Backing Out: An Unceremonious Exit from the Reptile Trade

About four years ago I discovered Bearded Dragons while watching TV.  Apparently I lead a sheltered life and had never been exposed to reptiles.  I suppose it’s because I grew up horseback riding, and none of my friends ever considered owning a snake, or gecko or bearded dragon.  I was smitten! 

Getting Started

Within a few short weeks I had my first beardie. He came from Sandfire Dragon ranch and his name is Oskah (Oscar as the rest of the country would pronounce it, but alas, I’m from New England.)  From there things really took off.  My next thrill of discovery was Crested Geckos and then my personal favorite, Gargoyle Geckos.  Soon I was buzzing about on the forums and discovered AC Reptiles, one of the most reputable reptile breeders in the business.  Send my heart a flutter and make me drool!  I had never seen such awesome animals!  So off I went and tapped the home account to buy Exo Terra’s for my soon to be growing reptile collection. 

My son had been bugging me for years for a snake and my response had always been a very curt “No, I’m not keeping anything I have to feed mice to!” Famous last words, on his fifteenth birthday we headed off to NERD to get our first lemon pastel ball python.  Needless to say, I was on a roll.  There is a distinct advantage to getting reptiles when you are the parent with the money.  Soon I added more cages, some racks and a three-tier 48” x20” x19” set of enclosures that Boa Master very kindly shipped to my house.  That was an awesome piece of work and it highlighted my growing reptile collection with total class. 

Taking Off

 Within two years I started breeding and taking some of my hatchling and juvenile geckos to the Manchester, NH Reptile show.  I sold enough to cover my food costs and went home feeling pretty good about things to come.  I figured I could at least pay for my basic hobby costs.  I knew I was not going to be able to move enough animals to make what the full time vendors at the shows make.  It’s their bread and butter and I was just an enthusiast trying to get my feet wet in the trade.  I built a website and showcased some of my collection, and even offered some Repashy Diet to anyone that happened to visit my site.  At some point I even managed to score a part-time bookkeeping job at a pet store so I could get the inside look at how they work.  I got the notion that maybe I could have a shop of my own some day. After all, I have the business management skills but just lacked the experience.  As my enthusiasm continued to grow, so did my collection of animals.  They were thriving and the next year I had a dozen gecko hatchlings from just a small group of breeders.  Nice ones too, a couple with full pinstripes and a few fire engine red ones when they fired up.  I put some good money into the ball pythons too.  I love the pinstripe, albinos and love the piebald morph.  I couldn’t afford a piebald and I still can’t but I was going to work on getting one.  I bought a pair of 100% het piebald normals, who will finally be ready to breed this year.  The thing you have to realize is that having such a collection also requires having the time to care for them.  My schedule was such that I could spend about 2 hours every night cleaning, feeding and playing with my collection of about seventy-five geckos and a dozen plus ball pythons, three bearded dragons and a boa constrictor named Honey.

Crash Landing

 Then suddenly things came to a crashing halt.  The company I had worked for fourteen years went belly up along with my half of our monthly income.  Most people believe that when a business goes under, their employees still get some sort of severance.  Well, the truth is that small business often uses all of its assets trying to stay afloat, and when the end finally comes, there is nothing left to pay severance with.  I’m not sure if the timing could have been much worse, but the job market was already spiraling down the drain and there was not going to be a quick catch and recovery.  Unemployment was going to help us limp along for a while, but it was not going to help keep us afloat over the long haul. 

When this crisis arose, all the “extras” had to go, and fast.  My reptile collection became an extra since it was not the roof over our heads or the food on our plates.  So that fall I went to the Manchester show to sell what I could and recoup some of what I had invested so I could pay the bills.  The bad news was, the reptile trade was taking a beating, just like the car companies, and everyone else who had the misfortune of losing their job during this time.  The show was flat, and many of the big vendors went home grumbling about a lack luster sales day.  That didn’t help me, the little guy, at all.  I sold most of my snakes, but a wholesale prices and for a fraction of what I paid for them, same thing for the crested geckos.  The tanks that were now empty went up on craigslist.  Again I sold what I could but at a fraction of what I had originally paid.  That is the problem when you are a hobbyist, it costs you money and the chances that you will come out ahead are very slim.  Worse for me, because I really felt I could grow it into something bigger, and instead found myself going backwards. 


Since then I did find luck on my side and a few good friends who were looking out for me.  I landed an awesome job in Boston, so now I commute daily from the North Shore, which can be a trial in itself.  I have no time left by the end of the day to care for a large collection.  Left is a half dozen crested geckos, a gargoyle gecko, a few pairs of leopard geckos, my het pair of ball pythons, a lone normal male and my trusted beardie, Oskah.  Even that seems like too much on some days.  I’ll be in Manchester this spring sharing a table and hoping to bring my collection down a bit more so I can have enough time for family, my remaining reptiles and my latest commitment…. Dog training, rehabilitation and rescue.  The good news is that there is always tomorrow and who knows what it will bring.

What do you think?

Written by Christine Greeley

Along with her collection of reptiles, Chris lives north of Boston with her husband and two boys, three dogs and a cat. While working full-time in Boston, she also works part-time as a dog trainer for a major pet store chain and fosters rescue dogs. "Life is not great unless you give it all you have."

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