Alberta reptile rescue needs a new home

Michele Weldon has spent years keeping reptile rescues in her home as part of the Edmonton Reptile Rehab and Rescue. But it's been getting too crowded in her bungalow near Devon and now there's a fundraising drive to build a new facility for the cold-blooded critters.

'The more people know about us, the more animals come in,' says Michele Weldon

Michele Weldon runs a rescue shelter for reptiles in her home near Calmar, Alta. and takes us on a tour. 2:55

When it comes to bearded dragons and giant boa constrictors, even a dedicated reptile-lover has her limits.

Michele Weldon is an extraordinary animal rescuer who has spent the last 18 years taking in snakes, lizards and frogs that have been abandoned, surrendered or seized in Alberta.

But her bungalow near Calmar, Alta, which houses the Edmonton Reptile Rehab and Rescue, is getting too crowded to accommodate the dozens of scaly (and sometimes fuzzy — she takes in tarantulas, too) creatures that come into her care.

Now, there's a fundraising drive to custom-build a standalone rescue centre on Weldon's acreage.
Michele Weldon handles a bearded dragon that is being kept at the Edmonton Reptile Rehab and Rescue, an operation that runs out of her home. (CBC)

"They just need help," Weldon said about the work that once left her with a ball python in her underwear drawer — it had slipped out of a plastic bin in her basement and slithered its way into her bedroom.

"Just because they're cold-blooded green guys doesn't mean they don't deserve the love, the attention, and the proper care as well."

The goal is to raise $25,000 to build the facility. Plans were developed with the Edmonton Reptile and Amphibian Society. The society is managing the fundraising and spearheading the construction plans. The plans and permits are in place for a 30-foot by 40-foot structure.

"It would be nice to build her that facility so that she could have that home for her home and have the rescue for her rescue," said Tim Petit, the society's vice-president.
Michele Weldon keeps an eye on one of the many snakes she cares for as part of the Edmonton Reptile Rehab and Rescue. (CBC)

Weldon's reptile relationships started years ago when she was asked to babysit her cousin's iguana, Dylan.

She did such a great job that her cousin asked her to keep the animal. Weldon had contacted veterinarians about Dylan's care, and word soon got out that she was a good caretaker for cold-blooded critters.

"The more people know about us, the more animals come in to us. The more people can find us if they're looking for a specific animal, as well," she said.

The society estimates that over 1,000 animals have come through the rescue over the years. The numbers have increased steadily over time, and Petit estimates the rescue now handles about 100 animals annually. Many are adopted out to new homes.

Rescue numbers on the rise

While Weldon has adapted her life to make room for rescues, Petit says having a dedicated building would be better for the animals and Weldon. Turtle ponds and enclosures for boa constrictors take up a lot of space. Weldon rinses down new animals, and requires a better set-up for that task.

A new building would also facilitate the help of new volunteers, who could offer their help without coming into Weldon's personal surroundings.

The animals come to Weldon under varying circumstances. Sometimes a new landlord refuses reptiles, or people move away and don't want to take their pets with them. Once, when a man violated his parole and went back to jail, Weldon ended up with 19 ball pythons in her care.

And sometimes, Weldon takes in animals because people just don't realize how much work goes into caring for a reptile.
Michele Weldon has loved and cared for cold-blooded animals for almost 20 years as part of a unique animal rescue. (CBC)

"There's such a need for exotics to be taken care of properly," Weldon said.

"Do your research, find out what you're getting into, know what normal is, and know how long it will live, how big an enclosure it needs, what it eats."

Weldon said the sooner a new facility is built, the sooner she can get more cages set up and get more volunteers trained to help. But she's still trying to imagine what life will be like without dozens of reptiles, amphibians and spiders in her close quarters.

"I don't know what I'll do with a house — it will be empty, it will be very different. The care will still be there. I'll still be managing, overseeing that everything is being done for these guys that needs to be done."

With files from Alexandra Zabjek