Rescuing Abandoned Reptiles

December 4, 2013 |

Charlotte Gillis at Bookmans in September 2013 during a Tucson Reptile Rescue adoption and education event. photo: Dan Perino

Every year in the U.S. millions of pets are abandoned, discarded or dumped due to neglectful pet owners or those who lack the ability to raise and maintain the animals once they’re fully grown. While the most common pets in the U.S. are dogs are and cats, many of these deserted creatures are reptiles. But thanks to the efforts of Tucson Reptile Rescue (TRR), abandoned reptiles are given new homes and a second chance at a happy life.

“Our main goal is to encourage long-term pet companionship. We want people to consider these animals’ needs for life,” shares TRR co-founder Charlotte Gillis. “A lot of times people can’t provide the proper housing for a reptile once it becomes an adult. Pet stores don’t typically carry enclosures for large reptiles when they grow full size. So when animals get over 6 feet long, a lot of times they get abandoned. It’s just not fair to the animals.”

Founded by Gillis and Doug Barreto in late January of this year, Tucson Reptile Rescue is the only non-profit organization that rehabilitates and finds homes for exotic reptiles in Tucson. TRR takes in animals with no surrender fee and provides them with a temporary home, food and medical care while locating a loving new household for a variety of snakes, lizards and turtles. Having only been in service for less than a year, many reptiles have already been rescued due to the tireless work by TRR’s staff and volunteers.

“A lot of times we’re the only option that people have to go to. We just got a recent call about a Boa constrictor from its owner who was saying that if we didn’t pick up the animal right away she was going to put it out into the desert to get rid of it. It was heavy bodied boa from Madagascar around 4 feet long,” Gillis shares. “We had to go out and get her immediately. If exotic animals are released into a foreign ecosystem they will either fail to adapt and die or adapt too well and become a threat to the local wildlife.”

Another major goal of TRR is to educate the community on reptiles and how to care for them. To achieve this they host gatherings, seminars and open houses for youth groups and the general public on a regular basis. On the third Saturday of each month, TRR holds a gathering at Bookmans, 6230 E. Speedway Blvd., where they bring in some of the animals up for adoption and answer questions from the crowd who get a chance to observe and interact with the reptiles. Monthly events are also held at Petco and the TRR facilities.

“We’ve gotten just a wonderful response from our community events. Tons of people have been coming out and they love to see the animals and ask us a ton of questions,” says Gillis. “One of our big goals is to further the education on reptiles and how to be an owner and properly keep one as a pet.”

And to help aid their efforts, TRR has just recently moved into a larger downtown location, 844 S. Sixth Ave., that is now open to the public. This will allow the organization to have more space to rehabilitate sick and injured reptiles while having room to expand their educational outreach program. Now school classrooms, scout troops, families and other groups will be welcome to enjoy their learning experience while also getting to observe the new enclosures for the reptiles.

“We’re thrilled to be in our new building which is a really large space and a big improvement for us. So far we have an enclosure for monitor lizards, an enclosure for our tortoises, multiple iguana enclosures and we’re adding other spaces for the rest of the boas and reptiles. We have space now for the public to come in and learn about the animals. The central location is great for the community to rally around and learn a lot about these animals.”

Driven by their passion of aiding animals in need – Gillis has worked in animal rescue for over two decades – TRR is quickly growing in popularity in the Tucson community as more and more people are realizing that reptiles are truly remarkable pets to own. And thanks to the efforts of Charlotte and her staff, hopefully these beautifully unique creatures will continue to find permanent homes with caring owners.

African sulcata tortoise, Dozer, was recently adopted through Tucson Reptile Rescue. photo: Dan Perino

“A big misconception is that reptiles are dangerous pets. There are some reptiles that can be purchased that have potential to be dangerous, but for the most part reptiles are safer than the average cat or dog. They have smaller teeth and smaller claws and they don’t have any fur, so they don’t cause people to have allergies. They don’t make a whole lot of noise either and they are very beautiful to live with and enjoy.”

Tucson Reptile Rescue is located at 844 S. Sixth Ave. and online at Call (520) 991-9553 with inquires.

Category: Business, Community, Nature