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Old 11-03-03, 01:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Jul-2002
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Age: 42
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Post ERAS Members in the news

Giving creatures comfort
Couple helps to rescue unwanted exotic animals
By SHELLY DECKER, EDMONTON SUN


When a snake needs a new, loving owner to wrap itself around, hope slithers in the form of Michele and Neil Weldon (sSnakeSs.com member Snakey Acres).

But salvation isn't reserved just for snakes. This couple are devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation and quest to find adoptive homes for unwanted reptiles and amphibians; some have the potential to be dangerous.

In the past four years, the duo has saved more than 200 exotic creatures, including turtles and iguanas, from a death sentence.

"There's lots of rescue agencies for dogs and cats, all the cute cuddly things. Nobody seems to love the ugly, scaly ones," explains Neil, who works as a cabinetmaker in addition to his volunteer efforts.

Unusual critters are a passion for the pair, who own more than 80 mammals and reptiles - including 30 snakes - in their Calmar-area home.

"I love them. I don't have human children. Reptiles are easy to take care of, except for iguanas," says Michele. "They're our friends."

The couple's most notable acquisition is Isabeau, a 170-pound (77-kg), Burmese python.

"She gives great hugs," enthuses Michele, who works as an animal health technologist for Lynnwood Veterinary Hospital and is known as the "snake lady."

That said Isabeau, who requires a permit, is not a pet for the untrained. She is kept in a double-locked private room. And when there is a need to enter her room, two people must be in attendance for safety reasons.

Operating their rescue mission under the Edmonton Reptile and Amphibian Society, about 30% of the creatures that come to them are neglected. There are many poignant stories involving the abandoned or unwanted creatures they've aided:

- A man kept a ball python in a backyard greenhouse for the winter with no heat two years ago. It stopped eating. At rescue, it had a severe respiratory infection that couldn't be treated. It was euthanized.

- Two months after moving into a house, "rocks" started moving in a couple's backyard pond last year. Two abandoned water turtles, who would have soon frozen, were saved.

- A snake got loose from its cage. The owner moved out without telling anyone. The black Mexican king snake worked its way into a heat register, suffering burns and back injury, before being found two years ago. It lived.

- Last year a bearded dragon was found dumped near the railway tracks at 127 Street and 127 Avenue It has a new home.

- A 4 1/2-foot (1.35-m)-long adult iguana was found in a tree last year. Highly aggressive, he kept trying to attack Michele when she fed him. She had to put him down.

Reptiles are most often given up or abandoned because an owner moves or wasn't prepared for its size or care.

"They get them when they're little and cute. When the snake gets to eight feet or maybe the iguana gets aggressive, it's easier to dump them," says Neil.

These days the most common unwanted reptile is an iguana. They need massive cages. Males can become territorial and aggressive, requiring knowledgeable care.

The city pound and Edmonton Humane Society contact the couple when they retrieve reptiles. People also phone the society to unload a critter.

The Weldons have an impressive track record for successfully finding new homes for these creatures.

Just one of more than 200 reptiles adopted has been returned to them. The couple rejects half the people applying for adoption over doubts they can properly care for these pets.

"We're pretty cautious about where we place them. There's not much sense taking them out of the pan and putting them into the fire," says Neil.

Their efforts are time-consuming and costly. Between the two of them, several hours are spent daily caring for the pets, searching for new homes and manning the phone of the society. They spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each month on medication and feed.

Currently, they have nine reptiles needing a new home.

The couple also take in unwanted spiders and stick bugs.

They're trying to recoup some money by charging a nominal adoption fee. It varies depending on the animal, but is a bargain, with a large boa constrictor costing $30.

As if they're not busy enough, the couple also rehabilitate orphaned and injured small birds and wild mammals.
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