The herptile blog.

All about the herpetological world.

Warm saviour for the cold-blooded

Posted by Miqe on April 14, 2007


Mark Patrick photo
Bo the iguana has a special appreciation for Val Lofvendahl, Richmond’s reptile rescuer.

By Matthew Hoekstra
Staff Reporter

Apr 14 2007
A simple hamster cage outside her front door is a clue that Val Lofvendahl loves animals.

Behind the door, the humdrum of heat lamps is all that breaks the quiet, that is, until you walk inside.

Turtles clank their shells against their tanks and lounging lizards scurry over rocks, while Bo the iguana looks more interested in his pillowy-soft Marvin the Martian toy.

Lofvendahl and her family live in a warm Richmond house among cold-blooded creatures—40 reptiles saved from an uncertain fate and waiting for new homes.

To some, they’re icky, slimy and scaly. But Lofvendahl cared enough about reptiles to form the Reptile Rescue, Adoption and Education Society almost four years ago.

“I love animals, not just reptiles. I’d take in a million dogs if I could.”

Reptiles present a challenge, she says. They need special care, a special diet and a special home.

“They’re unique. Some people just like something that is completely different.”

Lofvendahl had an iguana “years and years ago,” but becoming a passionate animal rescuer started with a bearded dragon—a lizard she still has.

That lizard branded her a “reptile enthusiast.” That was enough for friends to encourage her to attend city council’s 2003 discussions of a bylaw regulating the sale of reptiles.

There was talk of a complete ban, but council instead opted for an educational approach: mandating pet stores to inform buyers of care requirements.

The reinforced bylaw also limited the sale of reptiles to those bred in captivity and banned the sale of certain species, such as venomous animals, large reptiles, crocodilians and aquatic turtles—including common red-eared sliders.

Lofvendahl remembers a representative from Surrey’s reptile refuge offered thoughts on the bylaw, prompting a councillor to suggest Richmond should have a similar group.

Lofvendahl took the ball and ran with it. She posted signs in pet stores and veterinarian offices and soon her basement was a reptile refuge.

“The animals started coming in,” she says from living room, home to tree frogs, a snake and lizard. “Now I can’t look back.”

Unwanted, sick and injured reptiles and amphibians were brought to her from across the Lower Mainland. Animal shelters added her to their speed dials. And Lofvendahl found herself responding to rescue calls where reptiles had been spotted in the wild.

Like “Bondo,” each has a story. Before being rescued, Bondo ran out from a ditch onto a road, where it was completely trampled by a car. A veterinarian was kind enough to give a discount and Bondo is now on the mend.

Lofvendahl found 14 reptiles new homes in her first year. That jumped to 63 the following year and 72 the next.

For reptiles healthy enough to be adopted, Lofvendahl has a rigorous adoption process to determine if a home is suitable.

Do reptiles make good pets? That depends on the person, she says.

Crested geckos or leopard geckos are good first-time reptile buys, as they don’t require the extra care other lizards do.

Her primary advice is that people should educate themselves before buying a reptile as a pet.

“Educate yourself. Get on the Internet and don’t believe the first thing you read,” she says. “Parents, ultimately, have to take the responsibility.”

Pet stores, she says, don’t always educate their shoppers as they should. She says some local stores still sell red-eared sliders (the city’s bylaw was meant to ban their sale), and not all buyers will be made aware that a twoonie-sized turtle will grow to the size of a dinner plate.

In Lofvendahl’s perfect world, pet stores wouldn’t sell animals at all, and instead make space available for rescue groups.

As more reptiles are sold, Lofvendahl’s work and costs increase. She can spend up to $100 on food alone each week for the animals. Adoption fees and some donations have so far kept the society alive, but she is looking for help. She would also like more space for her society—something the city looked into in 2004, but found nothing.

To donate (the society is a registered charity), volunteer or adopt a reptile, call 604-290-4158 or visit

From The Richmond Revue

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