FARGO — Ever since Tasha Gorentz was a child, she’s been passionate about animals.
“I originally wanted to go to school to be a veterinarian,” Gorentz said.
Instead, she operates the Fargo-based rescue service known as Kritter Krazy Reptile and Exotic Rescue. Gorentz is the one to call when abandoned, displaced or unwanted reptiles and exotic animals need help. The service specializes in rescue, rehabilitation and “re-homing.”
“Our first responsibility is getting animals safe and healthy,” Gorentz said.
Once they’re adoptable, she said, the rescue embarks on finding them their “forever homes.” It operates across North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and Iowa.
Educational programming, which is a newly added component, includes school visits and “birthing parties.”
Knowing the care requirements for exotic pets tends to curb what she calls “impulse buying.”
“Anything we can do to educate the community about these animals and the care that they need,” Gorentz said.
Everything she’s learned has been a blend of personal research and experience.
She’s rescued a lot of snakes, but also chinchillas, lizards, frogs, geckos, iguanas, bearded dragons, bunnies and even farm animals such as horses, donkeys and sheep.
“We dabble a little bit in wildlife,” she said, “but you have to be really careful with that because of laws.”
Once, when an elderly woman died, a 3.5-foot alligator was found in her Fargo apartment. Gorentz was called to the scene.
“I was probably 110 pounds at that point,” she said. “I knock on the door, and they were like, ‘You’re the one who’s here to get this alligator?’ And I’m, like, ‘Yep. That’s me.’”
She’s also a full-time dispatcher for a trucking company, as well as a full-time mother.
“I don’t sleep,” she said.
It all started as a “volunteer hobby” in 2009 when Gorentz graduated high school. She’s been working solo for the last decade. In March, she applied for nonprofit status with the state. Board members have now been added to Kritter Krazy, and soon it will be granted 501(c)(3) status.
“I don’t consider myself owning it,” she said, “but I am the founding director.”
In truth, as many will tell you, Gorentz is much more than that. She’s the driving force behind the rescue and its mission.
Aaron Sauer, a Moorhead resident who once adopted a Kenyan sand boa from Kritter Krazy, said Gorentz is pretty incredible.
“She’s almost like a superhero,” Sauer said.
Sauer is also a part-time Petco employee who works in the aquatics and reptile department. It’s a convenient spot to pass along Gorentz’s mission and contact information.
“Almost anybody I come into contact with in the reptile section I tell about Tasha,” he said.
Running the rescue out of her Fargo home, where she also fosters children, Gorentz can house anywhere from 50 to 80 animals during any given week. They’re kept in a safe room.
The push for nonprofit status, which financially survives via adoption fees and small donations, comes at a time when Gorentz is looking for a permanent home for Kritter Krazy, one that’s not her own.
“We’re really kind of desperate here for a commercial space or a warehouse space,” she said.
A lot of the cost to run the rescue is out of Gorentz’s own pocket.
“That nonprofit status is really going to be the turnaround on trying to be able to get some funding and let us grow,” she said.
Emmalee Woods, a Grand Forks resident who just graduated from the University of North Dakota in December with a degree in wildlife biology, does transport for Kritter Krazy. She’s traveled as far as three hours away to rescue animals. Woods pays for her own time and mileage.
It’s worth it. Some of the reptiles she’s picked up have been in poor shape, Woods said, and getting them back to Gorentz is a top priority.
“I’ve always wanted to work with her,” Woods said. “I wanted to make her rescue process as easy as possible, so volunteering with her is what I did to help her.”
Woods is about to move to Arizona to work at one of the largest reptile sanctuaries in the United States.
“I want to open my own rescue,” she said.
She credits Gorentz as an inspiration.
Gorentz estimates she’s rescued and re-homed between 400 to 450 animals since 2009. Increased popularity in the exotic pet trade accounts for some of it, she said.
“It’s becoming more acceptable in society to have them normalized as pets and hobbies,” she said.
Sometimes life changes render owners unable to care for the exotic pets, but often it’s unpreparedness following an impulse buy.
“We do work with the local law enforcement, pound and vet offices,” Gorentz said.
Her phone will ring if animal control finds a reptile when an owner dies, or an apartment is vacated and reptiles are left behind.
It happens more than people may realize.
“Every day,” she said. “Every single day.”
Since she’s started to aggressively advertise Kritter Krazy, numbers of abandoned animals have gone down a bit, Gorentz said, and more people have reached out to her.
“I think a lot of it is people haven’t had an option,” she said.
Kritter Krazy aims to change that, and while she has a lot of support, it’s hard not to see it as Gorentz’s personal mission.
“This is 100% my passion project,” Gorentz said.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/KKRERESCUE/.