Getting to Know the Colorado Reptile Humane Society

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Iguana’s always look like dinosaurs to me!

Reptiles have always been a bit mysterious to me with their dinosaur-like look, scaly skin and mesmerizing eyes. While working in WildKind, I got to spend time with lots of different reptiles including turtles, iguanas, bearded dragons and more, learning more about their behaviors and specific health needs. What I discovered is how delicate and special reptiles are because they haven’t been domesticated — and continue to live and behave as they have for hundreds of years. That makes them even cooler, but definitely a more non-traditional pet.

Now that the WildKind arm of Larimer Humane Society is closed, I was curious what organization handles local homeless reptiles, fostering them until they can find good homes. I stumbled upon The Colorado Reptile Humane Society (CORHS) located in Longmont, Colorado, and currently the only reptile humane society in the state. Clearly all the reptiles that need good homes can’t be managed by one small facility? Well, that is part of the problem, Colorado has only one.

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Couple of red-eared sliders hanging out.

What is Colorado Reptile Humane Society?

I was interested in learning more about COHRS; what they do, how they care for injured and relinquished reptiles and how they find them new loving homes while also providing a great community service unmatched by any other shelter.

Executive Director Ann Elizabeth Nash and Head Volunteer and Foster Care Coordinator Teri Moody were kind enough to talk with me about the unique loving work they do.

COHRS is well-equipped and run by great volunteers trained in specialized reptile care. The mission for CORHS is to work to improve the lives of reptiles and amphibians in captivity and in the wild through education and action. This year, Colorado Reptile Humane Society is celebrating 15 years of caring for and re-homeing reptiles.

The crazy part is that the idea behind the organization started out as a pet-sitting gig.

Nash was pet-sitting for a friend’s iguana and wanted to learn more about their care. Soon she started getting connected with more people struggling with iguana care and looking to rehome them. Nash took it as a sign to put something together to support her growing reptile family, and started a Colorado Reptile Rescue in Boulder.

In 2000 she moved to Longmont to expand the habitat for the animals, and in 2004 officially changed the name to the Colorado Reptile Humane Society. This shift helped change the perception that the intention was to only take injured or animals with dire needs, and instead, created an organization that also provides education, rehoming and other services for reptiles.

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CORHS currently cares for:

  • Land and aquatic turtles
  • Small lizards
  • Tortoises
  • Snakes
  • Leopard geckos
  • Iguanas
  • Monitors
  • A few alligators and caymans (they ship to a sanctuary in Florida)

They coordinate with other humane societies to transfer animals to more suitable habitats if necessary, but CORHS is the only one specializing in reptiles.

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Rosy Boa

Life at the Shelter

Nash very carefully manages her on-site reptile population. “At the shelter we control our numbers through internal caps that can comfortably fit in the space, the mix of species that can safely cohabitate and animals that can be adopted out in 9 – 12 months time,” says Nash. It’s how she keeps things safe and manageable for the staff and reptile guests.

“We are very right-sized for the number of volunteers we can recruit and the donations we receive — it’s perfect in all ways; space, money and vet care.”

“Another important part of our mission is to teach people the best way to care for a reptile to offer it a quality life, not just an existence. We advocate adult training sessions because reptile care is a bit too advanced for children to manage on their own. An agreement as a family to care for the reptile is best,” adds Nash.

Keeping the wheels of the shelter running starts with donations. “Sometimes large organizations will donate a portion of funds raised from events,” says Moody, head volunteer and foster care coordinator. Paper towels and garbage bags are great donation items (it’s too hard to donate produce), and donated equipment is one of the best ways to help. We can sell it to people who want to adopt or use it for foster programs,” says Moody. “Through the Foster Care Program, CORHS supplies the equipment –lights, heat, tanks and other necessities and training for that particular animal.”

As for the animals they take in, “sometimes people are having an issue with a reptile or don’t realize how much work and specialized care they require,” adds Moody. “We also receive animals confiscated during arrests or from people who have passed away or during natural disasters like the latest flood.”

Leopard Gecko

Leopard Gecko

Community Responsibility

Changes regarding reptile care need to be reflected and practiced by the community, and that starts with more extensive education about reptiles. “Reptiles are like different breeds of dogs or cats, and have natural traits you like or dislike. With reptiles, your enjoyment needs to come from their natural behaviors ( not lap animals or necessarily calm), and you need to find the type of reptile that matches your lifestyle,” says Nash.

She also told me it’s currently legal to buy and ship reptiles through the mail. This not only contributes to a population problem, but puts these animals in the hands of people that may not fully understand how to care for them and provide a habitat that works for the breed. Little to no regulation regarding sale or distribution has an impact on the community, and where those unwanted reptiles end up.

Sudan Plated Lizard

Sudan Plated Lizard

I asked Nash to reflect on what she would like to see after 15 years of caring for reptiles, knowing the challenges they face. “In some ways there are improvements, but very minimal ones. What are other shelters doing to learn to care for more these specialized animals? How are we really making sure the animals are being treated well? They may be alive, but what is their quality of life?”

Definitely all very important questions. What do you think? Are you for more regulations on the sale and education of reptiles before purchase through pet stores or shelters?

If you would like to visit the facility, CORHS is hosting an open house fundraiser on June 22nd. Be sure to visit the site for details. In the meantime, contact them about volunteer opportunities or donating.

 

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