Abandoned Alberta tarantula 'Tuffnail' gains social media following, settles into new home

It all started with a Facebook post. When an Airdrie, Alta., woman out for a walk saw a tarantula on the pathway, she posted a photo of the hairy, fist-sized creature. Less than a week later, the tarantula has its own Facebook page and a new home.

Heather Tuffnail, the first person to run to the park in search of the tarantula, says she's been overwhelmed by the response to the abandoned pet and thankful the creature has found a new home with another concerned stranger, Cee Alexander.

Both women joined the Homestretch on Friday to describe the discovery and rescue of the Brazilian Giant Blonde tarantula.

I honestly I couldn't believe that there was a tarantula out in the middle of Airdrie. There's no way, that's unheard of. - Cee Alexander

It was Sunday afternoon when Tuffnail saw a Facebook photo posted by Susan Lee, who was out walking her dog in the park. 

"So I reached out to Susan, and she gave me the whereabouts of of the tarantula," Tuffnail said, adding that she quickly located the abandoned terrarium, indicating that the tarantula had been taken there and released.

"I crawled back up the embankment. As I was walking along looking for it, it actually found me. It came right up to me, it was in the middle of the pathway," she said. "I started bawling my eyes out because I was so heartbroken for this tiny little thing."

Tuffnail soon realized the container she'd brought was too small. 

"It would fit in the container but for me to put the lid on, it just wasn't big enough for the tarantula. So I basically covered it, sat down beside it to shield it from anybody that would come by. And there were a lot of birds. And then I just put it on Facebook, saying that I needed I needed a bigger container and I needed some backup. And so that's where Cee came in."

Cee Alexander

Cee Alexander, who had a pet tarantula as a kid, says she was shocked by the sight of the tarantula photo on Facebook.

"I honestly I couldn't believe that there was a tarantula out in the middle of Airdrie. There's no way, that's unheard of," she said. "I was like 'wow that is actually a tarantula'. And I looked at Vic and I was like 'we've got to go, babe. We've got to go and save this tarantula.'"

Alexander and her boyfriend Vic Kathrens sprang into action.

"I dumped my leftovers in the sink, and rinsed out a container and ran off," she said. "And there's Heather, frantically waving from the middle of the path, sitting on the ground. And I went up to her, and this actually the first time that I had even met her."

The women quickly established the type of tarantula and the extent of its injuries, and agreed that Alexander would take over the task of nursing it back to health.

"We ultimately decided that it was probably best for me to take her, and care for her wounds," Alexander said. "She was just not looking very good that day."

The female Brazilian Giant Blonde tarantula had a "huge scab" on her back,  possibly from a bird attack, and was looking rough after being out in the rain. 

Her name would be Tuffnail.

Cee Alexander

At that point, interest was increasing on Facebook, and Alexander found herself updating all the concerned people who had started following the story.

"I was getting a lot of response from people asking how she's doing, if she survived the night, and people were wanting pictures and updates … I'm repeating the same story over and over and over again trying to catch all these people up. So I made her Facebook page. I posted her whole story from the start to that day when I made Facebook page."

The 'Tuffnail the Tarantula' Facebook page now has more than 500 members.

Alexander doesn't just have to update the Facebook page, she has to update Tuffnail — the women agreed that was a condition of their deal.

"Basically I said, 'Listen, if you take her you have to understand that you have to be giving me updates consistently," Tuffnail said with a laugh. "And it took a lot out of me to to pry my hands off of that container to give them. But she's in she's in really good care."

Both women have agreed to keep in touch and that Tuffnail will assume a sort of "cool aunt" role to the tarantula.

"I'm going over to Cee's house tonight," she said. "I went and purchased a bunch of stuff for her terrarium."

With files from the Homestretch