Reptiles are weird: they’re cold-blooded, they scurry close to the ground on sprawling legs and in some cases, they slide along the ground without any legs at all. In short, reptiles are many things that humans are not. The alien nature of reptiles can cause two reactions: fascination or fear. Snakes are particularly divisive. Snakes swim along the ground in a way that seems to defy physics. For an extra dash of creepy, snakes don’t have eyelids, meaning they keep their eyes wide open while they sleep. And, of course, there’s the venom. The vast majority of snakes are harmless to humans, but a few species have venom-filled fangs that can seriously injure or kill a human adult, which is understandably unsettling. In fact, ophidiophobia, the clinical fear of snakes, is one of the most common phobias in the world.
On the flip side, many people adore reptiles. The same alien-like nature that causes people to fear them also draws people in. Reptiles all over the world have developed strange and fascinating adaptations that help them survive in extreme environments, blend into the surroundings and capture prey. It’s only natural that many people would want to keep these creatures as pets.
In many ways, reptiles can make good pets. They don’t trigger allergies as much as cats and dogs and they don’t shed fur. Reptile husbandry takes time and attention, but reptiles don’t need as much exercise and playtime as other pets. For some, a reptile may be the perfect pet.
However, many apartment complexes, including most student living arrangements, don’t allow students to keep reptiles as pets. As a result, when students leave home to attend college, their pet reptiles often become neglected or must be rehomed.
Why Reptiles Aren’t Welcome
It’s not uncommon for apartment complexes to put prohibitions on pet ownership in general. This makes sense. Dogs can chew up furniture and cats will shred the curtains. Pets have minds of their own, and they can be loud, destructive and, worst of all, smelly. Many apartment complexes prefer to prohibit all pets except when they are needed as service animals.
That said, some apartments, condos and even some neighborhoods allow tenants to house dogs, cats, birds and rodents, but refuse reptiles. From a logical standpoint, this is strange. Most reptiles are quieter, less destructive and less likely to escape and cause damage than mammals or birds. For the most part, reptiles are rejected because homeowners or neighbors dislike reptiles simply because they’re creepy. Snakes, especially. Snakes just can’t catch a break.
Of course, there are other, more legitimate reasons to refuse pet reptiles. In the same way that dogs and cats have different needs and need different care, different species of reptiles can have drastically different needs. Certain species of reptiles need enclosures with specific humidity levels, lighting, temperatures and substrates to stay happy and healthy. When working with sensitive or young animals, making a mistake in reptile husbandry can leave the animal with irreparable bone damage, prevent the animal from shedding its skin, or cause other major health concerns. A reptile owner who fails to research their animal can easily end up purchasing an animal that was unethically obtained or end up mistreating, neglecting or killing the animal.
Unfortunately, a general fear of reptiles combined with the difficulty of finding a capable reptile caretaker means that many students struggle to find a new home for their pets before they leave for school. Fortunately, there are ways for students to successfully rehome a reptile.
How To Rehome a Reptile
It’s never easy to say goodbye to a pet, but part of pet ownership is making sure the animal has the best chance of living a happy and healthy life, even when it is being given away.
Rehoming reptiles can be a challenge. Shelters take in dogs and cats and maybe even the occasional bird or rodent, but there are comparatively few places that will take in a reptile. First, one should take into consideration the specific needs of the reptile that needs rehoming. A hardy, friendly species might be a good match for a friend or family member, but a more delicate species may need a more experienced hand.
If there are no friends or family members willing to take in a pet reptile, or if the reptile needs specific husbandry, some pet stores and reptile breeders are willing to accept or purchase healthy reptiles. One of the few advantages of rehoming reptiles, as opposed to more traditional pets, is that reptiles can be shipped to new owners through the mail. As such, it’s perfectly acceptable to search for a new owner over a large geographic area.
This, of course, takes care. Reptiles being shipped need to be packaged carefully in deli cups or bags that are breathable and then placed in a padded cardboard box. They often need to be sent with a heat pack to keep the animal warm. It’s wise to watch the weather as well. Although a heat pack will keep the reptile warm, an animal can still freeze if they are shipped on especially cold days. All packages containing live animals should be clearly labeled as such to prevent the mishandling of the package. If sending a reptile through the mail, it’s best to look up a proper guide to ensure that the reptile arrives at its destination safely.
Before sending a reptile to a new home, it’s a good practice to vet the new owner’s husbandry. For example, a new owner should be able to explain the proper husbandry for the animal and take a picture of a prepared reptile enclosure. If a new owner can provide these details, the reptile will likely thrive in the new environment.
Whether they are in the wild or in captivity, reptiles are interesting creatures. While no one is obligated to like them, they are animals who fill important niches in many different ecosystems and deserve some respect.
As with any pet, individuals should always do their own research before purchasing or rehoming a reptile. All pets take time and effort to maintain, and reptiles are no exception. With that said, reptiles can make good pets for people who are willing to put in the time and resources to provide good husbandry to keep the animal healthy and safe.