Reptile rescue operating out of apartment home, director waiting for opportunity to relocate

Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 7:10 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - You’d often see reptiles out in the desert like this, but not dozens of them living in an apartment.

Southern Arizona Reptile Rescue and Education operates out of founder and executive director Cressi Brown’s home. Hosting the animals in her apartment was meant to be a temporary solution, but it lasted longer than expected.

The rescue opened in 2018 and received its non-profit designation a year later. At the time, Brown was close to buying property in Picture Rocks as a home for her family and the animals. But due to a mistake by the appraiser, Brown found herself close to being homeless.

“I had already ended my lease in Rita Ranch and had ten days to find a place to live for me and the animals,” said Brown.

“I took the first place I could get into, thinking it would be very short term, and it ended up being much longer term than I expected.”

Brown’s apartment is currently home to more than 40 animals, ranging from small lizards and frogs to large iguanas and snakes. But this doesn’t cover all the animals the rescue currently cares for.

Brown relies on her team of volunteers to take on some of the animal care responsibility. Alisha Dicochea is one of those volunteers. She primarily takes in sick bearded dragons and fosters them until they are ready for adoption.

“Cressi’s always getting new rescues, new surrenders, new supplies,” says Dicochea.

“We have a lot of people donate tanks and even surrender the animal with the tank, so it’s a cycle of what comes in. Definitely for her to have that space is the dream and hopefully it’ll happen soon.”

Brown says while she loves the animals, between maintaining the animals and scheduling events, she says it sometimes is too much to handle.

“It’s my home,” Brown starts, “but it’s their space.”

“I don’t really consider any of it my private space. I’ve had to adapt; I no longer have a living room and things change. So instead of watching TV in the living room, I watch it in the bedroom.”

Despite the challenges she continues to face, Brown’s passion for reptiles isn’t scaling back. She says her favorite part is teaching others how interesting and important reptiles are to the environment and how there’s no need to be afraid.

“It’s not just a job,” she says. “You know, they say find something you love, and it’s not considered work. I had a very wise woman once tell me, ‘if you want the perfect job, create it.’ And I guess that’s really what happened.”

Brown hopes to receive a check from a court settlement in the next six months, and she plans to use it for a down payment to buy a home and create a sanctuary for the animals. To learn more about Southern Arizona Reptile Rescue and Education, click here.

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