One of the most heartbreaking things in the pet industry continues to be the number of unwanted animals that remain in the community. Knowing that a pet — a valued member of a family — could be left defenseless in the streets goes against everything that we stand for as pet owners and animal lovers. All pets deserve a stable, loving home, with owners who will truly care for them like their own.
Over the years, numerous charities and non-profits have arisen to meet this need within the pet owning community. Millions of dogs and cats are adopted or rehomed from shelters every year, resulting in countless animals’ lives saved around the world. However, while cats and dogs dominate the adoption and shelter statistics, we’ve found that the growing reptile-owning community has become quite the sore spot in terms of abandoned or unwanted pets.
That’s one of the reasons we stepped in. Last year, we launched Snake Discovery, a reptile adoption program, run through our Maplewood, Minnesota store. From the start, we felt that we had a responsibility to provide ‘end-to-end’ service for all the animals we’re selling. However, as time has gone on, we’ve watched our business thrive because of our adoption program. Selling enclosures and equipment, in addition to the ongoing purchases of reptile food, have made a tangible difference to our bottom line.
Any sort of adoption or rehoming program, however, has to carry a number of critical protocols as you begin and as you carry through the process of rehoming animals. One of our first adopted protocols is that of quarantine. When a reptile is dropped off, we record the animals’ name, species and sex, along with any noticeable health issues. Then, the animal is quarantined for up to 14 days while they receive any necessary veterinary care. After quarantine, the animals are moved to our “Adoption Island ” section in the center of the Snake Discovery store, where they’re ready to be adopted. Of course, once a customer selects a reptile they’d like to adopt, we make sure they have the sufficient equipment and knowledge to care for that animal.
If you choose to begin a reptile adoption program within your store, ensure that you have a few critical items set up before you begin. Your relationship with your local veterinarian is an absolute must, with regular visits and quarantine procedures followed throughout the adoption process. If your vet can physically visit your store on a regular basis, set up a routine schedule for check-ups and incoming animal evaluations. Biosecurity is critical through this process, as you must keep verifiably healthy animals away from incoming reptiles that may have health issues. Finally, train your staff to be on the lookout for common zoonotic disease symptoms or other health issues. The more information you can gather and disseminate, the more successful your program will be.
One thing to distinctly keep in mind is to ensure that you have full legal backing when taking animals from their initial owners. Speak with your own legal contact to ensure that you have paperwork able to properly represent the transaction of animal ownership from an owner to you, then from you to a new owner. Such a contract should be clear enough for pet owners to understand it while in the process of purchasing or dropping off their pet, but should also include enough information so as to remain legally binding in the event that someone might intend to take their pet back after you’ve taken lawful possession of it. As with most matters of this type, using a contract template can be a great start, but always make sure to have your attorney review such a document before using it in your store.
Strangely enough, our reptile adoption program has helped to alleviate some of the most fundamental supply chain issues. Reptile supply has been difficult for many stores, with the supply of baby bearded dragons often at the mercy of breeding seasons and breeder availability. Having healthy beardies via our adoption program has helped to fill the supply gap while establishing continuity with the equipment and live food sales that associate an initial animal purchase. The same can be said for other in-demand species, such as geckos, boas and certain frogs.
Since its inception in April 2021, Snake Discovery has been able to successfully rehome over 500 individual animals, crossing 60 unique species. Most of those adoptions have served as the catalyst for other purchases, typically to the tune of between $300 and $1,000, covering substrate, food, lighting and caging. The rehoming project enhances both our business and our brand, it rewards keepers with good feelings in rehoming a new pet, and it shows the community that your store is conscientious and responsible, especially in the face of ongoing pet-related legislative challenges.
It’s a triple-win situation. The rehoming project enhances our business and our brand profile. It’s rewarding for keepers who get to feel good about rehoming an animal, and it also means fewer reptiles need rehoming. Plus, offering such an invaluable aftercare service helps to demonstrate that the pet trade is conscientious and responsible, and that’s vital when the trade is facing legislative challenges and keeping bans. If other stores would like to set up their own rehoming program they should get in touch with us. We’d love to help. The more stores doing this the better, in our opinion.
Emily Roberts is a social media star known for her Snake Discovery channel, which has 2.85 million YouTube subscribers. She was previously a pet care manager with PetSmart.