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Call Of The Wild

by Stephen Lautens

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November 2, 2001

A British Columbia family has been playing snakes and ladders with the that province's social services the past few weeks. It seems BC's Ministry for Children and Families has taken exception to the family's nine children living under the same roof as the family pet. In this case, the family pet is a 5 metre, 65 kilogram Burmese python named Boaz.

Not surprisingly, the social services officials were a little concerned when local media aired a video of the family's nine-month old sucking on the python's tail. Not necessarily because the reportedly good natured snake might decide to return the favour, but because pythons can carry salmonella bacteria similar to uncooked chicken. It just goes to show you your mother was right when she warned you not to go around licking strange snakes.

Of course the images of a couple of toddlers cradled in the folds of a snake that weighs almost as much as me set off a frenzy of concerns. That's because we all have a part of our brain that is instinctively programmed to fear snakes, heights and tax audits.

Personally, I don't have a thing about snakes. Maybe it's because I used to be a lawyer. Plus, as a kid I used to bring them home regularly when we had a creek running through our back yard, although none of them were three times my height and as big around as my thigh. I'm not sure a snake would be my first choice for a pet, although there are apparently hundreds of Canadian python-owners who think otherwise.

The owners claim that the python is just misunderstood. Bad press due to being cast as the bad guy in the Book of Genesis. You play the part of Satan just once, and next thing you know you everyone unfairly holds you responsible for the Fall of Man.

Perhaps to make amends, this particular snakes goes to church and schools and is happily mauled by dozens of students, none of whom have ever ended up as a suspicious bulge. The family contends there's nothing to worry about - in fact the python hasn't had a meal in months. And they never let it out to roam "unless there are enough people to put it back in."

Snake-licking aside, the Ministry for Children and Families has remained skeptical about allowing Boaz to stay with his adopted family. They have apparently not been persuaded that pythons are not inherently dangerous, although according to one expert most fatalities involving large snakes are the result of drinking and stupid decisions by owners. In other words, never buy a boa constrictor a bunch of jello shooters and then pick a fight.

I have always had a firm policy of never getting into an argument with anyone who can unhinge their jaw and swallow a good-sized mammal.

But not trusting the authorities to see that Boaz is a reasonable and well behaved snake who would never swallow the hand that feeds him (along with the rest of the body), the python's owner decided to go into hiding. Alas, they may be in for a long wait before the child welfare authorities change their opinion of snakes. And I don't think they'll agree to drop the whole thing in exchange for an apology and a hug.

Next week we'll look at the government's decision to ban daycares run by wolves. Prudent safety measure or another example of government interference?

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© Stephen Lautens 2001

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