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For a Happier Holiday...

A note to Santa's Helpers

Last updated 08/26/02

Are you a parent or doting grandparent, aunt or uncle considering giving a child that reptile she or he has been begging you for? Do you know someone considering buying a reptile for their child or niece or nephew, godchild, grandchild or cousin? Encourage them to talk to the parents first...and to encourage the parent to do some research into the suitability and care requirements before they approve of such a gift.


The holidays are a time of giving, but please, don't make a present of a living animal, especially to children. Instead, why not make a gift of a book about an animal they are interested in, the latest iguana care video, give them a gift subscription to a herp magazine, or a gift certificate for books or equipment and supplies?

Every year, unsuitable mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are given to people as gifts without those people knowing the first thing about them. These animals either die or languish in inappropriate environments for months or years before they are finally given to someone else, often someone equally unprepared to care for them properly. Worst, thousands are dumped every year on shelters, herpetological societies, and reptile rescue groups, especially green iguanas, Burmese pythons, red-tailed boas, and box and aquatic turtles.

Don't assume that the parents of a child are willing or interested in caring for any pet, let alone whatever exotic species you decide to get for your favorite niece, nephew, or son or daughter living with your ex-spouse. No matter how well you think you know the parents or the child, always ask the parents first, and give them time - and species care information to read - to carefully consider it. If they say no, please respect their wishes. It really is a matter of life or death.

Animals are not disposable playthings. They are a lifelong commitment - both the life of the owner and the animal.


Alternatives to Live Animal Gifts

Charitable Donations
Individuals and organizations who do animal rescue, housing and rehoming of pet animals, as well as those involved strictly with domestic wildlife rescue and rehab, are always in need of funds, equipment, and supplies. If there is an organization your giftee is particularly supportive of, or you know of one in need (and there isn't one that isn't in need!), then consider making a donation of money or goods. Most such organizations have a "wish list" of items they desperately need, with entries ranging from food for their patients and residents, to enclosures, heating and lighting supplies, veterinary supplies, etc. You will find many herp rescues listed in my Societies and Rescues page. To find rescues and wildlife rehabilitation centers in your area (or your giftee's area) check with the humane society or SPCA shelters in your area, or with your local reference library at the public library. While some of these organization have a separate facility and so are listed in the phone book, many are completely volunteer run organizations. Reference librarians and the local volunteer center (check the County listings in the phone book) usually keep comprehensive lists of all nonprofit organizations in the area.


Herp Books
Every herper has a wish-list of books. Good herp books range from the relatively inexpensive to huge, lush, coffee-table book-size encyclopedias and atlases. For those with an interest in it and lots of species and numbers to care for, reptile veterinary books are generally included on their wish list. If you aren't certain of what book(s) they want or need, you can always get and wrap up a booklist from one of the herp booksellers, and include a note or gift certificate with it, inviting them to have at it. For prospective herpers, if you know what types of species they are considering getting but aren't familiar yourself with good books on them, check with some knowledgeable herpers to get their recommendations on titles.

If you are buying a book for a child, be sure to check with the children's librarian at the public library for reptile and amphibian-related books suitable for the child's age and development.


Herp Magazine Subscription
One great thing about herps is that we have only just been scratching the surface of care, natural history, breeding and more. There are still new species being discovered, eco-trips to new places, new things being discovered about the behavior and care of species we thought we knew well. Giving a herp keeper or prospective herper a year or two subscription to a good herp magazine is literally a gift that will keep on giving. Not only will they find the current issues interesting, and helpful in the keeping of their herps or aid in the proper selection of future ones, but the issues will be saves and referred to over the years.


Herp Society Membership
Many herpers feel isolated, not realizing that they are part of a larger community of fellow herpers. Here is a way to help them get connected with local folks and resources. For prospective herpers, belonging to a herp society is a way of not only getting connected but of meeting other herpers who keep the species they are interested in, which ultimately may help them make the best decision as to which one is best for them. Societies also provide a way in which people who are interested in doing so can get involved in educating the community at large about herps. While society memberships are not very expensive, for students and others on a limited budget, a gift membership is a gift that will bring interest, challenge and enjoyment for at least a year.


Pet Sitting and Go-fering
Sometimes our hearts exceed the depth of our bank accounts and so we must be more creative in our gifting. Consider giving a card entitling the bearer to a weekend, or even a week, of quality pet sitting (by you!) while they go on a much-needed vacation or business trip. Or, volunteer to make pet store runs for food and supplies, or to chauffeur herpers who do not have ready access to a car and who may have a problem lugging a sack full of rats or crickets on the bus or subway, especially during the icy, snowy winter months. Equally needful are rides to the vets for sick animals when the keeper doesn't have a car or can't take their 10 ft python or 4 ft iguana on the bus and taxis, for some reason, never seem to find their address on time...

There are many things herpers and prospective herpers will welcome. Just use your imagination - and common sense - and the holidays should prove to be happy and healthy for both the herper and their herps. 


Pet Store Gift Certificate
If the store your gift recipient regularly goes to does not have gift certificates, you can easily create your own, by hand or on the computer. Tuck it into a holiday card, decorate the envelope, and voila! a safe and sane gift! The nice thing is that pet owners can use the certificate to buy something their pets need, or special treats for them they wouldn't otherwise buy, or they can apply it towards the purchase of a future pet or pet supply purchase.


With warmest of wishes to you and yours...
Melissa, Mikey, Fang Shui, Treppie, Chaca, Baby Atlas, Sluggo, Tobago and the Box Boys

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Holiday Safety Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics