Walter was found in a California drug house raid and needed rehab at a rescue there before he could be adopted last summer.
He now lives at 3314 Pearl St. in downtown McHenry, chilling out and getting to know his new digs.
Walter is not a dog or cat. He is a young American alligator now being cared for by Lucas Arnold and Caitlynn Kreutzer and ready to be a star for Cold Blooded Parties at its new reptile gallery.
The engaged couple opened Cold Blooded Parties as a traveling exhibit out of their Cary home six years ago. They bring a menagerie to events around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, giving children and adults the opportunity to get up close to and learn about the animals.
As their collection grew, the space they had at home did not, necessitating a larger building for the animals and their enclosures. On April 15, the McHenry gallery will open to paid visitors. In the meantime, Walter joins snakes, amphibians, lizards, rays, turtles and tortoises – including other rescues – in getting acclimated to their new home.
“This is education through interaction. That is the motto of Cold Blooded Parties. To educate in the understanding of them, gain knowledge and conquer fears” of exotic pets, Kreutzer said.
The education program includes teaching about the animals as potential pets and caring for them. It is care issues that have brought some of the exotic pets to them.
Two of the tortoises the couple now cares for are rescues that were relinquished to Waukegan Animal Control, Arnold said. Both are very small for their age because of how they were cared for: in a too-small enclosure. Cared for correctly, the tortoises can live for 100 years, Arnold said.
A reticulated python – surrendered because the owner’s housing situation changed – is also undersized. It was being fed only rats but needed larger prey for its age and size, Arnold said.
This is education through interaction. That is the motto of Cold Blood Parties. To educate in the understanding of them, gain knowledge and conquer fears.— Cold Blooded Parties co-owner Caitlynn Kreutzer
“That the animals grow to the size of the enclosure is a complete fallacy,” he said. “They grow to the size they are stressed to ... and perish from stress.”
The Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital in Skokie sees those stressed animals, practice manager Lamor Gatenio said. As the lone exotic-only veterinarian practice in Illinois, they see about 40 to 65 animals each day. They also field calls from people looking to surrender exotic pets.
Each day, Gatenio said, she gets calls about red-eared sliders, a turtle species. Sold for $5 as hatchlings and barely the size of a quarter, they can grow up to 16 inches long with a 20- to 30-year life span.
As they grow they have more needs, including a 50-gallon tank, food, toys and human interaction, Gatenio said.
Iguanas also can become too much for their owners, she said. “You buy it when it is cute and little, 8 to 10 inches [long]. It can grow to 6 or 7 feet.”
Once the McHenry location is open, Arnold and Kreutzer will not sell reptiles or take in animals that owners can no longer care for, Arnold said. They will offer education programs to help current owners or those interested in reptiles and snakes.
A few nights a month, they plan to host “reptile resource classes” with programs on cage construction, feeding and environmental needs for different species. “We will teach people the proper way to set up specific species enclosures so the animal can thrive,” Arnold said.
A sign out front will direct people overwhelmed with that care to contact Badgerland Reptile Rescue.
Based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the nonprofit has helped foster and re-home coldblooded pets since 2021, co-founder and board member Bill Stewart said.
There is an intensive application process to ensure the adopters know what they are getting into, so the animals are not “sucked back into the rescues” if it becomes too much for them, Stewart said.
Potential owners need to understand the dietary needs of these exotic pets and have cages with the right environmental controls set up first, he said. Some of those dietary needs include feeding dead rats, mice and even chicks to the lizards and snakes. A 30-pound pig was a meal for one of Arnold’s snakes one recent day.
When people began working from home when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, they adopted coldblooded pets along with dogs and cats, Stewart said. As people return to an office, they don’t have the time to care for their pet.
“There are so many animals being surrendered right now” because circumstances have changed for the owner, he said.
The exotic pet lovers said what they do not do is shame an owner for giving up a pet.
“Owners have different reasons they have to surrender,” Stewart said. “We don’t vilify or patronize them. We want them to research and know what they are getting into, but life circumstances change. We love to use the words: research, research, research. Google is at your fingertips.”
When cared for properly, coldblooded pets also make great companions, Stewart said.
“People are going to own coldblooded pets,” Arnold said. “If we can extend our knowledge to somebody and they are cared for properly, we did our job as educators.”
Arnold and Kreutzer bought most of their animals. Others were given up by good owners.
Betty, a white-throated monitor lizard, came from a owner who relinquished her because of a housing situation change, Arnold said. “With him, ... he did an amazing job. She was healthy and socialized; you just couldn’t expect a better animal.”