My Herp Club Was S.C.A.R.I | Horrors of Herp Clubs
Authored by Staycy Doolittle of Doolittle Exotics Founder/President of S.C.A.R.I.
It was 2011 and the buzz was building about Burmese Pythons being added to the Lacey Act. I had been keeping snakes since about 2007, me being in my early 40’s and my son being 3 years-old. When Lacey became prominent, we had about 5 snakes, some lizards and were getting our first tarantula. My goal was to present educational programs about reptiles/amphibians and invertebrates.
This was also the year when the big names in the Herp world were doing a lot of videos to get their word out. I found several professional to follow, ie: Brian Barczyk of BHB/Snakebyte, Rob Carmen (TarantulaGuy1979), Justin Meitz of Reno Herp Society…..just to name a few. I wanted to get involved into something bigger.
I had also been noticing this was not a friendly hobby for a newbie to be getting into.
Justin was putting out video after video about how important, and easy, it was to start a Local Herp Society. I am a “by the numbers” kind of gal, and I really want a step-by-step plan when I am going to dive into new territory. I was able to make contact with Justin but never got the information I was searching for.
Then Lacey was upon us. I felt pushed into getting a Burmese before I thought I was ready because I was afraid they were not going to be available after they were added to Lacey. A frenzy started with the professionals that I caught on to. Snake Awareness Day was born and I took the huge step outside my comfort zone to take it over for Louisiana. All summer of 2011, I kept saying to my family
‘I just have to start a Herp club and I had to do it NOW.’
I finally did in October 2011 and S.C.A.R.I. (Shreveport Community for Amphibians, Reptiles & Invertebrates) came into existence. I rallied what few “reptile friendly” people I knew and I put up signs at every Pet Shop that would allow me to. I was warned that Herp clubs did not last long in the Shreveport, LA area and we would be lucky if we lasted 3 years. Politics was always the reason given for the breakup of the clubs. Also I was warned it was way too difficult to get speakers.
The first meeting went great, positions were appointed, I took President, I had a VP that was well versed in local snakes, was licensed to keep venomous (he loved his rattlers!). We had a vet tech for a treasurer and the Secretary and Sgt At Arms were local enthusiasts. We also had a children’s chapter called S.C.A.R.I. Kids! and the children were going to have programs and assignments to give back to the club to sneak in that public speaking early.
The first year, we had meeting at each other houses, doing a round robin arrangement so everyone had a chance to show off their set-ups. We were allowing the public to come to the meetings. I was having no problem scheduling speakers and we even obtained our first, and only, Board of Directors member. We were hoping to go non-profit under our Mission of Education.
We had one individual who came to one of our house meetings who just took offense at everything we said and did. I honestly think he was mostly upset because I, a female, was the President of the club. He decided not to join our club, but to start another club. Stories were coming to me and my VP that our “competitor” was saying bad things about us and S.C.A.R.I. The only think I could say was that when people met us they would know the stories were not true. Our Secretary then resigned. She stated it was for health problems, but we later found out that it was because her husband, also a S.C.A.R.I. member, had taken a VP position with the other club and she did not want a conflict of interest, but everything was very hush-hush.
S.C.A.R.I. talked about it and decided that since there were no secrets about what we were doing and what S.C.A.R.I. was all about, that as long as an individual only held a position in one club, we had no problems. That club folded within 3 months, politics was said to be the killer. That club leader then formed a private club under his reptile business and he slowly drifted away with its many interests he was trying to pursue.
Starting the second year, we decided we were done house-hopping and found us a home at a local Wildlife Refuge. In exchange for meeting space, we would have programs through them. Which worked well as that is where we have always had Snake Awareness Day.
Working in the Legal Community, it was very natural for me to continue to keep reporting to S.C.A.R.I. on what was going on with Lacey as time moved on. I remember being surprised that club members did not think it was such a big deal and one member even told me he was tired of hearing about Lacey. The club voted down joining USARK as group.
One of the big goals of the VP and myself was to have a Herp Con come to the Shreveport area. We had not been a club for 2 months when we found out that a major Con was coming to our area! I was so excited that I had made copies of the magazine and sent the copies out to the local Pet Stores. I made contact with the Con people and was able to get S.C.A.R.I. involved from the front. We handed out roughly 1500 flyers in our area, S.C.A.R.I. was interviewed and featured in the local newspaper and we even got on the local TV news show. My VP and I even gave talks during the Con.
Little did we know what we were getting into. The Con had scheduled 3 shows for Shreveport having never showed here before. We worked so hard to help them out that we had no time for S.C.A.R.I. Attendance was low at the Con and the vendors were discouraged, so S.C.A.R.I. started making “Thank You” gifts for the vendors. We had a crawfish boil for them, gave them cookies and cokes, etc. After the 2nd year, the Con burned itself out in our area. They were no longer doing any type of advertising besides us passing out the flyers, until the venders stopped coming because the crowds wouldn’t. Needless to say, we were glad to see the shows stop as it took so much out of the individuals in S.C.A.R.I.
Back to S.C.A.R.I. business…Our first holiday season, we decided on a Pot Luck and a raffle to raise money for the club. I had been trying to get members to agree on a Steve Irwin look-alike contest, but I could not get any interest. What we did decide on was “Come As Your Favorite Animal Related Personality (real or fictional)”. Having the namesake, I came as Dr. Doolittle with lab coat, stethoscope and (stuffed) animals hanging out of my pockets. Someone did come as Steve Irwin, another came as Orry Martin and my son went as Brian Barczyk. No one else dressed up.
As we were getting into doing presentations more and having people handle our animals on a more regular basis, I was concerned about any individual or S.C.A.R.I. itself getting sued over a bite. I tried to explain to our members the importance of having insurance to protect ourselves, but they voted the idea down.
As a club, most of S.C.A.R.I. was able to attend NARBC in Texas. We were able to get to spend some time with Brian Barczyk, who was kind enough to speak to our club.
We dealt with, the best we could, emergency issues between members in the beginning. We babysat each other’s animals when we were out-of-town. We fed each other and each other’s animals when times were tight. That attitude dwindled after the 2nd year. Some members were getting obviously upset because their ideas were constantly getting voted down. When one would make it through a vote, the idea never lasted after the first application. From there it went to being in people’s ears with stories that never panned out. The politicking did not produce the benefit hoped for and at one time the actions turned to bullying. I had S.C.A.R.I. take action against those individuals which created a suspension hearing. That was the beginning of the end of S.C.A.R.I. It seemed no one wanted to be the parent or at least continue to back the parent after confronting the member. Our treasurer resigned her office position after that, but did stay a member.
Once things smoothed out we were starting our last year. I had actually tried to close the club last year, but our Sgt At Arms who by now also held the Secretary position (as no one wanted to take an office), begged for 1 more year. “We will make it work!” he said. “We will send out more e-mails, update the database, get more people involved, etc.” So we changed our format. We were only going to meet 4 times instead of 10. We were going to rotate out programs, S.C.A.R.I. Kids! Programs and meetings. We were doing 4 programs within a year at our local wildlife refuge. Well, 3 of the 4 programs happened. A behind-the-scenes zoo trip was voted on. I was able to schedule the event with a month’s notice. Myself, my son and my boyfriend were the only S.C.A.R.I. members to show. I actually bought memberships for my parents so we can have more than 3 people attend. There were no programs/activities for S.C.A.R.I. Kids! all year. Only 6 people paid their dues for the year out of about 14 and our Sgt At Arms/Secretary sent out an email to everyone suddenly saying he quit his position and the club. No further explanation was ever give. There were no minutes from the year.
This was a big learning experience for me. I made some valuable connections and listened to some sage advice. My son, who is now in 5th grade will be in his 3rd year of speaking to a 7th grade class about snakes, so we will continue doing our education programs for schools and the like. Would I do it all again? No. This is a situation that I feel is better handled by having a lot of good solid contacts so you can do YOUR thing without having to worry about appeasing others.
Founder/President of S.C.A.R.I.
(Shreveport Community of Amphibians, Reptiles & Invertebrates)