CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – This was supposed to be a somewhat quirky feature about a local lizard rescue group and their outing in the park. 

But the following emotional twist left the head of A Dragon’s Den Reptile Sanctuary Rehabilitation and Learning Center in tears.

“If I’m being honest, I cried hysterically,” executive director Alyssa Van Steyn said.

Let’s start at the beginning before we go to that heartbreaking sense of loss.

When it’s not raining cats and dogs, and nature turns its high beams on, it’s human nature to find a spot to soak up the sun. 

At North Charlotte Neighborhood Park in NoDa, the sign states park rules adhere to strictly enforced leash laws. At least when it comes to dogs. But what we saw unleashed was an entirely different animal.

“Natural sunlight is amazing,” Van Steyn explained as she and volunteers set up tents to allow rescued reptiles to frolic in direct sunlight. “Every opportunity that we have, they are outside.”

The sunbathers ranged from bearded dragons Spike, Dusk, and Slizzard, to Ashley, the gecko, to Mariah Carey, the Pacman frog. The group said they basked in UV rays, and the solar power even appeared to lift spirits.

“It’s a natural way to produce D3, which then helps them absorb calcium and avoids a lot of medical problems,” Van Steyn says. “Having people come up and interact with the lizards is really good and makes them more adoptable.”

Volunteer Wood Watts says being in the field educates the public and lifts morale.

“And these guys deserve it so much because they’ve had such a rough life,” said Watts. “When they’re eased up and kicking back, it’s a great day.”

Little Man’s Road to Rescue

The beardie dubbed Little Man is perhaps the saddest story. The rescue took him in after the former owner starved and badly burned Little Man with a cigarette. After two surgeries and some bandages, the bearded dragon appeared to be on the mend.

“His personality goes from being really bleak to vibrant and active,” says Van Steyn.

“I call him Little Miracle Man,” said Katie Camille, who decided to adopt him. “Because we did not think he was going to survive, and he’s had so much support online and in the local community, so it’s really heartwarming just to see him thrive.”

Then, the shocker. Optimism gave way to grief just two days later when Little Man died.

“I grew very attached to him,” Van Steyn said. “I took his progress so personally where I was just so happy, and it warmed my soul. I took his death equally as hard.”

For any animal rescue, such deaths can be soul-crushing. But the group takes some comfort in the fact that Little Man seized the day and the rays.

“He got to eat his clover and enjoy some days in the sun, which was definitely where he was the happiest,” Van Steyn said. 

She and her compassionate volunteers believe after all the creatures endured, they deserve their moment in the sun.