LEWISTON — Day campers cooed at Widget, the baby bunny. They thrust fistfuls of fresh-pulled grass at Kobe, a tortoise the size of a basketball. They were simultaneously disgusted and entranced by the stick bug as it played, well, a stick.

But it was Burnie, a rescued boa constrictor, who caused the 50 fourth-graders at Pathway Vineyard Church’s day camp to surge toward handler Andrew Desjardins with excitement.  

“Oh! Is that a. . . is that a. . . I know what that is,” said 10-year-old Jamison Barnett, breathless with awe as Burnie draped around Desjardins’ shoulders. “That can eat a human body!”

Snakes are always popular in “Mr. Drew and His Animals, Too” shows, which is just fine with Desjardins — the “Mr. Drew” part of the crew. Exotic pets get the kids’ attention in the moment. His advocacy for the animals, he hopes, sticks with them forever. 

“You get an animal because it’s cool, sure,” he told the kids. “You get an animal because you’re interested, sure. But if you’re going to get it, give it love. Because all these animals I got were not given love. They were neglected, they were abused, they were hurt. They were not learned about.”

Desjardins, 45, has loved animals since he was a boy growing up in Lewiston. Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary was his personal version of Animal Planet.

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“I found salamanders, frogs,” he said. “I was always curious. Then it just progressed.”

As an adult, he bought a pet store in Connecticut. But the business wasn’t always as lucrative as it could have been. Desjardins wasn’t shy about telling customers no — as in, “No, you can’t buy that rabbit because that’s not a good pet for you.”

“I used to turn people away,” he said. “But your livelihood depends on (selling), and you’ve got to do it, so you start going, ‘God, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ After 15 years, I said, ‘This is crazy.'”

Desjardins left the pet store and returned to Maine, where he quickly became known for his ability to care for animals, particularly reptiles. He found homes for pets that were unwanted and abused. The sickest ones he cared for himself or helped as vets cared.

Over the years, Desjardins and his family have amassed over 100 animals, including snakes, frogs, lizards, turtles and tortoises, rats, rabbits, birds and insects. Nearly all came from homes that didn’t want them anymore. Many were abused or neglected. 

Burnie the snake who so delighted the children at day camp had been set on fire when his previous owner didn’t want him anymore. Kobe, the tortoise, had a severely softened shell, respiratory infection and intestinal infection because his previous owner didn’t know how to care for him.

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“Every animal has a story,” Desjardins told the children at day camp.

He offered Mr. Drew and His Animals, Too shows for years. It was a good way to educate people about exotic pets, and sometimes he got donations to help him care for the animals. In recent months, he received so many requests for shows — at schools, birthday parties and events — that he started focusing on it as a full-time business.

While the children “ooh” and “ahh” over the animals, Desjardins teaches them specific characteristics about the creatures. Snakes, for instance, can’t hear. The children also learned about their habitats (turtles live in water, tortoises don’t) and their personalities (even laid-back animals can bite).

At the Pathway Vineyard Church day camp, where Desjardins and about 20 of his animals recently spent the day, campers were fascinated.

“I thought it was awesome,” said 9-year-old Myriah Blais, who favored the snakes. “They have cool stories. Well, sad stories.”

With those sad stories, Desjardins emphasizes that pets should be loved and cared for — a lesson he hopes will sink in with both children and adults.

“Love is key,” he said. “From there, everything else should come.”

Have an idea for Animal Tales? Contact Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or [email protected].


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