Shed Skin Reptile Experience is owned and operated by Jeff Porto. A recently retired Hayward police officer, he has turned his hobby of raising reptiles into a business.
“I got my first one when I was 8 years old,” he said. “It was a gopher snake. I was riding my bike, and I thought it was a stick, so I picked it up.”
After he convinced his mother to keep the snake, his love of reptiles grew.
One unique aspect to the shop is that all of the animals inside have been rescued or raised from birth by Porto, and he considers all of them his personal pets. He said he started breeding reptiles about 15 years ago, and he has close to 300 reptiles that range in age from juvenile to adult.
Porto said that, at this point in his life, his desire to spread his love of reptiles has slightly surpassed his desire to keep all of them as pets. In fact, it was the motivating factor for him to open his shop.
“I love them enough not to sell them, but I have to,” he said.
Because he loves his animals, he said, he tries to educate his customers before he sells.
In addition to teaching customers about the species, he can also show his customers what their animal could grow into as an adult by walking a few steps to a different display area.
Not everyone, he said, understands reptiles. He said a man visited the store wanting to purchase a chameleon for his 5-year-old daughter. He said he had to explain that a chameleon was a poor choice, because a child’s desire to hold it would eventually kill that species of lizard.
“I’m a small outfit that started as a hobby,” Porto said. “There are big breeders, and I’m a little man who wants to do the right thing and teach them (customers).”
The largest reptiles on display — a 5-foot black-throat monitor lizard, a 14-foot reticulated python and a 155-pound Sulcata tortoise — are not for sale, but they are fun to watch in their display areas.
Although the adults cannot be bought, he does sell a variety of their offspring, including young savannah and Nile monitor lizards, tegu lizards and sulcata tortoises, and a variety of snakes, including corn snakes, boas and pythons.
Prices of the animals depend upon the species, and choices range from those suitable for a novice owner to those best for an experienced breeder.
Those looking to start out might want to consider a simple green anole lizard for $8.99, while a more experienced reptile enthusiast might want to consider purchasing Porto’s 4-year-old sulcata tortoise for $450 or his albino python for $2,000, Porto said.
In addition to teaching his customers, Porto also has a traveling reptile program that he takes on the road to schools as an educational tool.
“It is fun going to the schools, because children ask the simplest questions, like ‘do they bite?’” he said, “You describe reptiles by what they do, where they are from and what they look like. They only have one (thought) — survive, live and eat.”
In addition to selling the animals, Porto also has food, equipment, supplies and environmental cages for sale.
Shed Skin Reptile Experience is inside the West Valley Mall, 3200 Naglee Road, and can be contacted on the Web at www.shedskin.net or by calling 404-3107.