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Reptile rescue overlooked, but vital

Mike Terry, Deseret News

The Reptile Rescue Service is dedicated to the recovery, protection and rehabilitation of both native and exotic reptiles and amphibians along with providing public education and community outreach programs.

Utah's animal shelters aren't equipped to deal with reptiles, and the Division of Wildlife Resources and most animal control agencies often resort to euthanizing beautiful and valuable animals.

Additionally, municipal animal control agencies deal primarily with domestic animals and lack the facilities for housing reptiles, and it goes without saying that a 12-foot reticulated python can be a difficult animal to place for adoption.

This is where Reptile Rescue steps in.

The cost of running the rescue is enormous. The Rescue receives no government or corporate funding, and all staff members are volunteers.

We are asked why we save rattlesnakes. Snakes play a vital role in the environment. That includes the urban environment, which is why state law protects them.

Without snakes, we would be overrun with vermin and disease, and our gardens and crops would be at risk from out-of-control rodent populations.

When a rattlesnake is removed from a residential neighborhood, it doesn't only prevent the snake from being killed. Humans and pets are safer, and it provides a learning opportunity for the people involved.

No agency in Utah will assume the liability of relocating rattlesnakes that are ostensibly protected by state law. This does not meet the public's perception of comprehensive wildlife management.

Because the state cannot fulfill these duties, it should provide compensation to Reptile Rescue for the many services it renders on behalf of Utah's citizens, wildlife and the many municipalities that also benefit.

The Rescue does not destroy animals unless it becomes medically or ethically necessary. Some of our animals are permanent residents and serve as ambassadors in our educational programs. Others are adopted.

Excess animals are released in accordance with state law, but in many instances it is illegal to return rehabilitated animals to the wild. This requires us to keep some animals indefinitely — and often for the rest of their lives.

The Rescue regularly responds to DWR calls. While many other states — including Colorado and Arizona — pay a stipend to licensed individuals who help the state fulfill its duties, Utah does not.

People probably assume that we are paid by the state or some other agency, but we're not. Although people may not think twice about tipping the guy who delivers them a pizza, they rarely tip the guy who removes a venomous snake from their yard.

While the Humane Society, Best Friends Animal Society and other animal welfare organizations deservedly receive millions of dollars from wills, trusts, estates and donations, no significant amount of money has ever been donated or allocated to help the scaly creatures at Reptile Rescue.

In April, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon honored Jim Dix, founder of Reptile Rescue Service, Inc., with the 2011 County Vital Volunteer Award for citizen participation in a worthwhile cause. It was a long overdue and highly deserved accolade considering the work that would otherwise fall to the many communities he serves.

Reptile Rescue Service is an asset to the State of Utah. Supplemental funding would allow the Rescue to continue its mission of saving reptiles well into the future.

David E. Jensen is an education consultant for Utah's Reptile Rescue Service.