An O’Hara businesswoman is on a mission to find new homes for abandoned and abandoned exotic animals.
Sara Smith owns Sara’s Pets and Plants, in Sharpsburg at 908 Main St.
She takes care of more than 100 animals in her shop, all rescued or abandoned.
But Smith refuses animals that need help because his shelter is full.
“We are all extremely overwhelmed physically, mentally and financially and Sara’s Pets is no exception,” Smith said. “I don’t have room for them.”
Smith, 27, grew up surrounded by pets, plants and animals. She spent countless hours at local pet stores.
“As a kid, you could always find me in the yard, the woods, or the garden interacting with plants and animals,” Smith said.
His shop is home to a myriad of animals which includes an alligator, spiders, snakes, reptiles, rabbits, bearded dragons, and a very friendly chicken named Princess Peach.
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Smith sells pet products for cats and dogs, as well as live and frozen foods for exotic animals.
A graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University.
She first opened Sara’s in Squirrel Hill in 2018 and moved to Sharpsburg in 2020.
Operating one of the few exotic pet shelters in the Pittsburgh area, Smith said she wants the public to consider all of the duties and responsibilities that come with owning a pet.
“There are so many pet owners who buy a pet and realize very quickly that they are not equipped to take care of it. This puts many pets at risk for abuse and/or neglect,” Smith said.
Take Mildred, a young American alligator.
Mildred was rescued by Smith after she answered a frantic call from a mother of a 14-year-old boy who apparently had a secret.
“He hid the alligator in her bedroom for weeks, and she found it under a pile of clothes,” Smith said.
Smith said the teenager acquired the alligator from a reptile show without his parents’ permission.
Mildred will live with Sara until she is old enough to be placed in a legal and proper facility.
For now, Mildred is used for educational purposes.
The city of Pittsburgh banned the possession of alligators last year.
O’Hara’s Stacy Hogan was afraid of snakes. But Large Marge, a 10-foot-long redtail boa who lives with Sara, was instrumental in helping Hogan overcome his fear of snakes.
Hogan said Large Marge was out of his cage when he first visited Sara.
“Sara helped me overcome my fear of this. I love this place,” Hogan said.
Hogan has since adopted a hamster named Peanut. “He’s my precious little one, and we play on the floor every day.”
Smith said most of the animals in his care are difficult to place in new homes. Reasons include species requiring specialized care and requiring an experienced owner.
Smith’s animal care resume includes studies in wildlife conservation, biology and ecology in Tanzania and a stint as a biologist at a rainforest biodome in Dubai.
Her inventory of animals includes hamsters, finches, snakes, parakeets, rabbits, gerbils, rats, pigs, parrots, turtles, guinea pigs, cats and, of course, Mildred.
Sara’s unofficial chicken janitor is a spunky hen named Princess Peach, who loves to strut around the store and visit customers.
“She was getting beat up by the other chickens, and she likes humans better than chickens. She interacts with people and loves the attention,” Smith said.
Smith offers educational courses for schools, individuals, groups, birthday parties and fundraisers.
She formed a non-profit organization to help with the expenses of maintaining her menagerie of critters.
The easiest exotic pets to place in homes are bearded dragons and guinea pigs, Smith said.
“However, we are often overwhelmed with guinea pigs and bearded dragons because they are bought for children as an ‘easy pet,'” Smith said. “Children often lose interest and animals end up being abandoned.”
Lemony Snickets, a 10-year-old leopard gecko, was abandoned by her family after the children grew up losing interest in her.
“She is looking for someone who will give her all the love and attention for the rest of her life,” Smith said.
Customers can book personalized 30-minute “Children’s Zoo Days” sessions for $15 per person where participants interact, pet and learn about different animals.
Petting Zoo Days will be offered Monday through Thursday in April.
Appointment times are scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call 724-826-8520 for details.