Delta • Evicted from West Valley City, Jim Dix and his 500-plus slimy, scaly and furry friends are welcome in their new home.
Dix, owner of Reptile Rescue Service, relocated his animal sanctuary to a 7,000-square-foot commercial building on this Millard County city's north end. And residents hope it becomes another reason for folks to visit this west desert community.
"We're happy to have him," said Lorie Skeem, office manager at the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to be a nice thing in the community."
Dix came to Delta after being forced out of a five-bedroom home one he shared with the snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, alligators and coyotes he has rescued in his 18-year career to make way for the Mountain View Corridor along the Salt Lake Valley's west side.
With the help of volunteers, several trucks and a crane, Dix and his 500 or so critters made the move three weeks ago though he spent about 36 hours on the road shuttling the animals to their new home.
There were casualties. The cold weather and trauma claimed six snakes, two turtles, two monitor lizards, a desert tortoise and an albino Burmese python.
"We're hoping that's the end of it," Dix said. "A lot of them are traumatized."
The survivors are housed in cages, tanks and other enclosures inside the building, alongside sandbags from a mining company that is moving out.
And Delta is happy to have the whole slithering, crawling, leaping lot.
"Delta is a really nice town," Dix said. "They're willing to work with us."
Armed with a conditional-use permit from the city and eyeing an open house in May, Dix plans to make the sanctuary a place where visitors can see the reptiles, many of them native to Utah. He also expects to set up outdoor exhibits in the summer to showcase some of his turtles and tortoises.
There will also be room to teach animal control officers, police and others how to safely handle and care for reptiles.
Gary Losee, Dix's landlord and owner of neighboring Losee Lumber, was more than willing to open doors to a reptile sanctuary.
"My family is all saying they want to bring their kids down," said Losee, predicting that the menagerie will attract more visitors to Delta.
Resident Arma Holman agrees. "People are anxious to see what is over there."
Dix sees another bonus in his new location: It provides a more central spot to respond to reptile calls throughout the state.
Sometimes he is tapped to remove rattlesnakes from homes. Occasionally, bad guys plant snakes to scare off police searches. Dix remembers some thieves who were crashing wedding receptions to swipe gift cards. When confronted by the cops, the men warned that three venomous snakes were in the car. The officers called Dix, and the suspects were off to jail and the snakes were off to his sanctuary.
Dix recovered an alligator, nicknamed Snappy, in a Dumpster behind a fast-food joint in Salt Lake County. Snappy now shares a tub with another gator, found near an irrigation line in Cedar City.
Each year, Dix rescues about 3,000 reptiles. Most find new homes. Some stay with him. And now those animals all stay in Delta.