Weird and wild collide at exotic animal rescue and pet shop in Sharpsburg

A businesswoman from O’Hara is on a mission to find new homes for abandoned and surrendered exotic animals.

Sara Smith owns Sara’s Pets and Plants, located at 908 Main St. in Sharpsburg.

Smith tends to more than 100 animals at her shop, all of them rescued or surrendered animals.

But she’s turning away animals that need help because her shelter is full.

“We’re all extremely overwhelmed physically, mentally and financially and Sara’s Pets is no exception,” Smith said. “I do not have the space for them.”

Smith, 27, grew up surrounded by pets, plants, animals and spent countless hours inside local pet stores.

“As a child you could always find me in the yard, woods or garden interacting with plants and animals,” Smith said.

Her shop houses a myriad of animals that includes an alligator, spiders, snakes, reptiles, bunnies, bearded dragons, and a very friendly chicken named Princess Peach.

Smith sells pet products for cats and dogs and live and frozen food for exotic pets.

A graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science from Penn State University.

She first opened Sara’s in Squirrel Hill in 2018 and relocated to Sharpsburg in 2020.

One of the few exotic pet rescues in the Pittsburgh region, Smith said she wishes the public would consider all of the duties and responsibilities that come with pet ownership.

“There are so many pet owners who purchase a pet and very quickly realize that they’re not equipped to take care of it. That puts many pets at risk for abuse and/or neglect,” Smith said.

Take Mildred, a juvenile American alligator.

Mildred was saved by Smith after she fielded a frantic call from a mother of a 14-year-old boy who apparently had a secret.

“He was hiding the alligator in his room for weeks, and she found it under a pile of clothes,” Smith said.

Smith said the teen acquired the alligator from a reptile show without his parents’ permission.

Mildred will live at Sara’s until she is old enough to be placed in a legal and appropriate facility.

For now, Mildred is used for educational purposes.

The city of Pittsburgh placed a ban on owning alligators last year.

Stacy Hogan of O’Hara used to be afraid of snakes.

But Large Marge, a 10-foot-long red tailed boa that lives at Sara’s was instrumental in helping Hogan get over her fear of snakes.

Hogan said Large Marge was out of her cage when she first visited Sara’s.

“Sara helped me to get me over my fear of that. I love this place,” Hogan said.

Hogan has since adopted a hamster named Peanut.

“He’s my little precious, and we play on the floor everyday.

Smith said most of the animals under her care are difficult to place in new homes. Reasons include the species needing specialized care and requiring an experienced owner.

Smith’s animal care resume includes studying wildlife conservation, biology and ecology in Tanzania and a stint as biologist in a rain forest bio dome in Dubai.

Her animal inventory includes hamsters, finches, snakes, parakeets, bunnies, gerbils, rats, pigs, parrots, turtles, guinea pigs, cats and of course, Mildred.

Sara’s unofficial chicken concierge is a spunky hen named Princess Peach.

Princess Peach loves to strut about the store and visit with customers.

“She was getting beat up by the other chickens, and she likes humans better than chickens. She interacts with people and absolutely loves the attention,” Smith said.

Smith offers educational classes to schools, individuals, groups, birthday parties and fundraisers.

She formed a nonprofit to help with the expense of maintaining her menagerie of critters.

The easiest exotic animals to place in homes are bearded dragons and guinea pigs, Smith said.

“However, we are often overwhelmed by guinea pigs and bearded dragons because they are purchased for children as an ‘easy pet,’ ” Smith said. “The children often become uninterested, and the animals end up being surrendered.”

Lemony Snickets, a 10-year-old leopard gecko, was surrendered by her family after the children grew up and lost interest in her.

“She’s searching for someone who will give her all the love and attention for the rest of her days,” Smith said.

Customers can book personalized 30-minute “Petting Zoo Days” sessions for $15 per person in which participants interact, pet and learn about different animals.

“Petting Zoo Days” will be offered Monday-Thursday during April.

Appointment times are scheduled from 2 pm to 5:30 pm

To book a “Petting Zoo Days” session, event, party or to adopt call 724-826-8520.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725 , or via Twitter .

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