Have you ever wondered what it would be like to rescue reptiles?
Well, of all the different types of rescues someone may consider doing, this one is probably the most difficult. Why, you ask? Read on and I will tell you. This will end up being more than one article I am sure so follow along as I tell you a strange but true story of life as a reptile rescuer.
My name is Sheryl and I live in Southern California, and no, I am not kidding, for several years I rescued reptiles! I am the founding director of Reptile Rapsody Reptile Rescue, and while I no longer run the rescue due to ongoing health issues, I did found the rescue in 1987 and continued to run it until mid 2009. This has been a strange journey filled with joy, tears, anger and triumphs as well as failures along the way. The rescue is now in the hands of the Southern California Herpetology Association but the rescue still has the same website I set up many years ago at http://www.reptilerescueca.org
All of the photos that are currently up on the website are mine, taken through the years I ran the rescue. If you have a weak stomach or are feint of heart please do not visit the page titled the hall of shame, nor the link titled not for the feint of heart as the photos therein are sad, shocking and graphic. Yes, even these unusual creatures are the victims of abuse both unintentional and intentional, neglect and just plain human stupidity!
I may not have a popular view with the Herpetological crowd but, after years of working with these unique and awe inspiring creatures I have come to the conclusion that there is no real reason why "most" people should ever own one! I say "most" because in the hands of an educated owner these animals are well cared for and loved, but in the hands of many owners these animals suffer the same fate as many other animals kept as pets in the United States and that is a dismal existance at best.
Our society often does not have respect for the animals that we bring into our homes as "family pets" and often consider them as fashion accessories to be disposed of whenever the whim comes by our way! No, I am not talking about responsible animal owners at all as, responsible owners choose to provide proper Veterinary care for any animal that they take into their home and become informed about their pet's care and feeding requirements. If a responsible owner has a life changing event they still manage to bring their pets with them or do all that they can to insure that their pet finds a proper home instead of "donating" them to a rescue because they don't have time to find a home that understands how to properly care for their animals. Does this mean that I feel that everyone who takes their animal to a rescue is irresponsible... NO! Sometimes that is all you can do and I understand that. But all too often I hear things like "I just don't have time to screen people" or "you can do a better job of finding a home". We do the same things to find homes as you do, we place ads in classified newspapers, post on websites, and other things to "activly" try to find your pet the best home that we can but, you know your animal best and he is after all your responsibility. You can not just "donate" away your responsibility.
Your "donation" needs to be housed, heated, taken to the Veterinarian as often times they come in sick, fed, handled, exercised, etc, etc and this costs time, resourses and above all else, MONEY. You knew this when you dropped him off, and if we are lucky signed the paperwork, but said you would send us a donation via paypal that we and you know that we will never receive. But we are grateful that you chose to bring YOUR pet to US because we know that if we did not take it you may have just left him at some park where he could be "Free", we know this because you told us so on the phone before we agreed to accept your generous donation!
Luckilly, there are some owners who have really cared for their animals and took the time to find out about their pets and provide them with proper heating, lighting, and food for them to not only survive in captivity but to thrive as well. Sometimes, these owners find themselves in a situation where they can no longer care for their pets and they do try their best to find a proper home but sometimes the proper home, just does not present it'self. These owers understand how difficult it is to properly care for, house and feed these magnificent creatures and apologise for having to ask us to take on their responsibility, some even provide a few meals for their pets, or supplies, or even a cash donation to help defray the costs of running a reptile rescue.
And the costs can be extreme! Not only do we have to have secure locking cages that are proper for these animals, but we have to provide heating for them as well, many require temperatures close to 100 degrees on the hot side of their cages in order to remain healthy and properly digest their food. Then there are the special UVB lights that many require to have strong bones. Special food items are often part of a reptiles diet, like dark leafy greens that are much more expensive than the "iceburg lettuce" that some owners feed, they need a varied diet not only for the vegetarian reptiles but the carnivorous ones as well! Then there are the insect eaters who can devour $5-10 in feeder insects a day if the owners under fed them and they came in looking like they were half starved, not to mention some Monitor lizards like Savannah's who's owners usually feed mice, rats or dog food to instead of their natural diet of insects because, they eat too many dollars worth of insects daily if fed properly, so pet stores neglect to mention that they are really more insect eaters than meat eaters.... Then there are the Vitamin powders, Calcium powders, probiotics, medications, Veterinary treatment for sick animals and the list just goes on and on and on! Of course we also have all the other regular expenses that any other business has... web site maintainence, hosting, computers, internet access, printer, fax machine, paper, toner and oh... did I mention pillowcases??? We literally go through a hundred or more pillowcases every 6 months! Why, because that is how these animals are transported from Animal Control to us, we have to pick them up in pillowcases, then place them into carriers to get them our homes or rehabbers or fosters, then when someone adopts they never bring their own so we have to always stay on the lookout for pillowcases... even at the thrift stores they don't come cheap!
One day, I received a call from a "Gentleman" who wanted me to take his dangerously agressive Iguana from him. Now, I already had 5 in rescue at that time and was full so I could not even take a cornsnake if the owners brought me the cage! So I told him that I was full and could not take it. At that time I also told him that I can not accept animals that were deemed dangerous, which he already had informed me that the Iguana had bitten him in the face and he required stitches!, because I can not in all good concience place that animal into a home where he could injure someone else. He was beyond irate over me refusing his animal and called me every name in the book and asked me who he could report me to for refusing to take his animal! I laughed as I told him that 1. I was a private rescue and 2. that he could feel more than free to report me to my local animal control because they thought I took everything!
If you think finding homes for these animals is easy, think again! Even at adoption events we are often not welcome, and rescues have no problem telling us that they are holding an event but we are not welcome because our animals "creep them out!" Rarely does another rescue want to have the booth space next to us for the same reasons, because our animal could "EAT" their animals! We have to employ tricks to garner donations like "take a picture with the huge lizard for $5" while people drop $20 into the donation jar in the rescue booth next to us because the kittens are soooo cute! People don't scream and dash past a rescue booth with adorable puppies like they do our booth!
Keep watching for the next article in this series as this matures there will be some pretty funny stuff and not so down hearted.
A Turtle with a lot of heart
Phoenix an Iguana out of the ashes