Friday, April 27, 2018

Why I started Rescuing

I've always loved animals and had many pets over the course of my life. I've also always loved helping people and animals to be better/happier/healthier. For a long time, I had on my "Bucket List" to own a pet cockatoo, but I wasn't sure that I could fully to commit to one. At the suggestion of my sweet husband about 7 years ago, I started volunteering with a local bird & parrot rescue and ended up fostering several dozen birds.

One problem-- my husband became highly allergic to the feathers. So I bowed out of it.

We had one bearded dragon (Lizzie, a boy) and a leopard gecko (Reginald) and I enjoyed them. We also were fostering a desert tortoise (Hermy) for the state of Utah. I wasn't a super big fan of snakes and most other reptiles, but that was okay.

In December of 2012, I found an ad for a free juvenile bearded dragon with an arm infection. I knew at least some info about beardies and I had a vet for my beardie so I decided to pick him up. We named him Nigel and ultimately spent over $5,000 trying to save his arm and then his life. A couple weeks later, I found a baby beardie in a sand tank at a local pet store who had an open bleeding wound on his foot where another baby had bitten it off. I could not get the poor baby out of mind.

Once I handled those two, I felt like maybe I could "advertise" a bit for taking in unwanted bearded dragons. Little did I know that I was stepping into a void in our local reptile market. Since there were few good options for reptiles, I was asked to take *EVERY* possible reptile. And I said "Yes."

I didn't start out knowing everything and learned as I went. I'd take in a sickly Savannah monitor and do a crash course on how to care for them. I learned techniques from my vet with every visit I made with yet another sickly reptile. In the beginning, I knew how to feed Lizzie (and not very well, I might add) and over time learned how to give antibiotics, tube feedings, injections, and even enemas. I still don't know everything, but I know that my vets will teach me along the way.

The first year of rescue cost me personally over $3,000. I knew I needed a way to earn money without just begging for donations all the time. At the suggestion of a friend, I sewed a pair of red felt dragon wings for $8 in March 2015. That began the amazing adventure called "Pampered Beardies" which now has sold to thousands of bearded dragons and reptiles and small animals over the world. It's been a fabulous way to fund my continuous vet bills (which cleared over $20,000 last year).

I'm currently working on a full length book on starting your own reptile rescue, but here are my beginning suggestions: Start small, use social media to ask for donations & rescues and to advertise your adoptables, be prepared to have your heart broken, and take breaks when you want to quit. When I get the book ready for publishing later this summer, I'll be sure to post all the links here.

Gout in Beardies-- a refresher

This is what I posted on Instagram this morning: 


Gout in bearded dragons is becoming far more common and is a symptom of poorly functioning kidneys. It can be treated, but not cured. Normal beardie kidneys flush out extra proteins and uric acid; defective kidneys allow uric acid crystals into the blood stream where they collect in the joints. Gout causes excruciating pain for beardies because uric acid crystals are like tiny daggers that poke into sensitive joints with every movement. Gout first starts to collect in the lower extremities-- fingers & toes, ankles & wrists. As it overflows those areas, it starts to pool up in shoulders and hips. It essentially freezes the joints in place because it is too agonizing for the beardie to move them! A vet can actually make a tiny incision and squeeze the uric acid paste out (it is similar to beardie pus, but whiter).


This pic is a beardie I took in who could only move his head a slight amount; that was it. 😱 He was euthanized almost immediately to let him escape the pain he'd been living in. If you can catch gout early enough in an adult, you can control it by eliminating all protein from the beardie's diet. Supplements like black cherry and bee pollen can help, but there is only so much you can do for defective kidneys.


If a baby beardie has gout (which I'm seeing more & more), there's very little chance of success. 😔 A baby must have protein even though the protein will kill the weak kidneys. It's a losing battle & I've put down several. Sloppy breeding practices and terrible genes being passed on are creating thousands of baby beardies with early onset kidney disease being sold by national pet store chains.😠 .


To effectively diagnose gout, a vet needs to take a blood test showing diminished kidney function and identify joint stiffness & swelling. Treatment plans are based on the age of the beardie. But PLEASE remember this--- you are NOT doing your beardie any favors by keeping them alive-- It hurts SO bad!!! 

Metabolic Bone Disease- a quick refresher

Today's Lesson--

Here is a side by side comparison of two monitor lizard x-rays. The one of the left is the Nile monitor that the vet & I chose to euthanize yesterday; the one of the right is a random x-ray off the internet. Notice the difference in the bones?



Solid, dense, calcium-stable bones almost glow on x-rays. You can see their distinct edges and patterns. MBD bones are hollow, pitted, and almost invisible because of the lack of calcium.

There are parts of the Nile's x-ray where you cannot see his spine through because of the shadows of internal organs. But the sad thing is that the organs are *under* the spine. Under! And you still can't see it. You can also see multiple fractures and curves in the spine and legs that never would have healed.

Here's the hellish part about MBD-- a lizard's body MUST have calcium in its blood supply to survive. If there is not enough calcium being metabolized (coming into the body through the food and then converted into usable calcium through sunlight or adequately powerful UVB), the body will steal calcium from the bones. The bones start becoming weaker and weaker until they are rubbery like Jell-O. When they are that weakened, simple touching and holding will snap jaw bones; a small fall will shatter joints; a leg that is caught and then pulled loose will disintegrate.

A reptile must have enough digested calcium through high calcium foods (whole rat/mouse bodies, high calcium greens, or gut loaded & dusted insects). But all the calcium in the world will NOT prevent MBD if there is no way to absorb it. In the absence of direct sun, a UVB light is a necessity. It must be 18 inches or less above the area where the lizard is the most. It also needs to cover the majority of the area of the basking spot. The problem with coil UVB bulbs is that their radius is very small and often in a different place than where the lizard is. You can combine heat & UVB with a mercury vapor bulb or you can buy a long UVB tube to run the length of the tank.

MBD is a hellish way for a lizard to die. Some pet stores will call it "Cage paralysis" because a reptile loses the ability to control its limbs. It is painful because of frequent breaks and fractures.

PLEASE DO YOUR RESEARCH! Preventing MBD is FAR easier than trying to correct it. All the reptiles I have ever rescued with MBD who actually survived it had a significantly shorter lifespan.

UVB Info Graphic


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Why I stand AGAINST Jim Dix and "Utah's Reptile Rescue Service"

I don't normally waste my time in mud slinging or on how other people do or don't run their own rescues. BUT someone needs to stand up and state publicly why Jim Dix should NEVER EVER be allowed to rescue animals again. The horror stories of how he runs his rescue have been whispered behind closed doors for too long in the fear that Jim will (and he almost always does) retaliate.

That ends with me. This is my public statement of why I have done everything I could legally do to prevent him from being the face of Reptile Rescue in Utah.

From a tank found in Mr Dix's possession
a leopard gecko who starved to death 

To my knowledge, I have never personally met Mr Dix. You may decide that this immediately invalidates my arguments, but I ask you to bear with me and keep reading. Most of the stories will have a link to my original blog post so you can verify the dates and stories. My stories are all word of mouth and lack the "Substantiation" required for court cases. Those with the first hand knowledge and pictures of his abuse & neglect also have first hand knowledge of how Mr Dix retaliates against those who go against him. They are scared to death of what he might do. My hope is that if I stand first, I can give others the strength to stand behind me.

Mr Jim Dix is a bully, not a rescuer.

There is a public Jim Dix who is often rather charming and portrayed as a picked on "Good Guy" who has gotten a bad wrap. I've talked to people who have only met this side of him. It is the Private Mr Dix who is a Monster--yes, a monster!-- who needs to be stopped from ever rescuing another reptile.

My Own Experiences: 

1- I began my own private reptile rescue out of my own house in December of 2012. I didn't really publicly advertise until the Spring of 2013. I heard of Mr Dix as being the main reptile guy for Utah. I was also warned to steer clear of him. One friend said "Jim can be a powerful ally or a terrible enemy. Don't cross him." I had just left another animal rescue because of the continual drama and assumed reptile rescue would be far less dramatic. I didn't pay much attention to the warning.

2- My first real experience with Mr Dix came in September 2014 with Fido, a large male iguana. At that point I was only focusing on bearded dragons and did NOT want an iguana. But someone claimed to have "rescued" Fido from Mr Dix who apparently had him in a plastic tub under a table all weekend at a local reptile expo. I was told the iguana would be "put down" by Mr Dix after the weekend and could I save him. "But if he needs to be put down, what can I do for him?" The answer horrified me-- Mr Dix's way of euthanizing iguanas (healthy or sick) was to tightly wrap them alive in plastic bags and put them in his chest freezer to kill them. I could not believe it! I had the iguana taken to my vet for a humane euthanasia. Imagine my shock when my vet called to say Fido was the healthiest iguana he had seen in a long time. I ran to a local pet store, bought a 55 gallon tank (the biggest size they had), and brought Fido home even though I was scared to death of him. I had him for two weeks before I found him another home.

3- In June 2015, a friend showed up at my door with another plastic tote containing another iguana. This iguana, Junie, had spent the last two weeks in the tote (instead of just two days) at Mr Dix's facility. Junie had been left behind after a local murder-suicide and Mr Dix stepped up to take him. If you read my first post about Junie, you'll see that I didn't mention anything about where he came from. Over time, I got tired of looking the other way instead of calling out Mr Dix for what I was hearing; the second post is more vocal against him (even though I didn't name names).

Over the years in between, I received many stories about Mr Dix along with very dire warnings to "not cross him." Most of these don't have proof more than my own memory and so I'll leave them out. I hadn't been in rescue more than a year before I realized that Mr Dix was a bully and a sham at being "Utah's Mr Reptile" even if he made the news every few months.

4- My biggest (and worst) experience with Mr Dix was in April 2016 when I took in 12 reptiles that were pulled out of a burning house by firefighters. At first I thought the reptiles were simply owned by the known meth user and producer who owned the house, but found out that they had been placed there by Mr Dix who needed more homes to put his rescued reptiles
In the beginning, I kept details of the fire victims' story private. I did not mention names or places and focused mainly on getting the reptiles healthy and adopted out. When my rescue partner started receiving threats and harassment, I put my foot down and called out Mr Dix and the meth user on my blog HERE. That call out earned us two weeks without harassment. But then it started up again (HERE). I refused to return the reptiles (only 11 of which were still alive) to Mr Dix or to the meth user living in his car. I delivered a list of requirements I needed for the reptiles to be returned and had it delivered by certified mail. A reply never came. It took about a month, but we were finally left alone. All the reptiles were adopted out into good homes and lived "Happily Ever After." There are many posts on the Fire Victims and you can read through the list if you click HERE.  During one of the post-fire inspections, an insurance adjuster found tanks and bags in the attic & crawlspace of the house that contained hundreds of animal skeletons. We begged him to make a statement to the police or animal control. As far as I know, nothing was ever done with the information.

5- Last year, I received a call from one of Mr Dix's volunteers (he contacted me several times through someone else but never called me directly) asking if I knew why a tank full of 12 bearded dragons would all suddenly start throwing up blood and then die within an hour. Why? Because his rescues just had. I even asked my vet if he had any clue. Neither of us had any idea, but the vet stopped questioning it the second he heard that it had happened to Mr. Dix.

6- 140 snakes were seized from Mr Dix over a month ago. It was during this seizure by animal control that 83 turtles & tortoises & snakes were put into boxes and bins and moved into a plumber's warehouse. Approximately a week and a half later, Mr Dix was admitted to the hospital. By the time the remaining 83 were found, they had gone two weeks with little to no food and water and no heat.  Remember that the reptiles were in the warehouse for a week and a half before he went to the hospital. Last week even with a broken foot and a full house, I took in 12 of the reptiles abandoned by Mr Dix and confiscated by the county animal control. Why? Because for the first time as a rescue I could publicly do something to help save the animals from him. Here's a News Story on how the reptiles were adopted out after being quarantined at the county shelter.

Other stories I've heard: 

-when volunteers would get angry and quit, Mr Dix would call their work, declare who he was, and lie about having to let the volunteer go because they'd been caught stealing. More than one employee lost their job because Mr Dix lied. Volunteers became terrified to quit because they feared they'd lose their jobs or he would have animal control take their animals.

-one volunteer went to change the water and add food to the water turtles' horse trough only to find that the living turtles could only get above water by crawling up on the backs of the dead ones. And yes, there were more than a few dead ones.

-Elvis, the alligator that appeared at every Utah's Reptile Rescue event, was actually several different alligators because they kept dying from poor care. One would die and a new one would be put in its place as Elvis.

-Mr Dix has been evicted no less than a dozen times in the last 3 years. It is always for non-payment of rents on houses and storage units. Though he may claim he has been discriminated against because of his reptiles (especially the venomous ones), a simple phone call will show you how many thousands of dollars each storage unit owner or homeowner lost because of him.

-Centerville city had so many residents complaining about the smell coming from the garage of the house where he was staying that the city council actually rewrote city ordinances to prevent wild animal rescues from operating within in city boundaries. That law was changed about the same time he was evicted again for non-payment.

-I am aware of several cases of Animal Cruelty and Neglect being pursued by multiple government agencies at this date. That's all they will say in an effort to keep their case strong and defendable. And yes, they know how to contact me and the pictures documenting the neglect have been forwarded again.

-As I have watched the #metoo movement on social media, I have wondered how many women wish they could stand up and say #metoo because of their time spent with Mr Dix. If you are carrying the heavy burden of guilt and shame because you were sexually assaulted or abused by him, I invite you to stand up in courage. I know of several sexual assaults committed by him that were shared in confidence.

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To you who don't know Mr Dix, I invite you to consider this testimony. If you'd like more pictures, I can supply them for you. I don't expect you to believe me immediately. I do simply ask you to consider all sides of the story. You can take my side or leave it, but at least now you know my side because I'm not remaining silent any more.

To all who have experience with Mr Dix and who have kept quiet out of fear
, I invite you to take a stand with me. He has lied about his power over you. He has lied about how he can hurt. He has lied that no one will believe. He is a liar and a manipulator. His power thrives in the silence and dark (like black mold or fungus). Silence will let Mr Dix win. You don't need to be afraid anymore. All of us together cannot be attacked.

To all those who have looked the other way and kept quiet because "it doesn't effect you," I ask this: How many more animals have died and how many other volunteers have been abused and how many lies have been told because you remained silent? What good has it done to look the other way? How has letting this abuse go on in plain sight helped any of us in the reptile industry? It hasn't. He makes us all look like fools. Take your own stand on what it means to REALLY rescue & own reptiles in Utah.

To Mr Dix himself and his devoted followers, I invite you to change. I'd like to believe at some point that y'all had good intentions and really wanted to help. But time and power has degraded you and you are doing more harm than good. Those reptiles that you left cold & starving are now happy, full, & healthy. Leave them be. Let them move on as you move on.

Your first reaction may be to attack me and try to discredit me or ruin my life-- Please don't waste your time. The more you fight, the more public I will become with the private information shared with me. A smear campaign against me will ruin you further. This is not a threat, this is a promise. The buck stops with me.



If you have your own experiences (good or bad) with Mr Dix that you would like to share, please feel free to email me: sw_southerlands(at)yahoo(dot)com 






Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How to do Fecal Testing on your own Reptiles

To start off, I bought-

Microscope  (on Amazon) ~$85 (free shipping)

From Beautiful Dragons:

a box of microscope cover slips  $8

a box of microscope slides $10

a 8 oz bottle of Fecasol $12

20 fecal testers $20

and the awesome Parasite ID Chart $8

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It costs about $1/test to run a fecal float test. That's WAY cheaper than $45 at my vet's office.

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Note #1- You can buy a microscope from Beautiful Dragons too but it's more expensive.

Note #2- You can probably buy cheaper supplies, but I like supporting Beautiful Dragons.

Note #3- You can also buy a lot of other awesome supplies from her store like meds to treat coccidia & pinworms, calcium supplements, syringes, food, etc. If you are into rescuing reptiles, then check out her store. Her prices are good and she's a quick shipper.








Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Summer Surviving

I've gotten lazy with the blog as I try to survive summer vacation with my kids. I post all the time on Instagram, but neglect this blog because I still don't have a good app that works. I'll get updated again once my kids start school. And, as always, you can get instant updates if you follow me on Instagram.

HERE.