Making a difference in the life of a dog or cat or horse isn't easy work for any rescue group, but how much more difficult is it to garner support for animals that can't muster a soulful expression or that trigger the natural flight instinct in would-be benefactors?
When the Holifield Science Learning Center -- part of the Independent School District in Plano, Texas -- opened the doors of its Living Materials Center in 1989, its mission statement wasn't to function as a rescue org for unwanted animals. However, with nearby zoos and rescues overwhelmed, it quickly became the go-to spot for surrendering reptiles that had grown too big for their habitats or simply grown out of favor.
Now I've always loved lizards, especially big lizards. So when I decided a vegetarian iguana would fit my lifestyle, my sister-in-law pointed me to Holifield as a possibility for picking up a rescue. When I learned that a large percentage of iguanas are given up because they quickly outgrow the 30- or 55-gallon aquarium they're originally -- and inevitably -- kept in, I knew my first iguana would not be a baby and that I'd have to build a suitable habitat before even looking at adoptees. Only when the 4-foot wide by 7-foot long by 6-foot high cage was ready did I head over to Holifield to see who was available.
What surprised me most was the eclectic nature of homeless reptiles that wound up in the comfy habitats occupying a large backroom in the main learning center. Aside from a variety of colorful lizards, there were corn snakes and boas and even a small alligator! There were about a dozen iguanas waiting to be rehomed. A couple of the males were heavy-boned, heavy-jowled and obviously very strong. The largest of the males would have been especially impressive if he'd still had his tail intact. In fact, three of the iguanas were missing tails, probably due to trauma. Iguanas have a special defensive mechanism that allows their tails to break easily away from their bodies at need; the tails may or may not grow back depending on where the tail breaks, age of the iguana, and other factors.
While I was trying to decide which of the igs snoozing on branches in their cage would come home with me, one of the animal care workers brought in three carriers with another six iguanas that had been abandoned that morning. Whatever dent I thought my rescue was going to make in the number of homeless lizards at Holifield, it was clear that dent wasn't going to be large.
In the end, I chose a two-year-old juvenile, probably female, who appeared healthy and energetic.
There was no adoption fee. Possibly for a smaller, more desirable lizard there would have been. I left as generous a donation as I could, put the lizard in a box in my car trunk and brought her home. That was almost 9 years ago, and Fafnir is with me still.
There are so many people engaged in and efforts around rescue work for dogs and cats and equines -- even for Big Cats and elephants -- that it's sometimes easy to forget that mammals aren't the only creatures being neglected, abused or simply abandoned when they're no longer convenient to have around. I'm forever grateful that the good folk at the Holifield Science Learning Center not only provide an up-close-and-natural animal experience for school-age children, but that they also care enough to provide shelter for the reptiles surrendered to them and then to look for good homes for their rescues on the other side. Because without them, I wouldn't have this adorable face to greet me every morning: