Reptile Man Struggles To Find Shelter For 500 Rescued 'Residents'

The Utah Department of Transportation has bulldozed 40 homes in Salt Lake County to make way for a planned four-lane freeway. But one home in West Valley City, which was meant to be vacated three months ago, remains untouched. Disturbing it would unleash hundreds of the most dangerous animals in America.

Jim Dix runs the only Reptile Rescue Service in Utah. Police agencies, animal-control officers, and shelters across the state will call Dix up whenever a particularly deadly snake, iguana, lizard or alligator needs a place to stay, reports Utah News.

In April, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon named Dix a 2011 Vital Volunteer for "his efforts to care and rescue sick, impounded, endangered and unwanted reptiles and other animal species."

There are now more than 500 animals in Dix's care, 200 of which he calls "permanent residents" -- often used to train law enforcement officials in their safe handling and teach the community about the fascinating and life-threatening creatures in their midst.

West Valley City officials have offered Dix and his scaly brood temporary respite at the city's old animal shelter, as Dix struggles through a city application process to settle in a more rural locale.

Relocation is often a bureaucratic headache, but it's even more challenging when your family includes a 250-pound tiger-reticulated python. Dix, the West Valley City Council, and planning and zoning officials are currently working through a lengthy list of housing, business and zoning regulations.

Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac believes that new regulations may need to be written for the occasion.

"We have no zoo ordinance," Isaac said at a meeting Monday in City Hall. "We can't just waive our existing laws."

Dix fears that his cold-blooded friends may meet a tragic fate. "You want control of those animals so you can destroy them if I'm not out of there in 90 days," he told Isaac.

It's a harrowing thought for man who's dedicated his life to saving unwanted animals from unnecessary death. Dix began collecting reptiles at the age of 12, when Salt Lake County Animal Services told him that a particular box turtle would be euthanized if it wasn't adopted. Dix took it home for $5. Forty years later, Dix has many more impressive creatures in his collection. But turtles, he told, will always be his favorite.

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