Creature comforts

Pet snakes: not just for weirdos — Part 1

(EDITORS NOTE: This is part one of a two-part series of Creature Comfort columns. Part two will be published on July 23.)

During my stint working at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, (a wonderful place to visit, and getting better all the time) I learned quite a bit about snakes and their other reptilian cousin — a lot more than I had in school. I also encountered quite a lot of experience with all sorts of people. My favorite enigma was the people who would take me aside during their visit and report very proudly that they HATED snakes. Some would go so far as to include all reptiles in their hatred and fear. I really don’t understand paying the admission to a place called “Reptiland” if you faint at the sight of reptiles, but I suppose everybody’s different.

For the most part, I met Reptiland visitors who were very enthusiastic, and very fun. One of my favorite things to see was the transformation on a child’s face from hesitance and squeamishness to confidence and pride within seconds of reaching out to touch the big boa constrictor or python. It is something all educators strive to achieve with their students, but don’t always experience. When it happens — it is joy, and I was blessed with looks of enlightenment many times a day.

“Hey! They’re not slimy.”

“Wow, it feels like my mom’s purse.”

“They have bones!”

All things I heard regularly. But I think my favorite was, “Hey, Dad, c’mon — it’s okay — it feels nice!” coming from a five-year-old … girl.

So, what kind of person keeps a snake as a pet? Well, I guess there are different kinds of snake owners. The first, which includes me, are the hobbyists. They are owners of only one or two snakes who are genuinely interested in taking care of them as pets, much like dogs or cats. You know, the kind of people who include their pets on the answering machine or sign their pets’ names at the bottom of greeting cards from the family.

The second group of snake owners includes those who have collections of snakes and often other kinds of reptiles and exotic pets. These folks are typically called “enthusiasts.” Enthusiasts may have collections that include various rare and beautiful animals, and sometimes dangerous animals. Like collectors of antiques or stamps, these people enjoy collecting these creatures, and take excellent care of their investment. Enthusiasts generally read volumes about their animals, are very knowledgeable about them, and seek professional care when needed.

The third group of snake owners constitutes the wierdos. Individuals belonging to this group seem to feel the need to impress others with their large constrictors or poisonous snakes. They can often be seen wearing live boas around their necks at parties — taking them out in the dead of winter. These owners tend to acquire more animals, without having learned how to care for the ones they already own. Not to mention the fact that most veterinarians won’t see venomous snakes — and don’t encourage people to keep them as pets. And we definitely discourage people from petting them! (See my husband with a king cobra in the accompanying photo. Fortunately for Dave, this cobra, guarding her eggs, is a statue.)

Why would somebody want a snake as a pet? Because snakes are so cool. Tune in next time to find out just HOW cool.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at