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A Zebra for my Love

Steve Hust didn’t give his wife Debbie the usual gift of silver for their 25th wedding anniversary. There were no precious metals waiting in little boxes when the day arrived, no diamond pendants or silver rings. That’s because Debbie wanted something more exotic than silver to commemorate their 25 years together: a zebra.

They searched for a year after they celebrated their anniversary and finally found a zebra in Colorado. It arrived on their farm outside of Weiser when it was two weeks old and Debbie named him Spot.

Now, Debbie is welcomed home with a zebra brae alongside friendly dog barking when her car comes into the driveway. Spot is 15 years old and lives in a shady, green pasture situated along the road that runs in front of the Hurst house.

“Way back then I told Steve if we made it to 25 years, I didn’t want diamonds, I wanted a zebra” Debbie said, scratching the zebra on the back as she told the story. “When you’re young, 25 years seems like an eternity away, but 25 years rolled around. So, I started looking.”

Read more: A Zebra for my Love

Steve and Debbie had owned exotic pets before and there have always been animals on their farm. Some of the most exotic were a small herd of fallow deer, small European deer whose ownership requires a permit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not categorize zebras under exotic animals. Because of that, Zebra ownership doesn’t require a permit, making them less complicated to own than the other animals Steve and Debbie already had experienced.

Zebras are regulated like horses, but Debbie says they are very different types of animals. They are more unpredictable, more stubborn, and wilder. They are also territorial. Spot doesn’t like anyone entering his pasture except for Debbie, and the reason he allows her presence isn’t because he’s been tamed.

Debbie always has a tool that looks like a show stick with her when she’s in the pasture with Spot, “just to keep distance between us if I need to”.

“He’s not tame. He sees me as his mother,” Debbie said. “We’ve raised him since he was two weeks old, so that’s how he sees me. But we never forget he’s wild. Sometimes he’ll decide to just be a zebra and kick and buck very close to you.”

He’s energetic, unpredictable and a bit obnoxious, but Debbie says Spot is also a lot like a puppy. He has a buoy on a rope and a few other toys to kick around in his pasture and he comes running when Debbie approaches the fence line.

When Spot was a baby, Debbie took him around the property with her while she took care of chores, like letting him run around while she mowed the lawn.

“It was funny to see him pushing around the lawnmower,” Debbie said.

Zebras in the U.S.

News reports have mentioned a small herd of wild zebras along California’s Highway 1 near San Simeon, escapees from William Randolph Hearst’s private zoo at Hearst Castle. That zoo ceased operations in 1937, but had other exotic animals, according to the Hearst Castle’s website, including elephants and a polar bear.

About 3,000 zebras are currently owned in U.S., according to the International Zebra-Zorse-Zonkey Association (IZZZA) and the cost to buy a zebra currently ranges from $3,000 to $7,000. Zebras live an average of 25 years.

Idaho is one of the many states in the United States where it’s legal to own a zebra, though a certificate of veterinary inspection is required.

It’s smart to remember that if you get a zebra, you won’t be getting animal that has an easy temperament. They require attention and interaction to keep them somewhat tame. Debbie spends plenty of time with Spot and still doesn’t ride him. He is halter-broken, though.

“He doesn’t play well with others,” she said. “I tell everybody that he’s obnoxious, and that’s why I love him.”

Strawberry sugar wafers

Spot gets plenty of snacks. His main food is the usual grass and hay diet, but a curious people have been showing up for years to see the zebra…and to feed him treats. The informal fan club members feed him carrots and other things a horse would eat, but they’ve discovered the zebra has a sweet tooth. His favorite snack is strawberry sugar wafers.

“He loves sweet things, like cookies,” Debbie said. “People stop by and feed him all the time.”

And Spot hates the snow as much as he loves those sugar wafers.

“It’s not because he’s cold, he grows a thick winter coat,” Debbie said. “He just hates the snow. He’ll only walk to the water and back, you won’t see footprints anywhere else.”

40 years of love

Steve and Debbie Hust have been married for 40 years, now and they’re getting ready for a new adventure in the world of exotic pets. Their emu is going to start producing eggs.

In addition to Spot the zebra, the Hust farm is home to cats and dogs, some chickens and other farm animals, and an 8-year-old miniature Brahma bull named Ferdinand. The emu is 3 years old and will start laying eggs in January.

“We’ll eat them and we’ll have to save the shells,” Debbie said.

Debbie has always loved exotic or off-the-wall pets and Steve supports the collection, helping her to add to it for the past 40 years of marriage.


Written for The Argus observer, by Jessica Else in August 2021.

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