Unwanted or injured snakes, lizards and tortoises have found refuge for the last decade at RARE, a private nonprofit shelter in Cheektowaga.
After an electrical fire Wednesday killed 32 creatures and badly damaged the building at 739 Borden Road, the volunteer agency is seeking temporary quarters for 43 survivors, some of which suffered burns or inhaled smoke.
"I need to find someplace where I can rehab them," said Marion Janusz, founder and executive director of RARE, which stands for Reptile Adoption, Rehabilitation, Education. She hopes to speed up the adoption of animals that escaped injury.
Janusz smelled smoke in the 1 1/2 -story ranch home at about 6 p.m., and found the cellar where most critters were housed was ablaze.
Volunteers from South Line Fire District who answered the call "were great," she said. "They brought out the animals in their cages. They tried to save them all." But many died from the heat and smoke.
The state-licensed shelter is traditionally open to pets that have been discarded for various reasons, chief among them the inability or unwillingness of owners to continue caring for them. It has a small budget, and people generally find it by word of mouth or are referred by the Buffalo Zoo, the SPCA or veterinarians.
"I have always had a pretty positive impression of their motives and what they do with animals," said the zoo's general curator, Gerald D. Aquilina.
The need for RARE's services was great from the start. Two years ago the organization ran out of room at its former location on Bright Street in Cheektowaga and moved to Borden Road.
Though the basement and the first floor offices, library and animal care facilities were lost, the shelter will be repaired, Janusz said.