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
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
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?