Sep 29, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Looking to brighten Diana Sleiertin’s day? Start with two words, “domesticated reptile.”
“I love that term,” said Sleiertin when asked if MaxMan Reptile Rescue, of Jordan, deals with mostly domesticated reptiles. Sleiertin was at the New York State Fair’s Veterinary Hall Sept. 1 with her team of volunteers, preparing to lead her third demonstration of the day.
Sleiertin said reptiles aren’t technically considered domesticated, “but the fact of the matter is most of the reptiles that are in the pet trade have been captive bread and captive born for so long that you could legitimately consider them domesticated animals.”
While during the spring and summer MaxMan responds to a lot of calls about turtles or snakes that have been hit by cars, the majority of animals they work with are from the pet trade.
MaxMan is staffed with around 45 volunteers, and offers a junior volunteer program for kids ages 8 to 18. It started as just Sleiertin and her son Declan Placidi, now 10.
Declan’s been handling reptiles and helping with presentations since he was 3 years old.
MaxMan rescue is all about protecting animals while they heal as well as finding them a proper home. Sleiertin told a story of one college student who wished to adopt a tortoise but did not have the funds.
“We waived the adoption fee,” she said. “I’m not worried about trying to get money from college students. I’d rather find the right home for the animal.”
Sleiertin’s passion for animals translates to a passion for animal education. Her role as an educator began 15 years ago when her friends started asking her to perform reptile shows for their kids using her iguana. That iguana was named Maximillian, hence “MaxMan.”
“It basically hobbied out of control,” she said. Her hobby, of reptile education, fits right into the fair atmosphere.
“The number one thing for me about coming to the Fair is reaching out to a huge audience of people to say, this can be safe,” she said. “These animals are not scary. Learn about them and you can have the most amazing experiences in the world.”
Everything Sleiertin knows about reptiles she has sought out on her own. She praises the internet for allowing her to talk to “some of the most amazing people in this community,” including skilled veterinarians, top researches and top carriers at zoos around the world.”
“I’m not an expert, I’m a hobbyist with a lot of knowledge, and anytime I have a question, I go to someone else who can help me,” she said.
From Michian to Jordan
Sleiertin moved MaxMan Reptile Rescue to Jordan from Michigan in May of 2004 and has discovered a supportive reptile owner community in Central New York. She spoke of the Upstate Herpetological Association, which has a membership of 150 reptile and amphibian owners and supports hobbyists like herself. As is the case with MaxMan, the UHA seeks to educate reptile owners on “what’s the right reptile for you and how do you handle that animal safely.”
“I’d encourage anyone with reptiles to join,” Sleiertin said.
She said choosing to come to Jordan was a “dart on the map kind of thing.”
“I wanted a small community where I would not be in the city so we could have the animals and allow the animals to have some space,” she said. “We have a seven-acre piece of property so we have large enclosures outside, the animals can get outside, get some sun — that’s all very important for us.”
If you walked to the Hall of Veterinary Health from the main gate of the fair, you would pass an attraction that exemplifies everything MaxMan is working against — the man-eating snake exhibit.
“It’s important to me to have kids up here handling these animals in a safe, controlled environment, not the guy over there going, ‘For a buck come see our man-eater, look at our killer snake!'”
Sleiertin’s most rewarding experience from this year’s fair involved a woman with an abject fear of snakes. Upon seeing one of MaxMan’s snakes being handled outside the Hall of Veterinary Health, she simply would not come inside. It took 15 minutes for Sleiertin to convince the woman otherwise. Not long after, the woman was actively petting one of MaxMan’s snakes — as if she were petting a dog.
“She’s not going out to get a snake tomorrow for a pet, but she’s that much less likely to run it over with a lawnmower,” Sleiertin said. “That’s really what this is all about educating people and getting them past that fear.”