By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
An eager group of over 100 people turned up at the Coaldale Public Library to meet snakes, lizards, and other reptiles on Aug. 10. Educators Sarah and Scott took the time to explain the responsibilities of reptile ownership and how animals are impacted when people adopt or purchase reptiles without understanding the extent of the commitment.
Co-founder of the Southern Alberta Reptile Rescue and sanctuary (S.A.R.R.P.s) Sarah, has been helping reptiles for nearly seven years and founded the organization five years ago. Sarah explained the nearest rescue which deals strictly with reptiles is in Drayton Valley, as well as one in Edmonton. Sarah explained there are only three reptile rescues in all of Alberta, whereas cat and dog rescue in Lethbridge alone total more than 20.
“All of our animals here today were purchased as somebody’s pets; purchased as a forever animal, but unfortunately what sometimes happens is kids grow up (and) they don’t want to care for their animals anymore,” Sarah told the excited group of children.
Scott stressed the education component of reptile ownership and added that people interested in reptile ownership should be well aware of the long-term needs and expenses associated with having one as a pet.
“Make sure you do your research, and understand the lifespan. We try to encourage that if your child wants a pet, that you as the parents are actually the one adopting the pet and not your child because children’s interests change.”
Sarah and Scott explained that many species of snakes, turtles, and other reptiles can have lifespans exceeding 20 years, so understanding the commitment before delving into reptile ownership is essential in reducing the number of pets who are abandoned or given up to the sanctuary.
Sarah and Scott holding a “baby” six-foot-long boa constrictor, explained, “these have a 25-year lifespan. A lot of people don’t realize how long they can live.”
In addition to owners not fully understanding the potential years of commitment, Scott said some animals are surrendered simply because the owners underestimate how large they will become in their adulthood.
Sarah explained to the group, “female boas can grow to be up to 10 feet,” and oftentimes people are not able to accommodate adequate enclosures in their homes. Sarah and Scott emphasized educating both parents and children before committing to a reptile as a pet.
“We picked up seven animals (on one day last week). Unfortunately, our facility is small and because of that, we are quickly running out of space. We are one of three (rescues) in all of Alberta. With us, running out of space, it means that if animals can’t be taken care of, Unfortunately, we can’t always help.”
Sarah explained the organization is run by volunteers to provide reptiles with a safe place to stay to recover from whatever they need to, “sometimes it’s a child who doesn’t want their reptiles, and sometimes it’s much more serious and authorities have called us,” she explained.
“It’s those extreme circumstances that we want to make sure we’re there for. So when we have a dozen animals come in because the children have lost interest, it makes it harder for us to help those that really need it,” said Scott.
Sarah said she wasn’t always so keen on keeping company with scaly friends, “If you would have asked me eight years ago if I would ever hold a snake I would (have said) ‘not a chance’, now myself and Scot care for nearly 35 reptiles all looking for a forever home.”
Scott was also initially apprehensive about snakes, but during a Wildlife Festival, held by the YYC Nature Centre earlier this year, he became more trusting and has worked with the organization in a volunteer capacity since.
Sarah said, “After three days of doing a volunteer event and me basically handing him his biggest fear (a snake) he has never turned back, and now works with even our unsocialized snakes on a daily basis, helping get them ready for adoption.”
“Everything we do is because we love the Animals, We don’t receive government funding, and it’s through adoptions, donations, and events that (we can) keep our animals fed, vetted, and (keep) the lights on. Without the community’s support, we would not be able to continue to do this.”
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