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Steve Breinholt, Deseret News
Dozens of venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, alligators, turtles and other creatures are pictured at a warehouse at 641 W. 6960 South in Midvale on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. In a phone interview from his hospital bed at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Wednesday, James Dix, owner of Utah’s Reptile Rescue Service, said he had a heart attack and that is why he hasn’t been able to care for dozens of venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, alligators, turtles and other creatures at he left at the warehouse.

MIDVALE — A well-known reptile rescuer is under investigation, accused of abandoning dozens of venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, alligators, turtles and other creatures at a Midvale warehouse for two weeks.

James Dix, owner of Utah’s Reptile Rescue Service, denies abandoning the animals at the warehouse at 641 W. 6960 South. In a phone interview from his hospital bed at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Dix said he had a heart attack and that is why he hasn’t been able to care for the animals. He is currently listed in serious condition.

Despite this, county and state officials say dealing with Dix has been an ongoing saga since the summer.

“Twenty years of my life I’ve dedicated, and now they’re just trying to destroy the rescue and flush it down the toilet,” Dix said.

Deseret News archives
James Dix, owner of Reptile Rescue Service, holds several Albino Burmese Pythons Friday Feb. 18, 2011.

Dix left the roughly 100 critters at the warehouse on Jan. 22, according to workers.

“He promised to have these animals out of here in two days,” said Kyle Workman, one of the workers. “It’s been two weeks-plus.”

Workman said Dix had only returned once since that time, and several of the workers had tried to feed and care for the reptiles themselves over concerns of their well-being, despite little experience of how to do so.

He characterized the situation as Dix, a subcontractor for the organization, essentially dropping the reptiles in the workers’ laps.

“It more or less came down to, ‘You will watch these animals,’” Workman said. “‘You employ me, you are obligated to help me.’”

Dix said he got permission from his boss to bring the animals to the warehouse and that his ex-girlfriend was told by the boss that he had no problems having the animals stay a few more days.

Dix said he had to suddenly move the animals out of a building in Magna because the owner got tired of dealing with the Salt Lake County Zoning and Ordinance rules. She sold the building, and the new owner wouldn’t let him stay there. He said he moved them to the Midvale location and only planned on staying there for four or five days while they found another building.

Steve Breinholt, Deseret News
A snake is pictured at a warehouse at 641 W. 6960 South, Midvale, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. In a phone interview from his hospital bed at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Wednesday, James Dix, owner of Utah’s Reptile Rescue Service, said he had a heart attack and that is why he hasn’t been able to care for dozens of venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, alligators, turtles and other creatures at he left at the warehouse.

“We were going to move them Friday, and I wound up having a heart attack on the road and had to go to the hospital,” Dix said.

Workman said he ultimately contacted Salt Lake County Animal Services.

“See, one of the lizards has died,” Workman said, pointing to a carcass Tuesday. “We’ve had a few turtles perish.”

Dix said he had friends feeding the critters while he was in the hospital.

Wednesday morning, workers with Salt Lake County Animal Services assessed and removed the creatures from the Midvale location with the help of experts from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Inside the warehouse was an SUV belonging to Dix that was marked with caution signs about venomous snakes and reptiles inside.

Salt Lake County Animal Services spokeswoman Callista Pearson said Tuesday that Dix was already under investigation for suspicion of animal cruelty and abandonment after workers roughly two weeks ago removed and relocated nearly 150 animals from a space in Magna that Dix had been occupying. Pearson said a quarter of the animals appeared to be undernourished.

“It looked to us as if he had not fed or watered them for an extended period of time,” Pearson said.

Dix denies it.

“I didn’t know anything about that, but we are a rescue and some stuff comes in rough, and moving animals in the winter affects them, can put them in shock, hypothermia because they are all temperature related," he said.

Pearson said the case would ultimately have to be screened by county prosecutors.

Dix, who was awaiting surgery Thursday, said it was not unusual for his service to receive animals that were undernourished, and he suggested that the recent matter in Magna was simply part of an ongoing dispute with the county.

He maintained that the animals he had were generally well-cared for.

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“This is 20 years of dedicated service to the state of Utah and all the cities and counties who relied on me,” Dix said. “This has cost me thousands and thousands of dollars dedicated to whenever they call 24/7, 365 days a week, and the last thing we would do is just leave our animals and walk away from it. That’s not what happened.”

Workman said the reptiles left at the warehouse would likely receive better care if turned over to animal services.

“This is not the environment for these reptiles,” Workman said. “It’s not our responsibility as a business owner to take care of rescued animals.”