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A REPTILE IN THE HOUSE

Now that you've brought your reptile home, you'll quickly find what a pleasure she can be as a pet. But you need to remember some things to make the experience a lasting and enjoyable one for both of you.

To help establish a bond with your reptile, take the time and effort to care for your pet and to properly socialize her. Understand that you will meet people (ophidiphobes) who fear and hate reptiles. However, there is no reason a pet reptile can't be as rewarding as any other companion animal.

Handling Your Herp

Handling is one of the key elements in socializing your herp. Daily contact helps create a level of trust and confidence between you and your pet. During handling, your herp will quickly let you know if she's feeling threatened, upset or nervous or if she's preparing to act aggressively. If your snake begins to breathe heavily, she's nervous. If her upper body forms an S-shape, she may be getting ready to strike. If she hisses, thrashes her tail or defecates on you, she's feeling stressed and not happy. Iguanas also tend to twitch and lash their tails when they're upset. If your snake opens her mouth wide and hisses or bobs up and down doing "push-ups," she may be trying to tell you to leave her alone.

In most cases, if you remain calm, your herp, realizing there's no threat, will calm down too. If she doesn't, it's probably a good idea to put her down. Much depends on the species of reptile you're handling and your own ability to read the moods of the individual animal.

Here are some helpful hints on how to handle your new pet.

Snakes

Allow your pet a couple of days to settle in before gently picking her up. She may move away from you, or lash her tail and hiss, but don't give up. Be gentle but persistent. When you pick her up, support her body weight in your hand or arms. Avoid sudden movements. If she wraps herself around your arm or neck, unwind her by grasping her tail and gently unwrapping. Never move her head in trying to unwrap her. Also, don't handle your snake right after she has eaten. You should feed her outside her enclosure, put her back inside afterwards and leave her for two or three days.

Lizards

Cup your hand under the lizard's belly, and place your index finger up towards the neck between her forelegs to let her rear rest on your wrist or arm.

Turtles & Tortoises

Use both hands. For proper support, place fingers both on top of the carapace and beneath the chest area (plastron). Do not hold your pet so that she is "swimming" in the air. This is a sign of stress. Make sure she can feel something under her feet, even if it's just your fingers or the palm of your hand.

Your Herp & Others

It is important to socialize your herp with other family members, especially children. She should get used to the presence and touch of others, as well as high noise levels and constant movement. Remember, no matter how calm or tame a reptile may appear, she is not a domesticated animal, like a dog or a cat, and should never be treated as if she were. Both for hygiene (the potential spread of salmonella, for example) and safety reasons, children should not be allowed to handle your herp when you're not present.

When guests visit your home, these warnings need to be redoubled. Here are some instructions on how to handle your herp when presenting her to others:
  • When holding your snake for others to touch, cup one hand under her head so you can control her more easily and direct her away if the person becomes alarmed.
  • When passing your lizard to another person, support her body with your hand or arm.
  • Keep your lizard's tail away from the faces of small children.
  • Demonstrate how to pet or stroke your herp (always from head to tail, in the direction of the scales).
  • Warn people not to wave their fingers in front of your herp since she might mistake them for a live meal.
  • Warn them not to make sudden movements in reaching out to touch your pet. Advise them to approach using smooth movements, so as not to frighten your herp.
  • Never place your snake around someone's neck or put your lizard on his or her shoulder.
Herps & the Law

Occasionally you'll hear stories or read newspaper accounts of attacks by large snakes on family members, or of escaped snakes and iguanas terrorizing neighborhoods. Fault, in these cases, lies not with the reptile but with the owner.

Aside from those who keep illegal reptiles, such as venomous snakes or members of endangered species, some people acquire reptiles without fully understanding the amount of care and attention they need. It's in such scenarios that a tragedy is most likely to occur, resulting in injury or death to a human or to a reptile.

The bottom line is that it's your responsibility to make yourself aware of all the laws and regulations governing the keeping of reptiles, from federal regulations down to local bylaws. Restrictions vary from community to community, and change constantly.

It is also your responsibility as the owner of a reptile to keep her under control at all times and to reduce the potential for injury to her or someone else. If your reptile attacks a visitor to your home, you'll be exposed to all the legal consequences you would incur if your dog bit someone on your property.