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North Hills Monthly

Unwanted Reptiles Find Help from Local Rescues

Jan 30, 2019 10:26AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Corn snake at Nate's Reptile Rescue, photo by C.A.R.M.A.A.

When most people think of rescued or adoptable animals, they think about dogs and cats or even rabbits. But two Pittsburgh-area organizations are helping to save and find homes for another type of pet by specializing in reptile rescue. 

“We’ve rescued everything from an 8-foot alligator to a 100-pound tortoise and everything in between,” said Nathan Lysaght, owner of Nate’s Reptile Rescue. “People get these animals when they’re small and don’t realize how large they’ll get or how expensive it can be. Other owners may be moving or going to school and can’t keep them.”

Lysaght, a student at South Park High School, has been collecting reptiles since age 4, and came up with the idea of starting a rescue when he was 13. “When people heard that we had reptiles, they would ask if they could surrender their animals, and we would take them in,” he explained of what he now calls the family business. “Since March 2014, we’ve rescued 188 reptiles, and at least half of them have been rehomed.”

Lance Cheuvront, co-owner and operator of It’s An Animal Thing Reptile Rescue, also became intrigued with reptiles at a very young age.

“There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t around snakes,” he explained. “My dad began working with reptiles in 1938 and traveled around the world collecting them. There were a couple hundred in the house at any one time; I was in diapers walking around with snakes in my hands.”

Cheuvront followed in his father’s footsteps and has traveled to Southeast Asia, Central and South America in search of different species. “As a collector, you almost always end up doing rescue because you see how poorly many of these reptiles are treated—they are considered disposable animals,” he said. “You get to a place where the weight of ignoring what is happening is too much, so you try to help as many as you can.”

From Boas to Bearded Dragons

Both rescues take in a wide range of reptiles. 

“For the most part, we see ball pythons, corn snakes and aquatic turtles because those are the three most popular animals purchased in the industry,” said Cheuvront. “Lately, we’ve also been seeing more bearded dragons, leopard geckos, pythons and boas because they’ve become more readily available to the public.

“We’ve also had a couple of odd rescues, including an 11-foot long female green anaconda that was living in a manmade water feature at the edge of a golf course north of Butler,” he continued. “And we recently took a six-foot alligator out of a basement in Kittanning; the people were renting and weren’t allowed to have pets.”

Cheuvront has also been called to help with hoarding situations, taking more than 70 snakes from a home at one time.

Lysaght recently rescued a six-foot alligator from a home where it had its own pond in a basement. “The owner had had it for eight years and kept it at his mother’s home; when he bought his own home and had a baby on the way, he didn’t want it anymore,” he explained, adding that the animal has since been rehomed.

There are many reasons why people don’t keep the reptiles they buy, according to the rescuers. “Many people have no concept of the amount of space an animal will take or the level of responsibility—some can grow to 20 feet long and live for decades,” said Cheuvront. “They keep it awhile and then the novelty wears off. Or they go through life changes—they get a new job, have kids, or get in a new relationship and the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t like it.”

“Every species has specific requirements, which is why it’s so important for people to do their research before purchasing,” added Lysaght. “It can also be expensive; the equipment varies, but the larger the animal is, the more money they’ll need for an enclosure. Even a gecko can cost up to $700 for start-up equipment, including heating, lighting and food supplies.”

This is one of the reasons that both organizations work to educate the public about reptiles and the care they require. Cheuvront does a lot of public outreach, talking to schools and civic groups and appearing at events with his animals, like WizardVue this past summer in Bellevue.

Lysaght recently did a presentation on basic reptile care for 35 vets and vet techs at Humane Animal Rescue and also spoke to 120 students at Parkway West Career and Technology Center. His rescue also provides reptiles to the Pittsburgh Zoo for educational events. 

Those who want to adopt an animal from either rescue need to fill out an application and can expect to be thoroughly vetted. “We want to make sure that the animal will be well taken care of and that it will be moving to its permanent home,” said Cheuvront. “The more you shift reptiles around, the higher the chance of illness or neurotic behavior.

“People need to realize that reptiles are not disposable pets,” he added. “It is a long-term commitment—properly cared for, some species can live for 15 to 30 years.”

For more information on Nate’s Reptile Rescue, visit www.natesreptiles.org or find it on Facebook at @natesreptilerescue. 

Learn more about It’s An Animal Thing on Facebook at @itsananimalthing.