Popcorn the albino Burmese, Elsa the savannah monitor, Mr. Pinchy the scorpion, Harvey Dent the bearded dragon, and Stickers the crested gecko.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds like someone’s Beanie Babies collection, but it’s not.
While they may be full of beans, they’re living, breathing reptiles that are a part of Jennifer Lestage’s family.
The young entrepreneur has amassed approximately 60 animals and they all live with her in her home.
Lestage has about 40 snakes, ranging from Western hognose to boa constrictors to pythons. She has a collection of lizards – skinks, bearded dragons and water dragons – as well as tarantulas, scorpions, amphibians, toads and frogs.
Seventy-per cent of her loving reptiles are rescues or have been re-homed.
“I’ve literally had reptiles dropped off at my front door,” Lestage says. “I’ve woken up and there’s an animal there. Every animal has a back story.”
Dexter the bald python was found in Vancouver tangled up in fishing net while another of Lestage’s bald pythons was living in a college house and was burnt with lighters.
Lexi the snake once bit her former owner who then became too frightened to feed her and after being starved for a year, Lexi ate her boyfriend.
But with Lestage’s tender loving care, the animals have all been rehabilitated and Lestage takes them on the road to educate people and challenge the myths surrounding reptiles.
She founded CR Animal Parties in February 2012 to offer live reptile, amphibian and invertebrate shows across Vancouver Island.
“It’s something different,” says Lestage of the birthday party shows she offers. “You can only get a clown or go to the pool so many times. It’s usually that the kids are animal lovers and they get this hands-on experience. I call it ‘edu-tainment’. I make the kids laugh but they learn a lot.”
Lestage says her blue-tongued lizard Gimli is always a crowd pleaser as is Kyle the box turtle.
“Everyone loves Kyle, he’s hilarious,” Lestage says proudly. “He’ll chase you, he’ll chase his toy car around the room. He’s just hilarious.”
While a large part of Lestage’s business is birthday parties, her animals are also used for therapeutic purposes.
“The Adult Care Facility in Willow Point is one of my more frequent clients,” Lestage says. “The reptiles are great for pet therapy and people with compromised immune systems who can’t be around dander. You have these clean animals and people can still play with them – it’s awesome.”
But Lestage says her most memorable experience to date was last summer when she travelled to Nanaimo to do a birthday party for a group of special needs children.
“It was really neat, the boy was in a wheelchair and I brought the biggest boa constrictor we had, and wrapped it around his wheelchair,” Lestage says. “It was the most heart warming show I’ve done. They were so inquisitive and they now want to hire me every year.”
While Lestage loves what she does, it unfortunately doesn’t pay the bills. The money she makes through CR Animal Parties only goes far enough to house her reptiles and provide them with food and water.
“The animals just support themselves, there’s no room for emergencies,” Lestage says. “Otherwise, I don’t buy groceries that month.”
Fortunately, she has enough education that most of the time she’s able to do her own veterinary care. She knows how to make up her own ointment to treat snakes who get dropped off at her door with mites and she can often holistically treat a snake who’s been taken in with a respiratory infection because the owner wasn’t providing the snake with enough light.
Lestage has been fascinated by reptiles for as long as she can remember.
“I was researching snakes since I was old enough to read. I was missing that gene that told me to be cautious of reptiles,” says Lestage, who grew up in Ontario. “I got my first snake when I was 16 and my mother was out of town – Montey, the spotted python, and I still have her to this day. It was kind of like opening Pandora’s box, all of a sudden I knew that was my passion and my hobby.”
With a little more research, Lestage discovered she could take up breeding and make money doing it.
But after moving to B.C., breeding wasn’t working as well as it did in Ontario and her mind set started to change.
“I didn’t want them treated as stock and the more people were brining in sick snakes, the more I wanted to educate and not just saturate the market,” Lestage says. “I was a breeder and it wasn’t rubbing me the right way anymore.”
So with the help of the Community Futures program, which provided Lestage with modest living expenses while trying to start up her company, CR Animal Parties was born.
And Lestage’s weekends have been busy with animal parties ever since.
“I just want to promote a healthy respect for our natural environment,” Lestage says. “TV shows now are like ‘the top 10 deadliest animals’, like animals are evil now. There’s a lot of sensationalist programming and I miss the healthy love of animals. We don’t need the ‘top ten deadliest snakes.’”