Ian Lockwood is not the kind of person to speak at Visalia town council meetings. In fact, they were shaking, their voices shaking as they spoke to a packed house last week.
Joined by friends and family, Lockwood pleaded with the city for help.
Without his support, more than 40 animals will be euthanized while others will remain free to roam the streets and bushes of Visalia, Tulare and surrounding areas.
“I’ve been helping animal control for years now and…donating my time and resources generously,” Lockwood said on June 20. “Now I ask for your help.”
Lockwood has helped save thousands of local animals over the past six plus years as exotic reptiles. That suddenly changed when the Mooney Boulevard rescue was forced to close in 2021 after Adam and Eve, an adult toy store, moved in next door, resulting in a surprise rent hike that Lockwood couldn’t meet. .
Currently, Lockwood leases a 2,000 square foot facility behind Farmersville’s Valley Pure to accommodate potential pets like Silas, Hamilton, Daisy, Donald, and Gizmo, to name a few.
Only four of the animals belong to Lockwood, the others are rescues awaiting adoption – like Tag and Frat Boy were last week.
Although the number of animals housed is currently in the mid-40s, Lockwood receives calls every day – from community members and animal control – asking if they have room for one more.
Sometimes the answer is yes, but most of the time it’s no.
“I’m the only one here. I like to keep the doors open so I can save the next (animal),” said Lockwood, who prefers them/them pronouns. “It’s like an endless cycle.”
A day after Lockwood spoke publicly, The Wise Frog Reptile Rescue received two calls asking if the store had room for the reptiles they wanted to return.
Only one arrived at the store.
Although he urged the second caller to release the non-venomous gopher snake into the wild, the reptile was killed in the caller’s backyard because Lockwood was unable to get to Clovis until after the their store closes at 5 p.m.
“Sometimes they show up, and sometimes they don’t,” they said. “It’s everyday, and it’s heartbreaking.”
According to Lockwood, approximately 75% of animals turned over to the Wise Frog are victims of animal abuse.
On the same day, two of Wise Frog’s reptiles were adopted — a rare occurrence for the shop, Lockwood confirmed.
An “absolutely necessary” service
Only a limited number of adoptions have been made since Exotic Reptile moved from Visalia to Farmersville in late 2021.
Moving the store off of Mooney Boulevard significantly reduced the store’s visibility, in turn leaving business dry; something Lockwood has yet to bounce back from.
The two adoptions help them get through July, but August isn’t guaranteed.
To purchase a reptile from The Wise Frog, you must provide proof of proper housing (and lighting) for the animal. Lockwood asks customers to text them after setting up the enclosure so they can make sure everything is set up correctly for the reptile.
They also educate potential owners about each animal, so there are no surprises down the road.
“People need to have access to education and knowledge from rescues and experienced people,” said Jared Hinojos, a Wise Frog customer. “Without this, on a daily basis, these animals are left in front of (their) door.”
The last customer to stop by Wise Frog Tuesday had already adopted a leopard gecko from Lockwood about five years ago. They donated several items that belonged to their recently deceased pet to the store.
The owner and Lockwood shared a moment together before Lockwood accepted the enclosure with a few more items.
Donations like these help with future adoptions, if the Wise Frog can stay open. Lockwood has been struggling — mentally, emotionally and financially — for months.
One reason is that major local pet stores continued to sell reptiles to consumers without explaining the proper care needed, leading to endless calls from local reptile owners asking for help and advice.
David Crawford, another Wise Frog customer, told the council about his family’s experience with buying a snake from a large pet store. They were sold an enclosure that was too small for the animal and were given incorrect information about the food it needed, he said.
“We discovered some exotic reptiles off Mooney and brought him in to ask Ian what to do,” Crawford said. “Ian helped us save the reptile…The service (they) provide is absolutely necessary for this community.”
Another reason the wise frog is in trouble is that Visalia Animal Control only responds to certain reptile-related situations and regularly requests help from out-of-town nonprofits.
“Nobody cares about reptiles”
Visalia City Manager Leslie Caviglia said the city is considering options for the Wise Frog; however, there are a few hurdles to clear first.
A major problem is that “pandemic pets” are being abandoned and shelters are overwhelmed now that consumers’ lives are returning somewhat to normal.
“It’s tough, especially right now with the economy down,” Caviglia said. “And with the pandemic, so many people have adopted animals… That’s a real concern.”
The main problem, Caviglia said, is that Wise Frog is a business, which limits the number of grants available.
This week, an unnamed nonprofit in the city contacted the city and offered to take the Wise Frog “under its umbrella” while Lockwood works on the nonprofit process.
“I’m ready to do whatever it takes,” Lockwood said, though they didn’t receive an update from the city on Wednesday. “These guys are completely forgotten… No one cares about reptiles.”
Lauren Jennings covers education and current affairs for the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register. Follow her on Twitter @lolojennings. Get alerts and stay up to date on everything happening in Tulare County for as little as $1 per month. Subscribe today.