatures, at 2750 Bay Road, Suite 4, in Saginaw, Michigan.

Every Sunday, the business hosts a Sloth Encounter Experience, wherein visitors can interact with and take photos with a Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth named Sid.

“This is your opportunity to get up-close and possibly even touch or feed these gentle creatures loaded with personality,” the business’ website reads. “You will learn amazing fun sloth facts from our team during your encounter including how we care for our sloths at our facility.”

The event lasts 20-30 minutes, with the “level of interaction determined by Sid.” Participants must be at least 8 years old. Those 15 and younger must be accompanied by a paying adult.

The encounters can be booked online and cost $49.99. Those who book encounters must sign a waiver acknowledging there are inherent risks that can result in serious injury or death.

Perez booked and paid for her and her daughter’s encounter with Sid, she said.

“First, we were told to wash our hands, then we were taken inside the enclosure by two employees,” Perez said. “One took photos, and the other gave apple slices to my daughter to feed to the sloth.”

As Amarianna was standing next to Sid, he quickly moved his head toward her and bit her upper right arm through her shirt.

“She was literally standing next to him. I thought it swatted at her and she kind of gasped,” Perez said.

Amarianna did not initially recognize the bite’s damage, only discovering it when she and her mom returned to their vehicle.

“We got to car and she said, ‘I think I’m bleeding. My shirt is wet,” Perez said. “She pulled out her arm to show me and sure enough, there were two puncture wounds and blood running down her arm.”

Perez said she went back into the store and told the employees, who also didn’t realize Sid had bitten Amarianna.

Perez, a registered nurse, went to a store to buy antibiotic ointment and bandages, then dressed her daughter’s wounds. She also sent photos of the bite marks to her daughter’s doctor then took her in for a visit, with the doctor’s office alerting health authorities.

Amarianna had to undergo preventative treatments for rabies, including three injections initially followed by three more shots on subsequent days, her mom said.

“She cried for like 24 hours straight,” Perez said of her daughter’s reaction. “She was devastated. She was afraid something detrimental going to happen to this animal. It’s so frustrating. I paid $100 for my daughter to be bit essentially.”

Two Saginaw County Animal Care & Control officers on Feb. 14 visited Custom Creatures, having been alerted to Amarianna’s bite by Central Michigan University Health, according to reports obtained from the agency via a Freedom of Information Act request. The store’s manager told the officers he was unaware Sid had bitten someone, though he had been working on the day the bite occurred.

The business’ owner, Kallan Hohman, was not at the store but spoke with officers over the phone to say he was at a veterinarian’s office with Sid. He said he was aware of the biting incident, but that Perez signed a waiver and that her daughter was not following instructions.

The next day, Hohman met with Animal Control officers at his store and said Amarianna had gotten too close to Sid inside the enclosure and that the sloth had mistaken her arm for an apple. Hohman initially said he had acquired Sid from an exotic breeder in Temperance, Michigan.

Officers later spoke with the veterinarian who saw Sid, who said the sloth was in good health apart from having dental disease. Sid’s medical report indicated Hohman had acquired him from “a zoo in Florida” three weeks prior, the report states.

The Saginaw County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (or MDARD) also got involved in the probe.

An MDARD veterinarian ordered Sid quarantined for 30 days. Hohman was to keep Sid in his enclosure, away from people and other animals, with no public encounters until the quarantine ended. Animal Control officers conducted three compliance checks over the following weeks.

“I observed Sid to be bright, active, and alert,” an officer wrote on Feb. 24. “Business owner appears to be in compliance with the quarantine at this time.”

At MDARD’s request, Animal Control Director Bonnie Kanicki filed a report with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.

“This is kind of new to everybody,” Kanicki said of the procedure around dealing with a sloth bite.

Speaking with MLive, Hohman said Amarianna and Perez did not follow the store’s policies and procedures when interacting with Sid and were asked to leave early.

“In that transition, she continued to poke and prod at Sid and was then nipped on the arm,” he said.

He added Sid was quarantined for 45 days before being presented to the public, in addition to the 30 days after the biting incident.

Asked where he acquired Sid from, Hohman said he could not divulge that information.

No other people have been bitten by Sid, Hohman said, adding he plans to resume the Sloth Encounter Experience.

“We will be continuing all our normal animal interactions,” he said.

Custom Creatures opened its doors in March 2022. The business specializes in reptiles, amphibians, unusual mammals, and fish. American alligators, capybaras, kinkajous, wallabies, sugar gliders, snakes, hedgehogs, poison dart frogs — non-toxic to humans — axolotls, ferrets, pythons, and chameleons have been among their offerings.

Custom Creatures on Jan. 30 announced Sid would begin making appearances in early February, stating the public would not be allowed to interact with Sid without having booked an appointment.

Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths are native to Central and South America. Largely nocturnal and solitary, they are arboreal, living in canopies of tropical rainforests and deciduous forests and using their long, curved claws to hang from branches. They are folivores, or herbivores that eat leaves. Their digestive rate of leaves is the slowest of all herbivorous mammals, taking as long as month to digest a meal.

The Toucan Rescue Ranch likewise advises against touching sloths.

“Sloths are solitary creatures who want to be left alone, thus unlike household animals, they do not like to be touched,” the Costa Rica-based wildlife rescue organization states. “So, if you come too close for their comfort, they can be deadly and severely hurt peopleHow would they attack? They defend themselves by using their razor-sharp teeth and claws.”

Possibly evil Sloth bites teen during visit to Michigan pet store, ruining her lifelong dream (Saginaw, Michigan) photo by Christina Perez

The kinkajou

Adding to the overall drama of the situation is that Perez on Feb. 2 bought a kinkajou named Phoebe from Custom Creatures on a payment plan.

She had been on a waiting list for the arboreal, South American animal since the summer, she said.

Perez said she had until June to complete payments on Phoebe, with her next payment due March 14. On March 13, Perez received a message from Custom Creatures stating if she did not contact her shop soon, they would implement the full enforcement of their contract, including a public post for information to reclaim Phoebe. The message contained a draft of a Facebook status update.

That same evening, the store posted an update on its Facebook page, including Perez’s name, photo, and phone number.

“REWARD: $3,000 leading to the return of a Kinkajou, Phoebe,” the post stated. “Unfortunately, we have another instance of a suspected uncared for pet. Per our contract for the homing of particular animals, the owner must provide us proof of care when asked. This individual is refusing to communicate with us and to provide proof the pet is being cared for.”

The post went on to say Perez was not the kinkajou’s legal owner due to the outstanding debt.

“If at any time we’re given evidence an animal is uncared for, we will enforce our contract,” Hohman said, adding that for certain higher-end animals, they may ask for proof of their health once they’ve left the shop. “They’re required within 30 days of going home to seen by a veterinarian and have their records provided to us. If they’re not provided to us, we will do best to contact the individual.”

Hohman said his business reached out to Perez via mail, email, phone calls, text messages, and Facebook.

“When there is no response, we take it to the next step, and the next step for us is to post it publicly,” Hohman said. “We bottle-raise (kinkajous) from when they’re about two days old. We care very deeply about these animals and where they go. We will do anything. We were OK with losing another $3,000 to ensure the animal was well-cared for.”

Throughout their messages, none asked how Perez’s daughter was doing after her bite from Sid, Perez said.

“Through all of this, they never called to see if she’s OK. We’ve not heard from them,” she said, adding her daughter had hoped to work at the store in the near future.

Perez responded to the Facebook post with photos of Phoebe, saying she was fine, though those posts were deleted. She also called police and met with a Saginaw Township police officer, who advised her not to take Phoebe out of the house, she said.

“I’m a single mom with three kids; I was a little afraid,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to do. My 15-year-old was afraid to take the garbage to the curb last night because she thinks someone’s watching her house.”

Perez on the morning of March 14 made the necessary payment to Custom Creatures, which then deleted the initial Facebook post. She also provided them with time-stamped, updated photos of Phoebe.

“We want you know to this is nothing personal, and never wanted to take it to that step,” Custom Creatures replied to Perez. “Just a passion about the pets in our care.”

Perez, though, said damage has been done by the Facebook post.

“This is not OK,” she said. “I’m a single mom with three kids and now I have people looking for me. Since when is internet bullying OK? What Joe Blow thinks they can put a bounty on someone’s head? You’re not law enforcement. Banks repossess cars all the time and they don’t blast you on Facebook. This is not cool, not professional, and could cause physical harm to me and my children and I don’t appreciate it.”

For Perez and her daughter, Sid’s bite and the drama over the kinkajou has been awful.

“She’s terrified of the kinkajou and she’s anxious of our cat,” she said. “She cries all the time because she’s devastated. This was a lifelong dream of hers and it ended this way.”


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