I was asked recently about taking a snake out in public. There are many different views on this, and I’m sure several people will find fault with this post. I am simply explaining my views on this topic. As usual, this is simply my opinion and I am open to any opposing views, as long as they are respectful and educated. There will be opportunities when we are invited to present our animals at public events. These chances should always be used to our advantage. Any animal that you can confidently present for public interaction can be a positive in our struggle. We each know our own animals and care should be taken to choose the ones that can be the most advantages to our cause. Please don’t take a snake that bites YOU ever chance it gets into a school to present to children. Use a little common sense. These opportunities are not the basis for this blog though.
While we should have just as much right as dog owners to take our pets out in public, snakes are viewed differently than dogs or cats. We should always keep this in mind when considering exposing our pets to the public. In general, the public has a very strong reaction when somebody is walking around with a large snake. Many are fascinated and want to talk about these amazing creatures. Others jump, cringe, scream or otherwise make an effort to evade said individual. As reptile owners, the responsibility to deal with both reactions is ours. I hope to provide some food for thought on this subject.
The first thing to consider is local ordinance. Some communities have enacted restrictions on snakes over 6 feet. Knowing every local ordinance from every community across this entire state is simply too much for any one individual to accomplish. I have to leave it up to you to investigate the laws in your particular location. If you own an animal, you should check if it is legal or not whether you plan on showing it off or not. CHET as an organization can not condone the illegal ownership of any animal. Please do your research and, if you would, pass what you find along to me. I would like to compile a list of county and city laws for all members to use.
If you find that your animal is perfectly legal, you need to consider the animals temperament. An aggressive snake is only going to harm our public image. In the event that your pet strikes, you could even face legal action just as the owner of an aggressive dog would. Unfortunately, once again, the courts probably won’t view your snake as favorably as they would a dog. You should also keep in mind the stress that public interaction could subject your pet to. Is a walk around the block worth weeks of poor feeding response? Is exposure to a crowd going to cause you to have to deal with a more aggressive animal for months? Once again, this is your pet and you know best how it will handle the added stress. I would advise erring on the side of caution.
The setting you choose is another big factor in the equation. If there is a situation where the crowd is large and separation nearly impossible, bringing an animal that the majority fears would be a poor decision. Somebody with an extreme phobia is not going to appreciate rubbing shoulders with you if you have a boa across those shoulders. Forcing people to confront their fears is probably sadistic on your part and traumatic on theirs. This will eventually result in public outcry and stricter restrictions on our hobby. Hurting our cause is not going to make you any friends here.
My wife and I have had a positive reaction taking some of our snakes to the local park. We are careful to keep apart from other activities occurring. We choose a spot where others can see us and what we have, then, if they decide to approach us, we can take the time to answer questions and allow interaction. We never approach anyone without them initiating contact. Of course we always have to deal with the one guy who’s buddy’s cousin had a 20 ft boa-python, but that’s part of it. We have had interested children bring a phobic guardian who eventually worked up the nerve to at least touch our snake. This also needs some sensitivity and patience. You can not force somebody to face their fear. You can only talk with them and carefully explain why these animals are so fascinating. There is a group in Oak Ridge that is even doing a planned reptiles in the park event on a weekly basis. From what I hear, it is being well received.
So, in closing, if you aren’t violating any laws, your animal is not causing or suffering any harm, and you can present it in a non-threatening non-invasive manner, public interaction and presentation can possibly be a rewarding and beneficial means of getting our struggle into the public eye. It is not something you should do off-hand or spur of the moment. There should be some serious thought and planning involved in your decision and timing. Anytime you choose to display, or even discuss, a reptile in a public setting, you have become an ambassador for all of us. It is your responsibility to ensure the safety of yourself, others, your animals and the rights of all of us. There will be others who say we should never bring our animals out without an invitation. They will present valid arguments and have every right to their own opinions. I have not presented my views to start any arguments. I simply wanted to put my personal feelings on this subject out there for everyone to read.
Until next time, Happy Herping!