I have been asked many times recently about the dangers of snakes – all of these concerns stem from the recent incident in Canada, where an African Rock Python was reported to have taken leave of its enclosure, and 'slithered' up an air vent into the room where two boys were sleeping.
The snake was then reported to have killed both boys, before retiring under their bed to rest. The latest I have heard on this is that it is now a murder investigation, but sadly the python has been euthanized already. In my humble opinion, innocent until proven guilty should apply to animals as well as man!
Given the media attention surrounding this case, and the negative way that snakes were portrayed – given the fact that the snake was blamed before the true facts were established – I thought I would try to write something that would answer peoples questions about the suitability of snakes as pets, and also give a positive portrayal of snakes from an animal aid point of view. Some will not like what I have to say, others may agree – we are all entitled to our own opinion, this is mine, my own personal opinion.
One of the most frequent comments I hear from people, when they encounter me with a snake, is (said to whoever they are with) “Watch out it’ll strangle you!” One of the most frequent questions I am asked is “Can it kill you?” followed by “Is it poisonous?” and the third one “Has it got teeth or have you had them removed?”
Without intending to offend, these questions come from the blatant misrepresentation of these beautiful reptiles in the media and the lack of education we give to our population about them. Firstly there is no way I would be standing with a deadly reptile around my neck, and secondly there is no way I would be letting the general public anywhere near it if it were deadly. As for having its teeth removed... well!
When taking a moment to admire and appreciate the animal, you can really take in their true beauty. Their movement is gentle and relaxing, their eyes hold a certain knowledge and their power commands immediate respect.
These species grow well over 20 feet long, and although many people do keep them successfully, many are prone to being quite 'aggressive' and they become (at full size) very weighty. My largest snake is a boa constrictor called Connie, and she may reach 10 feet in length when fully grown – to me this is the size that remains 'manageable', anything larger would take more than one person to 'manage'.
Other snakes available as pets, such as corn snakes (probably the most popular 'starter' snake), pose no threat to the safety of the keeper and are relatively easy to handle, making them suitable as a pet to a keeper who has first done their research and if possible had some 'meetings' with snakes.
Snakes do not predate on humans, or seek them out for a meal – we are a very difficult morcel for them to manage – and therefore they will not strike and kill... why waste all of that energy killing something that you cannot eat? Snakes bite first and then wrap up their prey in their coils, squeezing – they tend to go for the body though, compressing the ribcage and decreasing the ability of the lungs to inflate.
In the Canadian case, the asphyxiation was said to be via strangulation to the throat with no bite inflicted – I am no expert, but even experts in this field have been baffled by these details, and the story just does not sit right.
I have owned, and still do own many snakes, 99% of which are constrictors. Am I scared for my life? Am I scared for my children? No, because none of my snakes are capable of inflicting any serious damage. Connie the Boa at 10 feet long will be my biggest snake, but as I have had her from a very small snake and spent time with her daily since, we have a very unique relationship. My children, who have grown up with Connie and love, appreciate and respect her as she deserves to be, will be into their teens when she is fully grown and therefore able to share their space with her in a mutually none threatening manner.
To see Connie in her therapy work, is to watch a master at work. Her demeanour is so calm, her body language relaxed, it is like she knows why she is there and she revels in it! Connie is happy and comfortable to be stroked and handled by whoever she comes into contact with – if I felt that she was not happy then she would not go out with me, and her mood is assessed before she is allowed to accompany us, but this goes for all of our animals not just the snakes. Their mood is then continually assessed throughout the day, and if they become stressed or anxious whilst out, then they are withdrawn from the session.
The reaction from patients and clients is always positive – even those who are nervous, fearful or anxious of snakes quickly see that Connie is nothing to be worried about, and a truly beautiful animal. Many times over now, she has helped people overcome their fear of snakes and shown them that by replacing that fear with a healthy respect, they can enjoy not only the aesthetic beauty of snakes, but also the beauty of interaction with them and how truly relaxing and amazing it is.
We all know that you should not judge a book by its cover - not all skin heads are football hooligans; not all people with tattoos are 'rough'; not all people who listen to rock music worship 'the Dark Lord' – and so it goes for snakes. We see so much in the media that really does fix our opinion of snakes in a negative way, and that’s a shame.
Next time you see a snake please take a step back and take time to appreciate their beauty, then approach and appreciate the texture of the skin and the beauty of its gentle movement - you might find that by doing this you begin to positively appreciate them for what they are, a truly beautiful and peaceful animal.
Critterish Allsorts undertake animal assisted therapy sessions, with their critters (who are all family pets), on an individual or group basis in your home, hospital, care home, foster home, or school. Visit their website for more information.This blog is written by Dale Preece-Kelly from Critterish Allsorts, if you would like to find out more about them check out our previous article 'Meet the Critterish Allsorts'