Reptile Rescue: A Safe Haven for Abandoned Reptiles
March 27th, 2014 by Hannah Doyle
Makaiwi holds a leopard gecko, which is larger than other species of geckos. Its native habitat is the rocky, desert regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India.

Makaiwi holds a leopard gecko, which is larger than other species of geckos. Its native habitat is the rocky, desert regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India.

Slippery, sticky, rough and abrasive are a few of the textures Makaiwi Wachter feels throughout the day.

In the morning, he dons a white, coarse cotton jacket and spends the day as head chef at a restaurant in Dayton, Washington, where he grasps the rough wooden handles of cutlery to cut, slice and chop fresh, sometimes slippery, ingredients.

At night, he hangs up his white jacket and handles the slick, sticky, scurrying lizards and snakes that inhabit his garage, otherwise known as DaVine Herps reptile rescue.

“I’ve loved reptiles ever since I was a little kid,” Makaiwi says.

What may seem like a side hobby has deep roots for Makaiwi that trace back to when he was in high school.

He had several geckos and an iguana until he enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduation. He found good homes for his pets and didn’t get another reptile until 2010. When he had enough room to house the animals, he insulated the garage, set up equipment and opened up shop in 2012.

Makaiwi Wachter of Walla Walla, Washington, cradles an iguana named Mama. At any given time, he has more than four dozen reptiles at his DaVine Herps reptile rescue facility.

Makaiwi Wachter of Walla Walla, Washington, cradles an iguana named Mama. At any given time, he has more than four dozen reptiles at his DaVine Herps reptile rescue facility.

Fortunately, his wife, Marisa, didn’t mind when the garage was filled with reptiles instead of the usual possessions.

“I knew he was into reptiles when I married him,” she says.

DaVine Herps houses about 50 reptiles, varying its inventory by demand. Most of the snakes, geckos and bearded dragons are from the ranks of the forgotten or forsaken.

Common scenarios involve teenagers heading off to college and parents who do not want the burden of caring for a gecko, an iguana growing much larger than its owner anticipated or a family simply not wanting to transport Slither the snake on its move across the country.

Makaiwi has accepted inventory from a poorly run pet store that went out of business. Every few months, he receives a call from the Humane Society.

“I try not to say ‘no’ to anything if I can,” Makaiwi says.

He and Marisa have driven 50 miles to pick up a pregnant iguana that was found roaming the streets of Pasco, Washington. She was aptly named Mama, and has remained in the Wachters’ care since laying 42 infertile eggs.

Most reptiles come to Makaiwi with health issues such as bone disease or being underweight. Makaiwi puts powdered vitamin supplements on top of their food to make sure they get the same nutrients provided by plants and game found in their diets in the wild.

He recommends probiotics for respiratory issues, but not every issue is easily solved.

“You think you know enough, but you learn something new every day,” Makaiwi says. “New things come up because of living situations, habitat, elevation, temperatures, where you are in the country.”

Ultraviolet light is crucial to creating a proper environment, no matter where the reptile lives. UVA light helps reptiles see their environment and evokes a sense of comfort and better social behavior, digestion and activity levels. UVB light helps them regulate temperature and maintain proper vitamin and calcium levels.

While most ultraviolet bulbs can last more than a year, Makaiwi says they should be replaced every 6 to 8 months.

He notes various misconceptions when it comes to the care and ownership of snakes.

“You’ll find a 5-foot python and they won’t eat anything bigger than a rat,” Makaiwi says, noting reptiles get a reputation as man-eating and aggressive.

While all snakes are carnivores, they cannot eat anything bigger than 1½ times their width, and would rather flee than pursue. Pet or not, snakes will only strike if they feel threatened.

“Snakes are going to do what they want to do, but iguanas can be trained,” Makaiwi says.

A level of trust can be built with iguanas, and some eventually can be walked. Makaiwi says it depends on the reptile’s personality.

“They do want attention, some of them,” he says. “They get used to your tone of voice.”

Sometimes iguanas will tilt their head toward whoever is talking and listen.

“My kids will play with them,” Makaiwi says. “It helps them getting used to being held.”

His children, Coelton, 10, and Kaela, 9, help condition the reptiles in preparation for potential owners. Makaiwi has a thorough screening process to ensure reptiles do not return to the same state they were in before DaVine Herps.

Prospective adopters go through an application process that involves meeting with Makaiwi to answer questions and assess eligibility.

Reading about how to care for reptiles and knowing the consequences of it are two different things, Makaiwi says, noting the ideal adopter has experience handling reptiles and treating them as rescues, as he has done.

“You can help support and give an animal its comfort of life,” he says.

Makaiwi ensures that in his work and his hobby.

He will develop a recipe for a featured pasta, combining the right ingredients and measurements to get it just right. In the same way, he will plan a mix of supplements for a rescue.

No matter if skin is smooth or sticky, whomever he serves always has a sense of comfort.