Help a needy reptile by adopting.
My last blog focused on the most common four outlets through which hobbyists acquire reptiles: pet stores, reptile specialty stores, reptile expos and reptile breeder websites. In reading some of the comments left in response to that blog, I was happy to see some of you mentioned that you have adopted reptiles from rescues. This, too, is an excellent way to procure reptiles!
I’ve preached often against the releasing of pet reptiles into the wild. No one should ever do this, under any circumstances. If you have a reptile you can no longer care for, there are other avenues to explore rather than dumping your pet into a public park. As suggested on the California Zoological Supply “Be Responsible” logo that accompanies this blog, if you have to relinquish reptiles, try contacting herpetological societies, animal shelters, pet shops, live animal wholesalers, and animal rescue groups. Hopefully if you explore these options you will be able to place your pet with sensible people who will take care of it, and hopefully find a permanent home for it.
Predictably, reptile rescues often have individuals that start out small and cute before attaining what may be a very large adult size. You know the species: green iguanas, sulcata tortoises, large pythons, etc. While I don’t recommend any of these species for novice reptile enthusiasts, this does not mean that I would not recommend them to people who are familiar with them and who can provide them with the proper living environment. These large reptiles are very cool in their own right, and they can make extremely rewarding pets for people with the proper smarts (and space) required for them to thrive.
Rescues, too, may have other species available for adoption that don’t necessarily get massively huge. Some may be in perfect health; others may have health issues that need to be dealt with. Typically I advise people, especially beginners, to acquire the healthiest reptiles they can, to increase their chances of having a good reptilekeeping experience. But there are other people – very thoughtful and giving people – who seek out sick reptiles that they hope to make well. Admittedly, this is a noble thing to do, not to mention a possibly expensive endeavor. Again, this is best left to people who are familiar with the animals they want to adopt, who have past experience with and know what is best for them. There are usually plenty of healthy animals that need homes, too, and I advise the average herp hobbyist to stick with those.
Some reptile rescues have a variety of reptile species available for adoption, while others may specialize in a particular type. An example of the latter would be a desert tortoise adoption facility. In my home state of California, it is not uncommon (though it is more now than it used to be) to encounter people with pet desert tortoises roaming around in their backyards. Unfortunately, years ago, some owners decided to release their pet tortoises into the wild. Granted, this was likely where their tortoises originated, but in so doing, these well-meaning owners introduced a respiratory disease to wild desert tortoise populations.
It’s now illegal to release pet desert tortoises into the wild in California, but luckily adoption groups, such as the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, provide people who can no longer keep their tortoises somewhere to bring them. They also provide people who want tortoises somewhere to get them. It’s a win-win. Homeless reptiles, after all, are not always the result of negligent owners who simply tire of them. Sometimes their owners have a good reason for taking them to a rescue. In the case of desert tortoises, for instance, a tortoise’s owner may be moving to a new home that does not include a tortoise-friendly yard.
This nearly happened to me. When I was in my teens, my family and I were living in a rented house, and our landlord decided to give the house to his daughter as a wedding present (note: never rent a house from a landlord with a single daughter; I had to move TWICE because of this same “wedding gift for daughter” scenario). We had two pet desert tortoises in the backyard, and because we were going to be moving to a mobile home, we were not sure what to do with them. Luckily, the couple who were going to be moving in was happy to let the tortoises remain in the backyard. I wonder if they’re still back there.
Just as I touched upon potential “bad apple” pet stores yesterday, be wary of bad apple rescues. Some people simply want to acquire as many reptiles as they can, and they may obtain dozens, to the point that they have more reptiles than they can adequately care for. Cages at such facilities may be filthy, and animals may be unhealthy. Unfortunately, this takes an admirable act – the providing of a home to homeless reptiles – and makes it a bad one due to “collectoritis.” If you plan to adopt a reptile, it doesn’t hurt to do some research into the places you want to adopt them from.
Luckily, there are many reputable rescue facilities that take excellent care of their reptiles. Some will not adopt them out to just anybody, and they may even screen their clients, subjecting them to quizzes and scrutiny before adopting a reptile out to them. I once reviewed a questionnaire used by Walter Allen, a turtle and tortoise expert and owner of the legendary Casa de Tortuga, a chelonian adoption, breeding and research facility located in Fountain Valley, Calif. I was visiting with Walter prior to publishing an article about Casa de Tortuga in the January/February 1994 REPTILES magazine, which was our third issue (sadly, Walter passed away in 2007). Walter maintained many turtles and tortoises at his facility, and he adopted them out, too. The questionnaire he would give potential owners was impressive, asking many questions about their home (e.g., Did they own a pool? Was it fenced? Did they own dogs? etc.). If you’re trying to adopt a pet from a rescue, always cooperate and answer questions truthfully. They are being asked on behalf of your future pet, in an effort to provide it the best possible home. Isn’t that what you want, too?
You may visit a rescue with a specific reptile you want to adopt in mind, but end up considering a different type once there. Just remember that you should not take any reptile home on impulse, whether you’re shopping for pets at stores and expos, or adopting them at rescue facilities. Don’t buy on impulse, and don’t adopt on impulse, either! Otherwise, you may find yourself bringing your pet back to the rescue when you realize you can’t care for it properly.
Reptile rescues and the people who operate them are an important part of the reptile world. They do wonderful things for needy reptiles. If you want a new pet, definitely consider adopting one at a rescue. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new pet, consider making a donation to a local reptile rescue. Most can use some support, and by making a donation, you help the reptiles that are in their care. That’s another win-win!