Photos By Nolan P. Schmidt
By recognizing the need for more resources for reptiles in the F-M area, Tasha Gorentz built her own animal rescue from the ground up. Now with an established presence in the community, her next goal is to educate the community on the rewarding experience of caring for reptiles.
Tasha Gorentz, founder of Kritter Krazy Reptile and Exotic Rescue, recognized an unmet need in the Fargo-Moorhead community for the rehabilitation and rehoming of reptiles.
Gorentz grew up around animals and has had an interest in caring for animals her entire life. Getting her start by rescuing cats and dogs, Gorentz realized there are plenty of resources for those animals, but for reptiles and other exotic pets, it is difficult to find local rescues and resources.
“I’m passionate about all animals, but especially reptiles because they are becoming more accessible to purchase, but there’s not a lot of education,” Gorentz said. “There’s not a lot of resources for people to learn how to properly take care of them.”
With Kwame the Nile monitor and Rayla the carpet python wrapped around her shoulders, Gorentz spoke about the nonprofit animal resume she’s put her heart and soul into.
Founding Kritter Krazy
Gorentz founded the Kritter Krazy Reptile and Exotic Rescue in 2009 with a mission to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome reptiles and educate the public. Gorentz created the rescue right after graduating from high school, funding the rescue’s operating expenses with money out of her own pocket and using her home as the rescue facility.
In the decade since Kritter Krazy has been recognized as a nonprofit business by the state of North Dakota and is currently applying for 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit status. Kritter Krazy relies completely on donations and volunteers for its operations.
Gorentz is the founding director and secretary of the rescue. She also coordinates social media, adoptions and the rescue’s educational outreach events. In addition to operating the animal rescue and working a full-time job, Gorentz also fosters children.
“I work full-time, and I have the kids and then I do this. So without having the volunteers to be able to come in and help out with that I would have zero free time. I don’t get to just go home and clock out, it’s always there.”
In the last year and a half, the visibility of Kritter Krazy has rapidly increased and Gorentz is busier than ever. To support the increased influx of exotic pets and reptiles coming through, the rescue recently moved into a larger facility, allowing Gorentz to house more animals and support more volunteers.
“We focus on rescue, rehab, rehoming and education,” Gorentz said. The animals that Gorentz takes into her rescue come from across North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and Iowa. She noted that there are a lot more reptiles in the Fargo-Moorhead area than one would think.
These animals come from a variety of situations. Gorentz said evictions seem to be the cause for a lot of the small mammals like ferrets and rabbits she receives. The pandemic has also had an impact. With some pet owners being out of work, they have not been able to afford to feed their reptiles.
“People get them and don’t realize they get this big or they need specific care until they become overwhelmed,” Gorentz said.
Gorentz noted that many people purchase reptiles as an impulse buy at exotic animal expos or purchase an animal online without doing their research ahead of time. The owners are then unprepared and overwhelmed upon realizing the care reptiles require.
“Animals get sick and the owners either can’t afford the vet or don’t realize that there are those resources and don’t know how to take care of them, so they just hand the animal off to us as a last resort,” Gorentz said. “The problem with that is a lot of people wait too long. It’s hard, we lose some of them because of super preventable things that if people just acted sooner, the animal wouldn’t have been in that situation.”
Once Gorentz intakes a surrendered animal, she begins a thorough rehabilitation process to ensure the animal is healthy.
When an animal comes in, Gorentz conducts a comprehensive evaluation of the animal’s health and behavior to determine what special needs and treatment the animal requires to nurse it back to full health. Gorentz places all reptiles on a two- week intake hold before they are adopted, so she can monitor the reptile to identify if it needs to be adopted by someone who has prior experience caring for reptiles.
A lot of animals come into the rescue with health issues. Many new pet owners don’t know that reptiles don’t show sickness in the same way a dog or a cat would. “With reptiles, the amount of time that it takes for them to get sick, it takes twice as long for them to get better,” Gorentz said. “If they’re sick, something’s been going on a long time before you can physically see it.”
When the owner is able to see the reptile is ill, it is often too late. If you are someone who recently got a reptile, or planning to get one, you may want to take its health matters seriously. Simple things matter a lot, like the bedding substrates for reptiles, which may turn out to be a health issue for them. For instance, the wrong bedding substrate for a ball python could even affect its lifespan. So, if you happen to own one of them, you may want to look for good bedding substrates for ball python. If not available locally, you can find various online pet stores offering the right bedding for your pet.
Coming back to Gorentz, she will syringe-feed animals for weeks and administer antibiotic medications and vaccinations herself to nurse the animals back to health. Although sometimes tragedy does strike, many of the reptiles are able to make a full recovery. Such is the case of Gu-Bear, a red Argentine tegu Kritter Krazy received from a home that did not properly care for her.
Gu-Bear was unable to open her eyes and had layers upon layers of shed stuck to her body. She had a severe foot infection that left her foot swollen and her mobility stunted. When she first arrived at Kritter Krazy her general disposition was fairly lifeless and lethargic. But after five months of care, Gorentz had a breakthrough.
“I remember I was sitting in my bathroom, soaking her in the bathtub, and she opened her eyes and looked at me and I just started bawling,” Gorentz said. “It just makes everything worth it.”
A year later, Gu-Bear is still at the facility. She is still healing and has a long way to go until she is completely recovered. The majority of situations like Gu-Bear’s can be avoided if owners take into account what resources are available to them before purchasing an exotic pet.
“Most of what I do is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s great when they find homes, but the amount that don’t or the amount that comes in too late is a lot.”
Since the rescue began in 2009, Gorentz has facilitated nearly 500 adoptions. Kritter Krazy conducts all of its adoptions in-person and institutes a comprehensive application process to ensure the potential owner is fit to provide the care the specific animal requires.
“I have to make sure that they’re not sneaking animals into apartments where they’re not allowed or that the applicant is 18 years old,” Gorentz said. “Once the application is approved, the person has to complete their enclosure. They have to provide everything. They have to show they are capable of taking care of it, committed to doing the work to get ready for it.”
Once the application is approved, an adoption date is set up. Gorentz notes that while some adoptions only take a couple of weeks, others can take a couple of months. The rescue places an emphasis on adopting locally and won’t ship animals to other locations. Although, if someone from a different location is very interested in adopting a certain animal Gorentz is open to making arrangements for them to pick the animal up.
“We have probably gotten two animals back in the last year and a half and that’s it,” Gorentz said. “Our process is really thorough to weed that out. Our goal is that we don’t see these animals again.”
Gorentz is passionate about educating the public and eliminating stigma about reptiles. One of her primary methods for sharing her knowledge is the animal ambassador program, where she brings her reptiles to schools, businesses and even birthday parties.
“If there are animals that have a really good temperament, that would be fit to be in a hands-on situation with people then we consider adding them to our ambassador program,” Gorentz said.
Two of these animal ambassadors are Kwame the Nile monitor and Rayla the carpet python. These animal ambassadors can be an animal that is either very unique and would be a good educational example, or a more common animal such as leopard geckos, which are popular as pets.
Gorentz also has the goal of increasing community engagement. “I want to work with the colleges and be able to be a place where people who are animal science majors can come and intern. I want to do things like reptiles and poetry and reptiles and yoga and do that kind of stuff to get the community involved.”
People will even reach out to Gorentz asking for her expertise, such as questions about what animal would best suit their living situation or asking for advice about how to improve their animal’s enclosure. Gorentz’s ultimate advice is to do your homework and ask plenty of questions, and she’s here to help.
The reach and impact of Kritter Krazy Reptile and Exotic Rescue has grown rapidly over the past year and Gorentz has been blown away by the support of the community. “There were so many people that, just because of knowing me and knowing the work that we do and knowing how much energy and effort that I put into this, are willing to reach into their pockets and make this happen,” Gorentz said.
Gorentz built Kritter Krazy from the ground up and her commitment to the betterment of animals is boundless. The resources that Gorentz provides continue to make a positive impact on pet owners across the region.
“We really just like to give people the experience of the animals and teach them what their needs are and tell them their stories so that there are fewer of those impulse buys and people getting them without knowing what to do with them or how to take care of them.”