Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014


A visualization exercise

©1997 Melissa Kaplan


Many people (and this includes an unfortunate number of pet store owners, their employees, and state humane officers charged with overseeing all animal welfare) think that, since the reptile is still alive, the environment is fine. They do not realize that, while similar conditions would kill or drive a mammal or bird crazy in a matter of days or weeks, reptiles may last months or years.

This is a visualization exercise designed to get the participants to think about the conditions to which pet and classroom reptiles are too often subjected and what it might be like to be forced to live in similar conditions.

Turn off the room lights. If possible have students or participants laying on the floor or otherwise comfortably relaxed in their chairs. Encourage relaxation by talking them through deep breathing, speaking in an ever quieter tone of voice. Let there be a couple of moments of silence before you start reading the following. Pause between each paragraph for a moment or two. Increase the pauses as you get to the paragraphs marked with an asterisk (*).

Imagine that you are locked in very small room, a small bathroom, say, or a storage closet.

Imagine that there is a small window way up high in one wall. All you can see is a small patch of sky.

Imagine that you have no control over the light - someone outside the room turns it on and off. If you want to sleep when the light is on, you must close your eyes and block it out as best you can.

Imagine that you have no control over the heat. Sometimes you are hot. Sometimes you are so hot you pant, getting very dry and thirsty. But there is no water bowl because the person outside the room read a book that said you don't need to have water available all the time.

Other times you are cold. You are so cold that you can't move, you can't eat, you can't think. If the person outside comes in and tries to move you, it is like moving a stiff plastic toy. They pick up your arm--it moves so slowly, even if they try to make it go fast. When they let it go, if flops hard on the ground. It hurts, but you are too cold to even move away or whimper with the pain.

Imagine that, once or twice a day, someone opens the door and quickly shoves in some food and water. Imagine that sometimes they forget for a day, or two, or three. Or more. Imagine if they go away for the weekend, or a week or two, and leave you alone.

Imagine that, once a week or so, someone comes in and cleans out the now scummy water bowl, spilled bits of food, and your own wastes. Sometimes they are in a hurry and don't do a very good job, leaving bits of it lying around.

*Imagine time passing. The light goes on. The light goes off. The patch of sky remains unchanged. Food is put in. Wastes are taken out. A year goes by.

You grow some, making the room seem smaller.

*Time passes. The light goes on. The lights go off. The patch of sky remains unchanged. Food is put in. Wastes are taken out. Another year goes by.

*You grow some more. The room is smaller still. You can no longer stretch out when you lay down or move about, but must curl up. Only a part of your body can be warm or cool at one time, so you are never warm enough or cool enough.

*Time passes. The lights go on. The lights go off. Another year goes by. The patch of sky remains unchanged. Another year goes by. Food is put in. When you pace in boredom, or in hunger, or in discomfort, you can not walk very far before coming to a wall, or your water bowl, or the growing piles of wastes from the last several days. And still another year goes by.

*Five years have now passed. You are still alive.

*But what kind of life is it...?

There are many people who state that certain reptiles, including many snakes, feel comfortable only when they can feel their environment around them. This is partially true. Keeping a reptile in a small enclosure for life is very different from providing a properly sized enclosure with furnishings that will provide the comfort and security these reptiles need. Hide boxes or caves that are just slightly larger than the snake, for example, can be placed at both ends of the thermal gradient; similarly, rocky crevices can be constructed for saxicolous lizards. Burrowable substrates can be provided for fossorial reptiles. Even box turtles and tortoises benefit from drifts of fresh straw, timothy or alfalfa hay placed around their enclosure. But they still need a large space in which to move around freely, bask, feed, defecate, etc. You could make a child live in a closet or bathtub...but should you?

Someone said to me that I should stop harping on enclosure sizes because, he said, people are only going to provide what they can financially afford to provide. I feel he has completely missed the point: if you cannot afford to properly house and provide for an animal, you shouldn't get that animal. If you already have the animal and are only belatedly finding out what its needs are, then some hard choices need to be made. Too often, however, the choices made do not benefit the animal.

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