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25 September 2018

U-Haulin' Reptiles

Whether you’re moving across town or across the country–winter or summer–the idea of safely bringing your scaly pets with you can be daunting. Today’s newsletter is dedicated to helping anyone who is moving, or may someday move.

Step one: Look ahead! 

Don’t put off the logistics of moving your pets for the last minutes before you walk out the door. A rushed FB post with lots of “!!!!” thrown in won’t bring you the materials or time you need to prepare. 

If you’re planning to move soon, please continue reading. If you think you might someday have a reason to move in the future, read on. If you know someone who is moving, please share! Moving with reptiles doesn’t have to be terribly stressful or dangerous or costly. But it does take some planning ahead.

There is no single “right” way to go about moving your critters, but the suggestions that follow should help you know which safety issues to carefully consider and give you some ideas that you can apply to your own unique situation.

It is the responsibility of every keeper to know their local laws. If you’re moving, you need to become familiar with the laws in your new area. Make sure all your animals are legal to keep at your new destination, and be fully aware of the consequences if they are not. If you need special permits to keep certain animals, start working ahead as much as possible to attain them.

Casually flouting laws can put the lives of your animals at risk should they be confiscated; and it puts the entire reptile-loving community at risk when society gets the impression that its keepers do not respect laws and regulations.

Under the right circumstances, this is an excellent method for moving your animal(s). If you’re flying from one home to a new one, shipping your animals may be the only solution. 

For those that are driving, you may be several days in transit. If so, you’ll need to arrange for help at one end of the journey or the other. Either someone at your original destination to hold onto them and ship them out when you’re ready to receive, or someone at your new home that can receive them and house them for you until you arrive and can pick them up. 

Either situation requires some lead time to make sure you have all the shipping suppliesyou need and have all the details worked out with that trusted individual. 

If it’s your first time shipping, you can use the coupon code top40 to receive 40% off the FedEx retail rate for that shipment. You can also contact us for more information on how to proceed, as well as additional coupon codes if you have more than one box that needs to be shipped.

For most folks that are moving, the most practical way to move your animals is to take them with you. The rest of this article revolves around the safest methods for doing so. Despite the tongue-in-cheek title of this article, do NOT put them in the back of a U-haul or any other moving van or towed trailer! 

Each season presents its own challenges when transporting animals long distances. Ideally, every travel day would be heavily overcast and seventy degrees. But that is rarely the case.

Heat: Most reptiles are far more tolerant of cold temperatures than of hot, and yet the majority of moves take place in the summertime. If at all possible, travel in an air-conditioned vehicle. Keep travel tubs/boxes covered and out of any direct sunlight. In the summertime, the floor of the vehicle is usually a safe and secure place to be.

Plan your stops carefully. When I travel with my animals in the summer, I stop for gas and very quick restroom breaks, and that’s it. If at all possible, have a second person with you to tag-team with. Then you can leave the car and AC running while taking turns to go to the restroom or shop for snacks. Meals are drive-thru affairs only, or packed sack-lunch style.

If you can safely do it, consider driving through the night. Darkness allows for longer stops to stretch and eat without endangering the animals.

Cold: In its own ways, traveling in winter can be trickier than in the summer. The dangers of summer heat are more obvious. In the winter, you don’t have to worry about the interior of your car overheating during the ten minutes it takes to fill the tank with gas and run to the restroom.

You might be tempted to put your travel tub on the floor of the car, near a heat vent. Don’t do that. If other stuff gets piled up around them, the heat can become trapped, warming that little pocket of the car to dangerous levels. Have you have had your feet feeling as if they’re burning, while the rest of your body is waiting for the car to warm up? Place the animals in a well-insulated box or blanket-wrapped tub away from heating vents.

It's a very good idea to have some heat packs on hand in case of some kind of break-down or delay that might cause you to be stuck in the cold for awhile. Hand-warmers from the big box stores are NOT a safe alternative to proper heat packs.

Spring/Fall: These times of year are tricky because the temperatures can swing dramatically even on the same day. Be aware and keep an eye on your animals, and realize that even on what seems like a “beautiful” day to you, the interior of the car can become excessively hot if left parked in the sun for too long.

Consider the size and configuration of your collection. One snake? Many snakes? Lizards and geckos and snakes and a couple of turtles? Based on what you have and how far you’re traveling, you’ll have to figure out what works best for you. But here are some basic tips and hints.

Snake Bags: Each snake should get its own bag to travel in. They can be ordered from various sources online, including SYR. You can also make your own, or use pillowcases. Turn a pillowcase inside out…check the seams carefully for weaknesses and reinforce with a few stitches if necessary, especially the corners. Keep the case inside out to prevent the snake from tangling with any loose threads. Place a wad of paper towel(s) into the bag with the snake. This gives it something to curl up around or hold onto, as well as helping to absorb waste if/when the animal eliminates. Tie the top into a secure knot. Adding rubber bands or zip ties around the top is a good idea as well. A determined snake can and will escape from a poorly secured bag.

Lizards of moderate size (bearded dragons, skinks, etc) also do well in bags, as do turtles and tortoises.

Deli Cups: Frogs, amphibians, tiny snakes like baby colubrids, little geckos, baby lizards…pretty much baby-anything…should be placed in small deli cups just large enough to allow a little bit of movement. Paper towels should be added to minimize movement so the animal is less likely to be knocked around, as well as absorbing waste. Damp or wet paper towels can be used for animals that prefer a wet environment like some frogs or water turtles. Have a few small holes punched into the cups, and make sure the lids are taped down securely.

Small Tubs: Some animals do well in individual tubs. They should be just large enough to allow the animal to lie down in. A lizard’s tail can curl around its body. There should be minimal “head room”. Paper towels or other soft cloth should be used to fill in empty areas. The key is to allow room to breathe, but not too much shifting. If the ride gets bumpy, you don’t want your critters tossed around.

Once each animal is bagged, cupped, or tubbed, they can be placed together into a larger travel-tub or box. I like to use a flat under-bed storage type of Rubbermaid tub. You might need multiple tubs to safely carry larger snakes in one and smaller snakes in another, or separate the lizards from the snakes. Never stack animals on top of each other. One layer of critters per tub, please!

Be careful packing small bagged animals with larger bagged snakes, as shifting and crushing may occur. Deli cups can be tucked in between snake bags. Fill the empty space of the travel tub with old towels or newspaper, and cover securely. I like to use very tight bungee cords wrapped around the ends and middles of a travel tub, just in case a critter should escape from its bag.

If you have the room, the best way to pack the animals is as if you were shipping them via FedEx. Using an insulated shipping box is the surest way to regulate temperatures and offers structural integrity against accidental smooshing. They also keep the animals in a dark and quiet environment, which can significantly reduce stress levels.

If you know your trip will involve hotel stays, plan ahead!

A single overnight stay is simple. If the weather is mild (nighttime temps in the 70’s or 80’s) you can leave the animals in the car overnight. But if you do so, you MUST be up and out the door very early in the morning. Once that sun comes up, the car will heat up fast. If the weather is too cold, or you don’t think you’ll be out early enough, carry the travel tubs into the hotel with you. So long as you keep the room temperature in the mid 70’s or so, you can safely leave the animals exactly as they are, tucked securely in their bags. Just set the tub(s) in an out-of-the-way place, away from the AC unit (or near to the heater if it’s winter). In fact, the animals will be far less stressed if you just leave them alone. Resist the temptation to “check” on them.

An extended stay in one location along the route, or multiple nights on the road in different hotels is more challenging. If this is your trip, then pack some overnight tubs for each animal. They don’t have to be large tubs, just big enough to allow the animal a secure place to sleep outside the bag, and have a drink of water. Be sure to also carry some kind of small water dish for each animal, and newspaper or paper towels to line the tubs with. Try to keep ambient temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70’s. Just about every reptile species will be fine for a few days under those conditions, if allowed some fresh air at night and water to drink.

These tubs can also be used to house the animals at your final destination if you have to wait for their permanent housing to arrive and be set up. If necessary, you can pack a strip of wired heat tape and a thermostat. Unroll the heat tape across the floor, lay the tubs in a row with one end over the tape, and hook it up to a reliable thermostat. This would really only be necessary if the animals must be fed before their permanent homes are set up, or if the local ambient temps are too cool for safety.

For my bearded dragon, I got a large, deep, plastic tub; cut the center out of the lid and installed hardware cloth; and then placed a domed heat lamp onto the wire mesh. (Use plain-wire hardware cloth. Plastic coating can become a stinky mess if you place a heat lamp on it!) During travel, the dragon was kept in a small shoe-box sized tote just barely big enough to hold him, and his bigger overnight tub was used to hold all the overnight supplies for everyone, including paper towels, water bowls, heat lamp, thermometers, etc.

When I travel with my critters and have to stay overnight somewhere with them, I do NOT inform the hotel staff that I have reptiles. I discreetly carry them into the room, and then leave again the next morning with none the wiser. If a stay is longer than a single night, I put the do-not-disturb sign up and don’t let the maids in.

I could probably write a whole book on moving with reptiles. The subject is a gold-mine of ideas and DIY projects, but this newsletter has no room for exceptional issues like moving a 150 pound sulcata tortoise or a breeding facility consisting of 2000 snakes. Regardless of the number and species you keep, every move can go smoothly and safely with some careful thought and planning ahead.

I’ll leave you with a few specific tips:

DON’T buckle a glass tank onto the seat with an animal loose and roaming inside.
DON’T drive with an animal loose in the car or being held in someone’s hands.
DON’T place a travel tub or box anywhere that it will be in direct sunlight shining through windows.
DON’T place a tub or box on the floor against a heater vent in the winter.
DON’T stop the car for more than a few minutes on a hot OR sunny day.
DON’T pack animals in the back of a moving van or in a towed trailer.
DON’T feed snakes the day before travel begins. Give them at least 72 hours to digest a meal. A week would be best for snakes.

I know you read that and thought “Duh!” But you’d be surprised…

DO carefully consider each animal’s minimal needs for the time in travel: security and steady temperatures; water if traveling longer than 24-48 hours. Most reptiles can easily go several days without food, and some much longer.
DO plan ahead and make sure you have all materials in hand, organized and ready to go.
DO plan for emergencies, such as a break-down along the way. Get some heat packs or cold packs from SYR to use if the unexpected happens.
DO allow for a new settling-in period after the move is complete, just as if they were newly purchased.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different ways to do this right. Think things through and plan ahead, and you’ll be miles ahead of your journey before you even begin.

Moving animals is our business. Even if you won't be shipping with us for this particular journey, we are here for you to help out in any way we can. 

Safe Travels!
Judy Clothier
Director of Accounts @ All Pro Shipping 

Please don't hesitate to reach out to Customer Service for any questions or concerns you might have regarding your shipments.  We're here for you! 
Monday - Friday, 7am - 6pm MST


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