“Look, Mom, there’s the lizard lady!” That’s what Sheryl Mitchell sometimes hears when spotted by kids who’ve seen one of her reptile demonstrations. Her organization, Scaly Tailz, informs people about the creatures and how to care for them, and it offers sanctuary for reptiles needing homes.

Mitchell says her passion for the animals began 16 years ago. A pet-shop employee at the time, she started researching reptiles so she could better care for the animals at work.

But what began as a professional obligation developed into a fascination with reptiles and the acquiring of scaly pets of her own. She was soon delivering educational presentations to her son Wes’ class at Templeton Elementary School, and then at other venues, including WonderLab science museum and the Monroe County Public Library. Her motto: “We are Scaly Tailz, where you get to meet nature up close and slithery!”

Eventually, Mitchell began accepting reptiles in need of new homes—for instance, when they grew larger than their owners had anticipated or when their feeding and habitat requirements became too much for owners to handle. The reptile rescue project became a family affair, as partner Darin Bagley and younger son Claude lent their assistance.

The four—Sheryl, Darin, Claude, and Wes—currently look after 21 reptiles. “The number varies depending on adoptions coming in, and occasionally we adopt out,” says Mitchell. “We’ve got a real mix.” Among the collection are bearded dragon lizards, golden and leopard geckos, tortoises, a savannah monitor lizard, and numerous snakes, including a boa constrictor. They also care for amphibians, like frogs and salamanders.

Some general advice for prospective pet owners: “Always research any animal before you get it so you know it’s the right fit for you, and you won’t be surprised if it gets really big,” says Mitchell, stressing that impulsive purchases of reptiles often result in unwanted pets. “It’s always sad when people turn them loose or leave them behind.”

Scaly Tailz is currently seeking 501(c)3 nonprofit status. The demonstrations they give are presented at no cost and can be tailored to any audience, from classrooms to nursing homes. “I’ll bring four or five reptiles,” says Mitchell, “and give everybody a chance to touch them.” Conservation and responsible pet ownership are also discussed.

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