Even confirmed animal lovers will balk at the notion of getting very close to a "cold blooded" critter that crawls or slithers about.
But reptiles are among the most misunderstood and little appreciated of the animal companions that share the Earth with humans. Of course, anyone who would try and keep an inherently wild or dangerous animal of any kind for a pet - whether reptile or mammal - is only asking for trouble. But this Eckert family's assortment of small, non-aggressive reptilian roommates have become a true part of the family.
Bryan and Lela Wiegert have opened their lives and their hearts to a collection of unwanted and abandoned reptile pets, and in the process they are creating a family legacy and have discovered that it's as easy to know and love a handsome iguana as it is to play with a flop-eared puppy.
The couple embarked on a personal animal rescue project about five years ago. It is a labor of love they share with their two enthusiastic children; son Xak (pronounced "Zack") age five, and Alizé age three.
Bryan's strong interest in aquarium fish began at an early age. His interest led him to become an aquatics manager of a pet department, and eventually to manager of a "big box" pet store in Glenwood Springs. It was during his retail experience that Bryan became interested in reptiles.
At the stores where he worked, people would bring in the reptile pets that they could no longer care for or had just grown tired of having. There isn't a huge market out there for lightly used reptile pet friends, and so Bryan's animal rescue/adoption project got started. "You don't want to see these animals turned out to the wild," Bryan said explaining one of the reasons why providing an adoption/rescue for them is important. "Because, being out of their natural environment and also having been raised and cared for in captivity, they would stand no chance for survival outside. The other reason is that you don't want to see them go to the wrong home where they won't be understood or treated properly."
Ziggy was the first lucky reptile to come Bryan and Lela's way and find a home full of understanding, acceptance, and appreciation. The first iguana member of the Wiegert household was "very social, and great with young children," Lela explained. Ziggy bonded individually with the members of the family and even became protective of them, acting occasionally as a guard iguana for the Wiegerts' daughter when she was a baby.
Ziggy was a thriving member of the Weigert household until his death from natural causes at the ripe old age of 22. The big iguana had the look that commands respect, but he was gentle as a house cat. He had the run of the family home when he wanted it and lots of opportunity to interact with the rest of the family, which created no problems at all, as Bryan explained. "One of the things people don't appreciate about reptiles is how clean they are and how little care they actually require."
Ziggy had his own enclosure and that was his space. "That was where he took care of business," Bryan said. "As far a care, all that most reptiles need is their food put out, some caring attention and regular handling. It keeps them tame and social and prevents them from developing any aggressive behaviors."
Reptile pets like Ziggy are able to pay back owners for their care by exhibiting lots of complex behaviors that include individual relationship qualities.
For example, Ziggy exhibited a close bond and protection for the Wiegerts' daughter. The family's new, three-year-old green iguana, Cash, is very tolerant of Lela reaching into his enclosure space. But when Bryan tries the same maneuver, Cash tends to puff up and take a defensive posture - a sure sign that, really, Cash has developed a closer bond with her.
Cash also likes to watch TV with the family, and his interest did seem piqued when a Geico Insurance ad came on.
"For some reason," Bryan says, "when it comes to reptiles people seem to have a fear reaction, however small." And there's no doubt that having a four-foot-long iguana look you in the face can give some pause. But for a lot of people when it comes to snakes, Bryan's observation about fear is 100-percent true. But that fear factor has no part in the relationship the Wiegerts have with their family's three-foot-long ball python named Andromeda - Andy for short.
Andy was rescued from a previous owner who didn't understand the kind of care Andy needed. When they adopted her, she suffered from reddish inflammation and lesions on her underside. They were the result of living directly on top of a heating pad her owner had put in the enclosure for warmth.
"You should never do that," Bryan explained. "Placing her directly on top of that heat pad had caused her injuries." Now, Andy lives peacefully in her screened enclosure with a heat pad placed underneath its floor. She comes out occasionally to be gently handled by Lela, who says that Andy was in the worst condition of all the animals the Wiegerts have rescued, and is her own favorite. "She's mine," Lela says. Bryan says the key to keeping Andy a docile and non-aggressive pet is to make sure she is always fed in an enclosure other than her living space. "That way, when you reach in to pick her up she won't mistake the gesture as a food offering, because her feeding always takes place in a different space."
The Wiegert family reptile menagerie has grown to include Karat, a male gold leopard gecko that will grow to ten inches; Twiggy, a handsome, female leopard gecko that doesn't get along with Karat; and, Doobie, an attentive and friendly bearded dragon from Australia.
Doobie is Bryan's buddy. "He has the most personality of all. They become very attached to humans. They crave attention and love to be held and petted," Bryan explains.
The Wiegerts' love for animals extends beyond reptiles. There are three aquariums in the house that indulge Bryan's original interest in fish; two lively pure white ferrets; a trio of flying squirrell-like sugar gliders; an outside cat or two; and, of course, a friendly family pooch, named Shorty.
But it is the misunderstood reptiles that are the real focus of the Wiegert's pet passion. Bryan and Lela say, "We would love to introduce people to the idea of what great pets they really are."blog comments powered by Disqus