hen I was in high school, I volunteered at the Children’s Zoo, a literal Noah’s Ark in the midst of the Philadelphia Zoo. My responsibilities were pony rides, the sheep den, and the small reptile house. Basically, I gave children free Dixie cups of smelly pellets, raced over-fed ponies after hours, and showed snakes to scared children and parents. I was given the snake job because I was the only volunteer who wasn’t afraid to touch them. After a few weeks, I began to develop a schizophrenic personality — “Cool Pony and Goat Girl” or “Freakish Snake Lady.”
A few years later, my college roommate Sabrina brought a 10-inch Columbian Red Tail Boa Constrictor named Mowglie to our dorm room. He lived in a small cage whose door was kept shut by our unopened Chemistry and Econ books, the best $75 we ever spent.
Immediately after he came into our living room, our popularity began to wane. Close friends didn’t like being in the room with him, and random acquaintances that came in and out of dorm life were quickly disappearing. Even the faithful college hook-up became less of a guarantee. Men, for whatever Freudian reason, don’t like snakes. Frat boys find them frightening and artsy boys think they are weird, but not in a good way. Regardless of our states of undress, the snake reaction was always the same: “No way, is that, like, a real snake? Do you, like, touch it? You actually feed it live mice?!! Uhh, it’s getting late, gotta go.”
Basically, Mowglie put a cramp in our social life. For a while, Sabrina hid his cage under a towel, only making his presence known when it was confirmed that the visitor was up to meeting a snake in a glass box.
I, on the other hand, found Mowglie less of a liability. One evening, during a boring, drunken date with Todd (baseball player, business major and Sigma Chi), I decided it was time to go home. Todd, the southern gentleman, walked me to my dorm entrance and said good night. Then he accompanied me in the elevator and repeated his good night upon arrival at the 13th-floor. Then he walked me to my door and said good night again, and asked if he could use my bathroom. “Cuz I dunno wanna pee in the hallway. Last time, I gotta fine.” It was at this point that I realized that Todd didn’t really understand my repeated “Thanks soooo much. Yawn. Wow, it’s late and I have an exam on Sunday morning.”
While Todd was trying to figure out how to put the seat up, I decided it would be nice to introduce him to Mowglie. I woke the now 15-inch constrictor out of his slumber and placed him around my neck. Todd stumbled out of the bathroom with a suave, “Hey, izz that your bed?” and I gave my best, “Come and get it” look. He moved in and Mowglie turned his head up. “Friggin’ A! Iz that thing real?! Dude, if you didn’t want me to kisz you, you should’ve just said so.” He ran out of the apartment.
After this incident, Sabrina and I coined our ever-useful adage, “When words are not enough, bring out the snake.”
But snakes and all other reptiles are great pets and don’t deserve the labels of boring, creepy, vicious, slimy, gross, weird or phallic. In defense of all reptiles, they’re really just like any other house pet. You can enjoy a tranquil walk with an iguana on a leash or with your boa constrictor on your shoulders. They play games as well, like Catch the Mouse, Molt, Change Colors, Drop Tail and Stare. Like cats, they mind their own business. Like dogs, they show affection. And like fish, they just chill out.
Of course, they have their differences, subtle and small. The main distinction is that they hide far better than any mammal. In other words, it’s not a good idea to let your snake hang out in the house while you run downstairs to get a cappuccino.
If you’re thinking about getting a snake, check out the links below. Snakes and other reptiles can be brought in or bought here so long as they’re not poisonous, illegal or endangered. You must report and register your pet reptile with the local ASL-Veterinario. If you want to send it home, you’ll need a Certificate of Export. Be sure to check out the laws of the country where it’s headed.