Story and Photos By Anne Finch
Teresa Shisk-Saling laughs as she watches her tortoise, Calvin, slowly cavort around the grass outside the stable stall in which he temporarily lives, to the confusion of some nearby horses. “Don’t worry about him,” Shisk-Saling says to the bewildered horses. “He’s just a horse with a shell.”
Cal, a 17-year-old African tortoise, is one of the residents of the Reptile Hospice and Sanctuary of Texas. Shisk-Saling and her husband Frank Saling have had him since 2003. Shisk-Saling, who describes herself and her husband as “enamored with reptiles,” is the director of the Sanctuary. It houses more than a hundred various snakes, lizards, turtles, and other reptiles. Shisk-Saling and her husband have been given most of these animals by owners who are unable to take care of them, due to what Shisk-Saling sees as a widespread misunderstanding of the care and feeding reptiles require. She began to notice this trend while working as a veterinary technician in the 1980s.
“People had no clue what they were doing and they were hurting these poor animals out of ignorance,” she says. “Reptiles do everything slowly; they get sick very slowly, they get well very slowly, and people get frustrated, or run out of money, or don’t want to deal with them anymore, so they would come and stay with me.” Shisk-Saling uses her intimate knowledge of the care and feeding of various reptiles and a 30-year passion for the animals to travel to schools, parties, and events, attempting to destigmatize animals often seen as unfriendly or scary. She also gives presentations on how to properly care for them.
Cal often accompanies her on these trips and has proven quite popular in the community, but getting the 3-foot, 200-pound tortoise in and out of an SUV multiple times a year started to pose a problem for Shisk-Saling and her husband. “We had to do less events this year because we just couldn’t transport him,” Shisk-Saling said. She purchased a used trailer she found in the classified ads, which was then renovated by Richard Hord from Brenham-based business Take 3 Trailers. Hord took on the project based on a recommendation from his brother, who loves tortoises just as much as Shisk-Saling and her husband do.
Hord and Take 3 outfitted the trailer with new axles, a ramp adjusted for Calvin’s easy access, and tires donated by Discount Tires, all free of charge. “I had to look really hard to even see it was the same trailer,” Shisk-Saling says. “It’s just amazing.” Now that Cal has his own trailer the Sanctuary can transport him to events without concern about the logistics of his travel or his tendency to dig holes in lawns.
Shisk-Saling emphasizes her joy that Take 3’s generous donation allows her to continue taking Cal places and spread the Sanctuary’s message of reptile acceptance and education. “I just wanted people to know that there are wonderful people still in this world that are willing to help people with a load of reptiles … And now we can take Calvin more places,” she says.
For more information on the Reptile Hospice and Sanctuary, visit www.rhandst.com or the Reptile Hospice and Sanctuary of Texas page on Facebook.