Why I Rescue My Reptiles (And Don’t Buy Them)

I’ve cared for five reptiles now. Four were rescued from BeWild, and one was purchased at Petsmart.

I love my leopard gecko Angel, the one I purchased at the pet store, but if I knew then what I know now I would’ve never purchased him the way I did.

Why did I switch from buying my first leopard gecko at petsmart to only rescuing reptiles? I learned the truth about where large chain reptiles come from and how badly many of those reptiles are treated after purchase.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying purchasing reptiles is bad. If you get a reptile from an ethical breeder, you’re not doing anything wrong. I’m here to explain why I switched to rescuing and why I don’t plan to buy a reptile from any place anytime soon.

Don’t Buy From A Large Chain Store

As I already said, I regret getting my first leo from the pet store. I didn’t know that they were so unethical and detrimental to the pets they keep.

Pet stores get their reptiles in bulk from warehouses that mass breed reptiles. How can they afford to sell them for so little money when pet care and breeding can get pretty expensive? They cut costs by giving horrible care, putting pets in dangerous conditions, and letting some die off in the process without caring.

They won’t take a pet to the vet. They won’t make sure they’re always fed and getting water. They don’t keep the place clean. They breed them, and they quickly ship the ones that live to various facilities for sale. This method, though extremely cruel, is more profitable to them so I doubt they’ll change things anytime soon.

If you want to learn more about this, watch GoHerping’s video here.

After all that horrific breeding they’re put in stores where employees aren’t all properly trained in their care. They often cohab them and give them horrible husbantry, don’t keep their water clean, don’t pick up poop enough, etc., Then when it comes time to sell them they have no restrictions on who can take home the reptile. If someone doesn’t know what to do with an animal they just hand that person a pamphlet full of misinformation and act like their advice is solid.

I do believe it should be on the person adopting to do research, ensure they have the means to care for their pet, and know that they are responsible enough for the task; but it does help, and is more ethical, for sellers to regulate adoptions. You can’t get a dog – ethically – without filling out paperwork and proving you’re a good fit for the dog. It should be the same with reptiles.

Do Your Research (And Don’t Be The Person Who Knows Nothing About Their Pet)

I try my best not to be a negative person when it comes to pet care. I don’t judge people for not knowing everything, I don’t know everything, but when it comes to the basics (food, water, supplements, temp, etc.,) you should make sure you know that stuff before getting any pet.

If you’re reading this you probably already know that, but I’m saying this because my main reason for taking in rescues is the amount of reptiles I’ve seen get neglected by previous owners.

I volunteer with BeWild reptile rescue and I’ve seen a lot of reptiles with MBD, eye infections, mouth rot, stunted growth, stuck shed and amputated limbs, etc., These things can all be products of improper care. Had someone done their research the leo would be healthy, happy, and have a good chance at a long life.

Meet Sybil

This is Sybil. The smallest leo in my home.

She has severe MBD and cryptosporidium. I can’t say her crypto was her owners fault, because it took her several months to show symptoms and hard to tell where it came from, but I can say with certainty her MBD is the result of improper care.

She likely didn’t receive calcium and multivitamins or much food in general when she was supposed to be growing. She was very skinny when I got her and she is not very lengthy either. She’s half the size of my other leo’s.

Because of her MBD she sometimes struggles with shedding, climbing, and using the bathroom. She’s had periods of time where she can do everything by herself, including hunting and full sheds, but since I got her it’s always been a few months of bliss then a few months of meds.

As of now she’s on medication again and she’s being hand fed. She can’t pass a proper stool anymore because the shape of her back seems to have become worse over time. This is the X-ray we got at the vet recently

There are lots of leo’s, beardies, ball pythons, etc., that are in similar or even worse condition because of improper care. I decided to start rescuing reptiles because reptiles with these conditions don’t get adopted as much. Sybil was with BeWild for months before I adopted her. It saves a reptile’s life, gives them the second chance they deserve, and it gives the keeper a great opportunity to educate others on proper reptile care.

Educating Is Better Than Criticizing

I’m not here to judge anyone who buys from a pet store, I did it once, but it’s good to educate each other so we can fix these issues together. It’ll better the lives of many reptiles and keep reptiles out of the hands of people who don’t treat them right.

By rescuing reptiles I’m able to share information about them online and help promote good care while also getting people interested in rescuing. I’m not sure how to get pet stores to stop unethical breeding, but I do know that every sale the store doesn’t get, and every rescue that is adopted, is a step in the right direction.

Instead of shunning someone who bought from a petstore we should open up conversation about why that isn’t actually “rescuing” a reptile, and how it perpetuates a cycle of people impulse buying reptiles, not caring for them, and then the reptile ends up in rescues or their lives cut short.

I’ve heard people say “I rescued him from petsmart.” and I disagree with that logic. I bought Angel from petsmart, but it would be wrong of me to call that rescuing since all that I did was put money in the pockets of people who will now go back to those unethical breeders and give them business to stay open. Another few geckos paid the price for me getting Anny. 

That isn’t very helpful to the problem, but it’s even worse when you consider that only a small portion of people who get a reptile from a pet store will treat them properly. Even people who care, but aren’t involved in the hobby, could be trapped in this cycle because they rely on a pamphlet from the store that is full of false information. That’s why avoiding these stores is the best method in my opinion. A large chain store isn’t likely to switch breeding practices, spend extra time training employees, and pay people to make them better pamphlets (because that would cost them a lot of money) so it’s better that we don’t support them and hope they run out of business with selling live animals.

It Feels Good To See A Reptile Improve

The last reason is for both the reptile and the keeper. Your reptile will benefit a ton from proper care, and you’ll feel good saving the life of a reptile that had a rough start.

Sybil is a miracle child. She was unable to eat when she first got to BeWild, but they handfed her until she had the strength for tongue feeding. When I got her she was still a little lethargic, but she was doing well. A few months in she was hunting with so much energy, able to sprint, and overall started to show me her big personality.

The amazing feeling I got caring for her is the reason I went on to rescue Fleur, Persephone, and Mariano. Fleur is in good shape, just a little kink in the tail. Persephone is a little overweight and has a wobble, but she eats well. Mariano has MBD, but less severe than Sybil. They each came from a rough situation and it makes me happy to know that I can provide them stability and over time I can upgrade them to some amazing enclosures and give them the best life I can afford.

Like With Any Pet, Be Prepared For Vet Bills

It doesn’t matter if you buy or rescue, you should always be prepared for the possibility of vet bills.

Annual checkups are great, but there might also be times that you need to make an emergency visit.

Fleur, Anny, and Mariano haven’t needed much more than checkups. Sybil, given her condition, has cost me quite a lot of money. Crypto was the main source of that, it wasn’t just her MBD, but the MBD was a cause for a few hundred dollars.

If you rescue a leo who has MBD, or any condition that may have long term health issues, just remember the possibility of more vet trips then the checkups before you go through with it. It’s not a reason not to rescue, but if you’re going to take in a special case like Sybil, keep that in mind.

My other three rescues are completely standard in terms of vet care. Not much different then what you’d get if you bought a reptile. If you’re concerned about this aspect, just ask the rescue about their vet history and the likeliness of complications. I always do that and they’re always honest with me. They gave me histories, answered all my questions, and assured me that they don’t seem to have any complications that would make their care difficult.

Don’t think that all rescues are pets that people surrender for health issues. Some of the other reasons people surrender are: moving, a student going off to college, the family has a financial crisis, someone has become disinterested in their pet, a person has their own health situation, etc., There are lots of healthy pets that get surrendered.

Extra Perks

There are also some neat perks to rescuing reptiles. 

  1. If you have a local rescue, keep your eye on their adoption list. Rescues tend to take in whatever reptiles/ amphibians they can manage and you may find a unique morph, species, etc., that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.
  2. You’ll know more about the reptile. You’ll have more information about their behavior, eating habits, etc.,
  3. Rescues care about quality care from an adopter, so they tend to be less expensive. This doesn’t mean you can just walk in and get a cheap pet, but it’s helpful for people who want to put more money into the enclosure than the pet itself. They often have a formal adoption process, so be ready to fill out needed information and make sure you do your research.
  4. You’re supporting an amazing business that saves reptiles’ lives. Your adoption fee supports the rescue and by adopting a pet you’ve opened up a space for another surrender. You can also ask about more ways to get involved and can potentially do things like volunteer or donate for further support.
  5. You get closer to the reptile community. My local rescue has facebook groups for adopters and it helps us all stay connected. Volunteering there has also helped me meet more people in the hobby.
  6. You can ask questions. A quality breeder will answer questions too, so this is mainly a perk for any form of ethical breading and rescuing. A rescue wants quality care for their pets so make sure to ask your questions and ask them if you can ask questions in the future if you need support. You could also ask if they know of quality resources, where they get their insects, what vet they go to, etc., if you’re looking for additional support.

Rescuing Is Great For The Hobby

Reptile rescues work hard to take care of their pets. When you rescue you support that rescue and help keep them running. It reflects well on the hobby to people who aren’t in the hobby and it supports the growth of reptile keeping. 

Some people think of reptile keeping as something flashy or less serious than keeping a cat or dog, but when we rescue reptiles we show the world that we do care about these little friends and that they are just as valid as any other pet. We don’t do it to look cool and we truly care about their quality of life.

This Is Why I Rescue

After all that, rescuing comes down to one thing for me: a chance to give a reptile a better life. Everything else is a bonus, but when I feed my leo’s and ball python I continue to be amazed by the progress they are making. You’d be surprised how much a stable enclosure and good husbandry can do to a reptile’s behavior, habits, and health.

I look to see them improve, and it adds a ton of value to my life.

Until Next Time,

Stay Psyched

(and Rescue a Reptile)

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