A baby gecko got trapped in my screen door the other day, between the inner and outer meshes that sort-of pretend to keep mosquitos out of the house. (The screen door doesn’t fit in the jamb so it can never really close, so even if the meshes were tight enough to keep mosquitos out–which they aren’t–the mosquitos would–and do–just go in through the open door. But I digress.)

I don’t know how the gecko got in there, but it couldn’t figure out how to get itself back out so it just thrashed wildly in the narrow gap where it could actually move. The screen door is divided by crossbars into three segments; at those crossbars the inner and outer meshes come together, but towards the center they are about a half an inch apart, which is where the baby gecko scurried around frantically, casting weird little shadows on my floor.

I have a soft spot for geckos. I once kept a pair of them as pets. They were named Fruit and Cheese, and they were easy to tell apart because Cheese was dangerously overweight. I had, and still have, no idea how to make geckos exercise, so I tried to restrict Cheese’s diet. I would take her (I don’t remember if I decided that they were female or if there is some way to tell) out of her cage and feed her separately. Experience showed that if I fed them together then Cheese would eat all the crickets and Fruit would starve.

Eventually a dissatisfied Cheese took to just eating everything, including the stuff on the bottom of the cage and whatever other things could fit in her mouth, and so she died. Fruit died shortly thereafter, for no obvious reason. (Have I mentioned that I have no business keeping pets? When I was a kid I had a cactus that fell out of its pot one day. It had dried to the point that it detached from its roots. “You have to water it at least some times,” my mother said as she shook her head at my idiocy. I shouldn’t even keep plants.)

I still like geckos, though. I like their sticky little feet, and how they nonchalantly lick their eyes, and how if you can get them to look right at you it always looks like they’re smiling. I used to live in Sri Lanka, where wild geckos run free like stars in a reptilian production of “The Sound of Music.” In the garden you could just pass your feet over the grass and send a dozen geckos scurrying across the lawn. They’d get into the house, too, and run all over the walls and ceiling. I read in a book once that Sri Lankans believe that geckos are toxic if they fall into boiling soup. The book did not, however, explain whether or not this weirdly specific tidbit was true, and the alleged soup-poisoning powers of geckos must be the only topic I’ve never found discussed on the Internet. I took care to cover my pots when making soup, just in case.

In Uganda my house is infested with geckos. They’re lucky I like them. Walk into any room and at least one gecko will shoot across the floor for cover. In the middle of the night it’s especially disconcerting. I had one jump on me in the shower once, which if you ask me is just taking advantage of my kindness.

Still, when I saw the baby gecko trapped in my screen door, I knew I had to do something. I looked around to find what sort of gap he had found to let himself in hoping I could then use a straw or a piece of grass or something to coax him out, but no such luck. My screen door is, as I explained, useless, but it isn’t a shoddy piece of workmanship. The pieces all fit together well, and it has an attractive finish. Somebody put some care into building it. It must have really gotten their goat when it didn’t fit and wasn’t effective.

The only solution I saw to this dire situation was to pull this nice door apart. I could pry off the crossbar at the bottom, nearest to the gecko, and create a gap big enough for it to get out. Then, assuming I didn’t destroy the crossbar in the process, I could hammer it back in place, good as new.

If I have no business keeping pets, I have even less business using tools. I definitely should not own a hammer. And although my philosophy to home repair is that I can’t really break anything that is already broken, this house is a rental, and I’m pretty sure my landlady thinks that my screen door is just fine.

But the gecko was growing more and more frantic, and I, and only I, could rescue him. So I grabbed my hammer and sat down and started pulling at the crossbar. The wood was old and a few chunks of it tore off before my hammer could find good purchase, but I eventually got a good grip and started to gently pull. Doing so caused the two meshes to come closer together, which squeezed the poor little gecko, which freaked him out even more.

I had an uncomfortable flashback to a previous animal rescue attempt on my part, years ago when a moth I named Rosalie came into my room and started buzzing in my face. I went to great care to catch it and carry it onto the balcony to release it back to the wild to live a long and happy moth-life, but as soon as I let her go Rosalie flew to the balcony light, and a big lizard popped out of the shadows and ate her in one gulp.

The more I write, the more convinced I am that I really shouldn’t be allowed out of bed, for the safety of all creatures great and small.

Anyway, I worried that my rescue would do more harm than good, but I certainly couldn’t bear the thought that this little gecko would starve to death inside my door. If tearing open the door proved fatal, well, it was going to die anyway, and if you can’t break something that’s already broken then you can’t kill something that’s already dead, so I gave it one good heave and pulled the crossbar clean off.

Baby Gecko saw the gap in the bottom and made a mad dash for it. It fell out and flopped onto the ground with a little splat, and in a split second disappeared into the grass.

The whole process also dislodged a surprising amount of dead insects that were also trapped in the door. I do not have a soft spot for insects, not even ladybugs, so I didn’t feel bad about not having rescued them, or even noticed them.

I managed to put the crossbar back on, and unless the landlady takes a good hard look, she won’t notice the slight damage that I did.

At least, I’ll be annoyed if she notices that I damaged the woodwork without noticing that the stupid door doesn’t even close. It was a small price to pay, I hope to never have to explain, to save a tiny gecko life.

2 thoughts on “Animal rescue as a hobby

  1. That was a kind thing to do for a little gecko. We have geckos in our garden, but because it is a drier climate than Uganda, there are fewer. They hide in our fernery in birds nest ferns. Our dogs try to catch them but luckily they can run up trees. I have only had success with dogs as pets and everything else has also died a tragic death (blue tongue lizard, terrapin, tortoise, gold fish) so know the feeling. Glad you can watch the geckos running free and happy.


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