Twenty-two years ago, one iguana set off a life-long mission for Teresa Shisk-Saling. A couple had seen the iguana, thought it was a snake, and proceeded to hack at it with a weed whacker. When they realized it was an iguana they took it to the veterinary hospital where Saling was working and asked her to save it. Saling helped nurse the iguana back to health and even took it home to see that it was properly rehabilitated. For Saling, this was the beginning of the rest of her life.
There are animal shelters for almost every type of animal, but when you search for reptile shelters almost nothing comes up. Saling wants to change that. Reptiles have as much right to love as puppies or kittens do, says Saling. “We find that people buy these animals when they’re small, they either realize they’re not the best pets or they’re too much trouble, so I really try to give them good homes.” It’s devotion like this that makes the local community and even people all across Texas trust the Reptile Hospice and Sanctuary of Texas with the reptiles they can no longer care for.
Proper care for any reptile goes far beyond placing them in an aquarium and feeding them every so often, Saling comments. When you look at the home she and her husband have created as a safe haven for these animals, you realize the work and constant attention required to properly care for these creatures. Each and every inch of the property has been thought out with the reptiles needs in mind, from ponds carefully constructed to be as natural a habitat as possible for various species of turtles, to an iguana yard complete with tree branches and sun-bathing areas, to a cool house constructed specifically for the tortoises.
Saling and her husband Frank don’t just take in reptiles rejected by their would-be owners, they let these abandoned creatures act as teachers, visiting students in the Brazos Valley area and even bringing select reptiles into the schools teach young adults and children about proper care and handling. “We really like sharing knowledge about the animals with other people,” says Saling. “We do classroom lectures for any age group and even private lectures for organizations. I want to be there and I want people to see that these are good, beautiful animals.” They also bring animals to the Veterinary School open house every year as teaching tools.
This reptile-loving duo has created The Reptile Hospice and Sanctuary from the ground up with the help of donations from patrons and student organizations and plain old elbow-grease. I’ve realized that very few people will do this job; that’s why I feel like I have to, Saling says. “The majority of the animals we take in no one else wants. We try to prevent them being killed or illegally released into the wild.” Teresa and Frank Saling have a contagious passion for every animal they have rescued, and an infectious desire to share their knowledge with the people around them. -Tessa K. Moore
Visit www.rhandst.com for more information on the Reptile Hospice and Sanctuary and lecture scheduling.
Did you know?
Five Fun Reptile Facts
1. There are more than 8,000 species of reptiles on the planet, and they live on every continent except Antarctica because the climate is too cold.
2. Wasps and bees kill more people in the United States each year than snakes.
3. Chameleons do not change their color to blend in with different backgrounds; they are naturally camouflaged with their surroundings. Chameleons change their color by brightening or darkening their skin as a result of temperature regulation or emotional changes.
4. Most snake species lay eggs, but about one-fifth of all snakes bear live young instead. Rattlesnakes and boa constrictors are examples of snakes that bear live young.
5. Reptiles are among the longest-lived species on the planet. Some large tortoises such as the Aldabra tortoise can live for more than 150 years. Alligators can live nearly 70 years, and Ball pythons can live up to 40 years.