A Rescue Volunteer's Story

Buying a Beardie Leads to Passion for Reptile Rescue

Courtney Michalec is a staff volunteer and long-term foster for HerpHaven,a non-profit dedicated to the welfare of pet reptiles in Maine and the northeast United States. HerpHaven is one of the rescues supported by the Zen Habitats Reptile Relief program.

Zen Habitats: Can you tell me a little about HerpHaven?

Courtney: HerpHaven Reptile Rescue and Sanctuary is a non-profit reptile-specific rescue that serves all of New England. The rescue has a Director and Assistant Director and is entirely volunteer-run. HerpHaven takes in reptiles surrendered by their owners because they could either no longer care for them or because the reptile had health issues that the owner could not resolve. HerpHaven has rescued various reptiles, including bearded dragons, geckos, tortoises and turtles, chameleons, snakes, monitor lizards, iguanas, tegus, along with frogs and invertebrates.

Zen Habitats: How did you first become involved with HerpHaven?

Courtney: I first became involved with HerpHaven two years ago. Before, I had never owned reptiles and bought my daughter a baby bearded dragon from a local pet store. Unfortunately, he died within 48 hours. It was devastating. We were later told that that batch of dragons was ill, so we knew if we were going to adopt another reptile, it wouldn't be from a store. Thankfully we found the rescue and were able to adopt a beautiful leopard gecko. It all started with one little gecko, and now we have 11 reptile family members!

Zen Habitats: What determines whether a reptile will be adopted out or become a sanctuary reptile?

Courtney: Whether a reptile is adopted out or becomes a sanctuary reptile can be affected by several factors. Generally, when intakes come in, they stay with a foster for 30 days to ensure that their eating habits, health, and socialization are better. If that is the case, then usually, they are adopted out. However, if a reptile comes in with severe injuries or medical conditions that require a higher level of expertise that is likely to be ongoing, those usually become long-term fosters or sanctuary reptiles. Also, some unique species become sanctuary reptiles because an important component of the rescue is education. The rescue makes presentations in the community to help people learn about how amazing reptiles are.

Zen Habitats: Can you tell me what a long-term foster is?

Courtney: A long-term foster is a sanctuary reptile who has a permanent home with a HerpHaven volunteer, usually because the reptile has medical issues, needs regular medication administered, or requires a special diet. The reptile still technically belongs to the rescue, which covers its medical expenses if any arise. But the reptile lives with the foster family for the long term so that the rescue can continue devoting its resources to new intakes.

Zen Habitats: How long have you been a foster?

Courtney: My family and I have been fostering for a little over two years now, and we all take part in caring for our wonderful reptiles.

Zen Habitats: What’s your favorite part about being a long-term foster?

Courtney: My favorite part about being a long-term foster is watching the progress of the reptiles. They are sometimes in bad shape when they are surrendered, and it’s the best feeling to watch them thrive and become healthy again despite whatever medical conditions they have.

Zen Habitats: How many sanctuary reptiles are cared for at the rescue?

Courtney: Right now, we have 150 reptiles!

Zen Habitats: Do you have a favorite reptile?

Courtney: I love all the species of reptiles I have encountered at the rescue, but my favorites are bearded dragons. They have the funniest personalities, and I have a great affection for them.

Zen Habitats: What else should people know about HerpHaven?

Courtney: One thing that makes the rescue so special is its level of commitment to the reptiles it takes in. Reptiles are adopted out with a basic setup so that people don't buy the wrong things and receive poor advice from pet stores. Even after adoption, the HerpHaven staff continues to be available for support. When I first started adopting and fostering reptiles, I had so many questions. Our director and assistant director were always available to answer them and help us with whatever we needed. Many adopters stay in touch and sometimes send in pictures of the adopted so the rescue can see how well they are doing.