Super reptile rescuers
By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent
In some parts of the country, the phrase reptile rescue might refer to saving people from alligators and pythons.
In Sebastopol, it means saving the creepy crawlies, the slow moving and even the venomous from dismal fates.
Al Wolf, 59, and Laurie Osborne, 51, are the super heroes of the reptile and spider world. Wolf is the director and Osborne the educational coordinator of Sonoma County Reptile Rescue, a nonprofit that 15 counties have come to count on for expertise with the cold-blooded.
In his home, Wolf shelters hundreds of the rescued lizards, turtles, tortoises, snakes and innumerable spiders and other scary looking bugs. His entire back yard is a tortoise habitat.
Wolf has cages of exotic birds, and two bison roaming on other parts of his property. The bugs are in their own room, as are many of the snakes. He also has racks of mice and terrariums of beetle colonies to feed his unusual family.
Carefully making our way around the unusual “zoo,” we asked Wolf and Osborne about their work. And when we left, Wolf said, “Snake it easy.”
How long have you been doing this?
Osborne: Reptile Rescue has been around since 1989. I’ve been here since 2007. I used to work at Marine World as an animal trainer.
Wolf: Anything weird has always been my job. As a kid I worked at the Louise A. Boyd Museum (now Marin History Museum). I worked for Wild Kingdom and Animal Planet for years.
Then I went to work for the San Francisco Zoo as assistant operations manager. It was my job to modernize the zoo. In 1988 the Sebastopol Humane Society and Sonoma County Animal Care and Control asked about setting up reptile rescue.
I see you rescue rattlesnakes.
Wolf: All the time. People are so afraid of snakes and bugs. They really aren’t that dangerous, and in a confrontation the snakes and bugs always lose. When the weather warms up we can get 100 of them a week.
Back when Fountaingrove was being built and lots of excavating was going on, we would fetch 100 a day easily from there. I educated the crews about them, and they began flinging them into garbage cans for us to collect at the end of the day.
I have about 60 here right now collected from all over Sonoma County.
Osborne: And I have another 50 nonvenomous snakes I use in education at my house.
Have you ever been bitten?
Osborne: Not me, that’s his job.
Wolf: I’ve been bitten about a dozen times. I’ve learned a lot about snake bites. Volunteers aren’t allowed to handle the rattlers, but we have one experienced assistant, Josh Edwards, who did. He made a wrong move one time and was bitten. I took him to the hospital and asked how many units of the anti-venom they were using.
Doctors usually don’t know much about bug and snake bites. They had me go on the grand rounds to teach their interns about it. When Josh got bit, the property owner where we were asked me what I was going to do.
“I am going to let him die,” I told him — what did he think? I called the hospital and told them we were coming in. The guy gave us a $20 donation he felt so bad. I got Josh to the ER in 17 minutes. The tricky part is rehab afterwards, and the docs don’t mention that. I clued them in.
What’s the toughest rescue you ever made?
Osborne: A rattlesnake had babies under a porch, and I couldn’t reach the snakes with the 3-foot rubber-tipped tongs I usually use. I finally hosed them out.
Wolf: An 85-pound monitor lizard was up an oak tree at Sonoma State. It wasn’t aggressive, but I was afraid of falling out of the tree as I tried to handle it on branches I worried would break. Also it’s hard going under houses sometimes. We rescue about 12 alligators a year.
What’s the strangest rescue you’ve had?
Wolf: It was more annoying than strange. A lady called me at midnight saying her pet snake was loose and she wanted me to help find it before her roommates came home.
I went over and she kept chatting. I finally asked about the snake and she said there wasn’t one, she just wanted to meet me. She could have called during the day.
You have lots of exotic animal heads around, and even a full sized Asian lion, grizzly bear, foxes and mountain lions.
Wolf: They’ve all been donated. I got many from the late Hugh Codding’s museum. People get a tax credit for donations. The school kids love it. They like my tortoise yard, too, and the birds. I have two of the world’s largest parrots, blue hyacinth macaws.
How is Reptile Rescue supported?
Wolf: We get a couple small grants each year, but it’s primarily donations. I donate to it myself every year.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story contained misinformation. The Press Democrat regrets the errors and has corrected them.