Charlotte Gillis was tired of feeling guilty about selling exotic reptiles such as baby boas and baby monitor lizards to people who didn't really understand how to care for them. She'd get panicked calls from the new pet owners, and often the lizards or snakes would come back to the store with a new set of problems. Gillis has facilitated about a dozen reptile adoptions since she started Tucson Reptile Rescue in January. She doesn't charge a fee for the reptiles she takes in. For more info, check her Facebook page, Tucson Reptile Rescue, or go to tucsonreptilerescue.com.
How did you fall in love with reptiles?
I started working with reptiles when I was working in pet stores when I was 15 or 16 years old, so it's 20 years of working with them. I also used to own the Reptile Ranch, which was the nation's first domestically captive reptile store here in Tucson, on Stone Avenue.
The rescue recently merged with another rescue operation, right?
We recently joined forces with Tucson Red-Eared Slider Rescue to better serve the Tucson reptile community. They are the popular pet turtles you see at roadside stands or flea markets. It's actually illegal to sell turtles under 4 inches, but it's a very common practice and nobody enforces that law. We have them separated in ponds by size and gender.
You rescue reptiles and then find new homes for them. How does that work?
We charge a $50 adoption fee for our smaller snakes and lizards, and our most expensive adoption fee is $150. That's usually for the larger breeds, like the boas, because they are more expensive to house and feed, and all of our bigger reptiles go to the vet before they are adopted out. The smaller animals will come with everything (they need). But with the bigger animals, (the prospective owners) need to prove they can provide housing before they are adopted out. They also have to show me that they have some knowledge to care for the animal. Any of what I consider the more exotic species also come with a health check from Central Animal Hospital.
Do you have an example of a recent adoption?
Well, the big girl, Ruby (the boa), over there, she's been adopted and (the new owner) is in the middle of building a custom enclosure for her and has been sending me pictures of it as he's building it. He's picking her up on Tuesday and taking her straight to the vet appointment I've already paid for. She's healthy, but it's also to establish a relationship between him and the vet so he knows where to take his animals in the future.
Are you working on nonprofit status?
Yes. I'm hoping that by the end of July it will be official.
You're on Facebook and you also have a website.
Yes, but most of the time, people interested in adopting find us on Craigslist. We advertise there when we have animals available, as well as supplies if people need them.
One thing that's different about your rescue operation is that you don't charge a surrender fee.
We want to make sure the animal is taken care of. We ask that people fill out and sign a surrender form.
Why do this?
A lot of guilt over the years of selling a lot of baby boas and baby monitor lizards, and then getting phone calls back of "What do I do with this animal?" The zoo doesn't take in animals. A lot of times they just take them back to the pet stores. And then, with no quarantine and no vet check, the pet store just resells them.
Why do you think some folks don't care for their reptiles?
A lot of times people become bored or complacent with their animal, or sometimes they move to a city or state that doesn't allow them. There are a lot of cities that don't allow constrictor species.
There's no license needed to run a rescue. What are your guidelines?
I just make sure everything is extremely clean and they have fresh food and water at all times. I want to be cleaner than any pet store or zoo. That's my goal every day when I walk through. And we don't handle native (wildlife) because that does require licensing and there are very strict laws about selling—it is completely illegal. I cannot rehab them. I only deal with exotic pets. I have to say that Debbie (Gibson) and Dan (Marchand) from the Phoenix Herpetological Society have been a huge inspiration for me and the rescue. They have been like mentors. They are who I call with any questions regarding reptiles or illnesses and injuries I am not familiar with.