Another Take on Pets at Redding Reptiles
● By Richard DuPertuis
Story and Photos by Richard DuPertuis
Love lizards? Lots of people do. Or turtles, or even (shudder) snakes. More and more North State residents are adding these cold-blooded creatures to their households as pets, according to Redding Reptile, a local lizard and snake specialty shop. The folks here encourage this trend, of course, but advise buyers to select their species carefully.
That cute little green lizard may grow up someday, warns store owner Sandra Dodge-Streich. “Iguanas are our number one reptile that’s turned in,” she says. “Their disposition turns mean as they get bigger, and people can’t deal with their behavior, with their claws and the whipping with their tails.”
She stands in a back room in the store, before a cage that fills an entire wall, floor to ceiling. Large green lizards climb around inside and greet visitors by pressing their scaly snouts against wire mesh.
Her son, Ryan Allinger, says the same principle applies to exotic snakes. “People don’t think about it,” he says. “They buy this python because it’s cool, because everybody wants pythons, but when it grows up they don’t have the finances or the space it needs.”
A reptile enthusiast from early childhood, Allinger does have everything a large constrictor needs. In another back room, this one closed to the public, he points from window to darkened window of cages housing Burmese pythons, a reticulated python and an anaconda.
“The anaconda is the heaviest species of snake in the world, but the retic is the longest,” he says. “The official record is 33 feet.” Allinger is known in the shop as a walking reptile encyclopedia. He can rapid-fire recite the diet, habitat and scientific names of every lizard and snake in the store, and much more.
His reticulated python, Medusa, is only a baby. “She’s 4 years old,” he says, “about 14 to 15 feet long, weighs between 90 and 100 pounds.”
She, he says, is not a suitable snake for the general public.
Touring a display of terrariums in the front room of Redding Reptiles, Allinger points out his top five most suitable selections. “We’re pushing the species that are smaller, easier to take care of for your average family,” he says.
He lists the bearded dragon, the blue-tongued skink, the Russian tortoise, the leopard gecko and the ball python, which stays small, docile and – for those who select their snakes by eye – comes in wide variety of patterns and colors.
Sales to first-timers is less a transaction and more of an introduction to the world of the reptile. Redding resident Carrie Fisher is in the store with her son Marshall to pick up Barley, the rosy boa he left with Redding Reptile to board while his family was away on vacation. Yes, Redding Reptile boards lizards and snakes, providing expert care.
“He’s just been fed,” Dodge-Streich tells the 11-year-old boy. “You don’t want to handle him too much right now or he might throw up.”
His mother recounts Barley’s entry into her household. “It was his idea,” she says of her son. “I told him I did not want to take care of it. We came in and they talked to us for about an hour and a half before we selected. They educate you thoroughly.”
If anyone can teach someone about reptiles, it’s Allinger. He literally cannot remember his life without them. “I bought him a leopard gecko when he was 3,” says Dodge-Streich. “That was his preschool graduation gift.” His mother gifted him with many more specimens over his early years.
For the child, it was all about reptiles. “That’s all I talked about,” he recalls. “I would go to pet shops. There’d be this little 8-, 9-year-old kid talking to a 20-something guy, saying, ‘Hey, your tegus don’t look too happy.’”
A generation earlier, young Sandra found her love for critters while hiking the Appalachian Trail with her family. “I was a tomboy,” she says. “I always had a 10-gallon tank in my room with something in it I caught.” Frogs were her favorite quarry.
“I have a frog tat on my left shoulder,” Dodge-Streich says.
She started a family in New York, then moved to California when Ryan was about 13. For the young man, it was a whole new world. “In California, you could keep a lot of larger species of snakes and lizards,” he says with a smile that could have belonged to that 13-year-old.
You can see that same smile when he kneels on the floor of the sales room and watches Stewie, his black-throated monitor lizard, walk the aisle. Stewie lives loose in the store, which is kept warm and humid for its tropical residents. Also roaming day and night are Buster, Dodge-Streich’s Argentine black and white tegu, and Bubz the Savannah monitor and – well, you get idea.
Redding Reptiles began as Critters and More after injuries Dodge-Streich suffered in a rear-end collision forced her leave her position as nurse at Mercy Medical Center. She took her long-time wish to open a pet shop to her husband Steven, also a nurse at Mercy Medical. At first, he was not exactly enthusiastic. “That’s something they believe in,” he says of his wife and stepson. “Not my thing. So I thought, ‘I’ll just agree, because it’s probably not going to go anywhere anyway.’ A day or two later, they found this place. Then I knew she was serious.” He pitched in, working the counter.
To get it up and running they sold a boat, a car and a dining room set. Critters and More opened as a general pet store, selling birds, guinea pigs and hamsters, along with reptiles. After eight months, it was clear the lizards and snakes were outselling everything else, so they changed to Redding Reptiles.
“Then Ryan took the business to a whole new level,” says the proud mother.
Redding Reptiles • 991 Lake Blvd., Redding
(530) 338-2446 • www.reddingreptiles.com
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am - 6 pm