Deliver Us from Rescues

Feb 22, 2013
The Reptile Report
by Editor in Chief

The Reptile Report - This subject has been weighing on me all week. I’ve pondered it and chewed on it and looked at it from every angle I can think of. I desperately want to give you answers, but I don’t have any to give.

What can be so weighty after last week’s trolling fun? Reptile Rescues. It’s a subject that should be positive, that should offer hope and inspiration, and make one glad to be part of the human race. Sometimes it is. There are happy stories out there, and I’m deeply grateful for them, deeply respectful for those that give of their time and hearts and money to run a successful reptile rescue. But sometimes the poor animals are even more desperate for deliverance from their “rescue” than before they arrived there.

Of course, this can be true for any type of animal “rescue” service. Cats and dogs and horses and countless other species struggle just as much as reptiles. However, dealing with these issues from the cold-blooded perspective is a different sort of challenge, one that often seems insurmountable. Society cares about the warm, fluffy creatures. Horrific reports and carefully crafted commercials will bring tears, outrage, money, and sometimes even law enforcement. Try the same tactic with reptiles and you’re as likely to get little more than confused looks, shrugged shoulders, or even outright disgust. And if we’re not careful, a well-meaning complaint about reptile treatment could turn into local legislation that would solve the problem by simply banning the keeping of anything “exotic.”

All this started percolating for me when I ran across a thread on one of the sites I have the pleasure of monitoring for The Reptile Report.

The story in that thread is about a young lady who went to a local “reptile rescue” to volunteer her time and help the owner with some of the cleaning and feeding chores. To say the poor girl was disillusioned once she got there would be a gross understatement. The conditions the animals were being kept in were deplorable and dangerous. She changed her mind about giving her time to a man that clearly did not appreciate or deserve it. Instead, she chose to do all she could to spread the word and find out what else she could do to bring about permanent changes for those unfortunate animals.

In the days since the thread first hit the forum, much has happened, and we’ll get into that. But when I first saw it, the thread was still new, with nothing more than an emotional rant, some unclear pictures, and a few reactions to her words. I was not sure if this was a genuine case of a rescue service gone horribly bad, or if it was simply a naïve young person with romantic expectations about what life is like in these sorts of places.

I’ve never heard of a reptile rescue run by someone who is wealthy enough to do all that work and house all those animals in flawless, spotless conditions. In the real world, rescue work is ugly. The animals often come in already severely malnourished, broken, and sick. Vet care is necessary and costly. Caging is usually whatever can be slapped together to meet minimum husbandry requirements without regard to aesthetic appeal. They’re not pretty. Things probably won’t smell too nice, because no matter how often you clean, someone is always making a mess. Housing in a genuine rescue is meant to be temporary until the animals can be rehabilitated and then as quickly as possible moved into a permanent, caring home. They don’t have to be pretty, or even ideal.

But they should be reasonably clean and comfortable. There’s no excuse for clean water not being constantly available. Food should be fresh, and uneaten food should be removed. Proper lighting is critical to many species. All animals must be able to escape into shade and cooler temperatures, and be safe from aggressive cage-mates. If these simple, minimum requirements cannot be met because they are too expensive or take too much time, then someone has no business in the “rescue business.”

So what can you do if you run across one of these unbearable situations, and you’re sure the circumstances have gone far beyond merely unattractive? What do you do when you realize rescuing has become hoarding?

What worked in this situation might work for you. She reached out to the reptile community via online forums. Another local rescue heard about it and stepped in to help. It got the attention of USARK and ARC. She got to talk about it on a local radio program. And finally the county authorities went out and inspected the property. There’s a chance these actions will bring about permanent, positive changes in the lives of those animals.

Possible steps you could consider:

— Spread the word – Forums, Facebook, YouTube…all are powerful tools for ANY voice now.
— Find other rescues – Another local, legitimate rescue might be able to help out with questions about laws and regulations, about which regulatory committees should be contacted. They might also be able to help with the animals.
— Local Media – Morning radio programs are probably the easiest to get into, and that’s not nothing. If you can get enough documentation and community outrage, you might even attract the attention of television news.
— Better Business Bureau – Lodge a complaint with the BBB.  This creates a permanent, public record of the complaint, and if enough of them are recorded, it can make a difference.
— Local Law Enforcement – It may take some research to find out which agency in your area has jurisdiction over that particular “rescue” business, but it could be worth it.  Sometimes just the threat of bringing in the authorities can bring about positive changes.

Do NOT get involved with PETA or HSUS. On the surface, they may seem like powerful allies, but they are genuine wolves in sheep’s skin and no friend to true animal lovers.

Be prepared to deal with a lot of push-back, even from fellow reptile lovers. Pull up your big-kid undies and don the thick skin. You’ll need it. No matter what you do, there is always someone who thinks you should have done something different. If the welfare of the animals is truly important to you, it shouldn’t matter if someone tells you you’re wrong or stupid or should have done things differently. And realize that there are no guarantees. Sometimes local authorities simply won’t care about “slimy” scaly creatures that no one really likes anyway. But you’ll never know unless you try.

Do you have a story about a local rescue you want to share? I’d love an uplifting story about a rescue done right, as well as stories about what you’ve done to help in those gone wrong. What worked? What didn’t? If I get enough responses, I’ll share them in a future follow-up Editor’s Desk. My e-mail is listed below.

Whether you run a full-blown legitimate rescue organization, or have adopted a single special-needs creature who otherwise would never have found a loving home, you have my genuine respect and appreciation.

Thank you.

Judy Clothier
Chief Editor of The Reptile Report

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