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Abandoned reptiles find a home in valley

GARDNERVILLE — Of the many ways one can give back to the community, Valerie Vandiver has found a unique way to contribute.

About a year ago, the 26-year-old created Gardnerville Reptile Rescue, a nonprofit venture to rehabilitate and take care of mistreated or abandoned reptiles.

She has since seen a variety of critters slither and crawl their way through her home. Currently, she is host to three reptiles — two iguanas and a bearded dragon.



The goal of her treatment is to adopt the animals out to suitable owners, but she is particular about who the reptiles go home with.

“People just don’t understand really why there would be a need for this,” Vandiver said. “These animals are neglected and they die, or they end up here.”



To date, Vandiver has approved one adoption — a turtle to her cousin who is going to veterinary school.

Vandiver said the most common reason reptiles are brought to her is that people don’t know what they are getting into when the buy the animal.

“Reptiles take a lot of work and a lot of time,” she said. “If you leave them alone, they start getting ornery, and after a while they become vicious.

“You need to spend time holding the animal daily — you can’t just leave it there and expect it to be OK.”

Such is the case with Godzilla, the most recent addition to the Vandiver family. Godzilla is a 20-pound Virgin Islands iguana which suffers from a bit of a temper.

“He had absolutely no contact for almost two years,” Vandiver said. “His owner cleaned his cage by sticking a vacuum cleaner in and vacuuming around him. He’s pretty mad.”

Vandiver said the best treatment for neglected reptiles is a technique she calls the blanket treatment.

“I grab him with a blanket as fast as I can and roll him over,” she said. “I hold him close to my body so he can’t move and then I rub his head and talk to him, just like I would talk to one of my kids.

“You have to be fast, or else you’ll get hurt.”

It has only been a few weeks, but Godzilla is already showing signs of mellowing out.

Vandiver said she first fell in love with reptiles when she got a Savannah Monitor, a large carnivorous lizard, at the age of 14. Twelve years later, her love still grows.

She has a voracious appetite for reading books about reptiles and has relied heavily on communication with a woman who started a similar foundation in Riverside.

Taking care of the exotic animals comes at a high price. Light bulbs appropriate for the animals run up to $60 and must be replaced almost monthly. The three animals living at the Vandiver’s consume 6 pounds of fruits and vegetables every week, along with boiled chicken. Vandiver said vet fees to fix the animals up after she receives them often run upward of $300.

She sells Tupperware to help offset some of the costs, but welcomes donations and support from the public.

She also takes her animals to Leslie Hewlett of the Sierra Veterinary Hospital, who specializes in exotic animals.

She is attempting to purchase an outdoor habitat for the animals that must stay outside during the day to soak up the rays of sunlight.

Scooter, an iguana which came to her with metabolic bone disease, camps out in the sun during the day to help remedy his condition.

“His disease came as the result of not receiving the proper vitamins or lighting,” Vandiver said. “He needs the sunlight.”

Her remaining patient is Blue, a foot-long Bearded Dragon which came to her after being hit in the road by a car in Sparks. Bills to get him patched up cost her $300.

“He is the cutest little guy,” she said. “Not a mean bone in his body. He is like our mascot.”

Blue often watches television with Vandiver’s children. Vandiver’s son, J.T., 6, names all of the animals.

She also answers general questions about reptile care and makes house calls to instruct owners on how to take better care of their pets.

“People really need to think before they go out and see a cute little lizard at the pet store,” she said. “They are a lot of work and they are very expensive to take care of. You have to take care of them every day.”

She said the continual struggle of calming some of the animals takes its toll.

“It’s a little hard to be feminine and continue to do this,” she said, looking at scratches going up and down her arms. “But there is just no one else to do this. Where are these animals going to go?”

For more information, visit Vandiver’s Web site at http://www.gardnervillereptilerescue.com or call (775) 265-6689.


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