Cold-blooded brood becoming too big for Alberta reptile rescuer
'Sometimes I have to turn people down. I only have housing for so many'
Michele Weldon was getting dressed for the day when the snake slithered its way out of her underwear drawer.
A few days earlier, the ball python had made an escape from a plastic bin in Weldon's basement. The slithering giant made its way into her bedroom furniture.
That's just one of the strange episodes Weldon has experienced running a reptile rescue.
Weldon's quaint bungalow in Calmar, Alta., has been overrun with more than 90 cold-blooded creatures — exotic reptiles surrendered or abandoned, or seized from neglectful owners.
In her living room, bearded dragons skitter under a sun lamp. A turtle pushes its pointed nose against the glass of a bubbling aquarium.
A spare room, aglow with heat lamps, harbours a wriggling mass of slithering scales; every square foot housing a different exotic creature. A throng of snakes has taken up residence in her basement.
"They are throughout my whole house as we speak," Weldon said during an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"There was one room dedicated to be a rescue room but that overflowed and they've gone out everywhere else into the home."
Weldon's current collection of rescue reptiles includes 25 boa constrictors, 26 ball pythons, 12 corn snakes. She also has a small clowder of cats and a roost of exotic birds.
"I have red-eared sliders, I have a Chinese thread turtle, five bearded dragons, leopard geckos, gargoyle geckos, jeweled lacertas, a savannah monitor — and the list goes on
"I forget what I have sometimes when people ask me for a down-to-the-minute inventory … Sometimes I have to turn people down. I only have housing for so many."
Abandoned amphibians on the rise
Weldon says the demand for rescue services is overwhelming, and the agency is fundraising for an expansion to better accommodate the abandoned animals.
"The society is fundraising for a new building to house more of these guys, so I can have my house back," said Weldon, "and also train some volunteers to come out and take care of these guys so I'm not continuously doing it myself."
To date, the Edmonton Reptile and Amphibian Society has raised $5,000 for the new building. It needs to raise $60,000 more before construction can begin next spring.
Weldon estimates she has found homes for more than 1,000 exotic pets since she started working with reptiles. It started more than 20 years ago with a single lizard.
"I've rescued animals all my life, but how it all started is that my cousin needed someone to babysit his iguana, long term," said Weldon.
"So I took her in and started to do research and began to find out how much misinformation there was out on the Internet. That began the exotic phase of my life, you could say."
Weldon, who was training as a veterinary technician at the time, teamed up with a colleague and helped found the society. She began answering phone calls from people across the province who were desperate to rehouse their reptiles.
'My house will never be empty'
The organization hosts regular open houses to educate the public on the demands of exotic pet ownership. Many people are misinformed about the care they require, she said.
She's treated emaciated bearded dragons left in the dark, snakes burned by heat lamps, and territorial iguanas which have "ripped each other to shreds."
And some species can live up to 20 years, a commitment most people aren't truly prepared to make.
"A lot people give them up, the child isn't interested anymore. They got divorced. Some people are in the military and are overseas now," said Weldon.
"A lot of landlords will not allow reptiles and I do get calls from landlords because people have vacated and abandoned their reptiles and left them behind. That's happened on more than one occasion."
Will Weldon suffer from empty nest syndrome once her cold-blooded brood moves out of her house and into the society's new building?
She balks at the suggestion.
"Some of the snakes are my own … so they'll still be here. My house will never be empty."
With files from Rod Kurtz