I am not too unlike you, I suspect. I have received the emails, read the blogs, followed the forum threads and participated in the related chatter. Been there. Done that. And yes, I even got a t-shirt.
Like many of you I have repeatedly railed against the unrelenting stream of assaults on reptile ownership. My passion for my position has, to my knowledge, not swayed a single opponent or politician. As is so often the case parties on opposite sides of a debate are uninterested in truly listening to and understanding the differing view. But that makes sense, doesn’t it? You don’t typically pick a side you know to be wrong and the more involved you become in the campaign to forward your beliefs the less capable you are of changing your stance. Despite all the rhetoric and supposed evidence presented by each side, nobody is swayed from their original position. From my perspective proponents of a ban on reptiles are misguided and misinformed fear-mongers suffering from bad cases of self-serving political, environmental and animal extremism. Those same people look at me as an environmentally insensitive, unscientific animal exploiter who puts the needs of the environment and public health second to my own wish to have unusual pets. On the surface one might say the only common ground we share is that both sides want reptiles left alone. Unfortunately, that common ground doesn’t translate into a foothold for agreement as we have incredibly different definitions of what it means to ‘leave reptiles alone’.
Because an agreement springing forth from common ground is not likely to happen both sides have turned heavily to science to further their assertions. Sadly, this so-called science is based more on personal, organizational and political agendas than factual analysis. Science, when stirred into the twisted brew of politics, loses its impartiality. Similar to the frequent abuse of statistics, the numbers representing scientific fact are skewed to support biased-positions. What individuals deem true is nothing more than “scientific results” that support their original beliefs. Campaign contributions and party affiliation go a long way toward determining what is regarded as scientific truth. Opposing ‘science’ is always denounced as fraudulent and misinformed. For every expert you find that will attest to your desired stance you can rest assured that the opposing side will find not less than one to supplant their professional assertions. The sad reality: the scientist who is right is the one with the most politicians on his side.
It has long been the reptile keeper’s concern that politics will eventually trump real science. Many people like me who have been keeping and breeding reptiles for decades know very well the conditions in which they will survive and our continued existence offers evidence as to how dangerous they are to “public health”. Surprisingly, we didn’t need to earn a doctorate in herpetology, epidemiology, immunology, virology or even meteorology to know these things as fact. But practical experience has always taken a back seat to academia. And why not? Professional reptile breeders have no parchment with calligraphy honouring them as such. We hold no impressive reptilian job title and have no particular herpetocultural alma mater to trumpet. Our experiences, insights and perspectives are relevant only to our peers and not to the outside world (especially to politicians). The media, interested only in sound bites, shock value and visceral reactions, does us no favours either. Almost without fail reptiles are portrayed as sinister creatures, each one calculating and hostile toward humans. The Discovery channel would have the general public believe that they are being hunted by corn snakes while they sleep.
The reptile community places little faith in politicians and government scientists to perform an honest assessment of the facts. We live in a world where special interest groups and party affiliations define votes. Expressions of individual thought and dissent from the party ranks is a sure-fire way to be banished within your own political party and, in the end, to avoid re-election. It has become commonplace for politicians to march in step with the wishes of the leaders of their respective parties; an honest sense of accountability to the constituents they represent (and to The People as a whole) is a vanishing memory. This is a truth recognized by almost everybody on any side of any particular debate. In all of the recent legislative efforts against ownership of reptiles you can almost draw a line down the center of the party isles. The Democrats tend to be in favor of “animal rights” legislation while Republicans seem to stand in opposition. The politics of politics makes if difficult for any Senator or House Delegate to go against their party position without internal repercussion. Notice how the politicians are not answering to or representing the interests of their constituents? It’s the other members of their party (and their financial supporters) to whom they show loyalty. I am the 3,215,978th person to write it: the system is broken. And with reptiles on the radar I am once again reminded of and disgusted by how this broken system can cause my loss of liberty.
With the looming decision whether to amend the Lacey Act to include nine (9) different snakes (by their latin name) the reptile community is fighting potential disaster; the elimination of a large and important portion of the reptile trade. The buzz in the reptile community is that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has told Fish & Wildlife, whose leadership reports to Mr. Salazar, to add all nine snake species to the Lacey Act regardless of what the science reveals. The unspoken message to The People: “Facts are not relevant. Science is secondary. The federal government will decide what you can and cannot own. The personal crusades of political figures, lobby groups and political affiliations are insurmountable trump cards.” I pray for this to be false but the behavior of our government of late does not give me hope. If true, my distended disenfranchisement with our federal government will likely burst and become something more malevolent. My disappointment in the bureaucratic machine, once a matter of casual disdain, will become something dark and seething.
Through all of this we, the reptile keepers of America, have felt emotions like denial, anger and even depression. It has occurred to me that the range of emotions many of us are feeling (and have felt) are similar to those of people who are diagnosed with a terminal illness or experience a catastrophic loss in their lives. The often debated Kübler-Ross model of how humans handle grief says there are five (5) stages people go through when handling a traumatic and tragic event in their lives. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I have been there for the denial. I have both lived it and observed it in others. For years I thought that reptiles were too small a concern to attract the attention of politicians and animal extremists. I was wrong. Pet owners and breeders like me used to say that they will never be able to ban these animals. In the early days we misunderstood the vigilance of our opponents. Denial should be long gone. The world the reptile keeper lives in today is a never-ending barrage on multiple fronts. We are attacked through the courts, through the legislature and through state and federal agencies. If one assault fails to make sufficient headway they simply come at us from another angle. We are reeling, always defending, and as we tire of the omnipresent initiatives to remove our rights we become even easier to to attack the next time. Using current strategies I seriously doubt the reptile community has the mettle to sustain the fight. For the most part the community has coalesced (in principle only) but it is still almost always on the defensive. The side that spends all of its time defending is destined to lose. The principle of ‘live and let live’ does not apply here. The people who think they know better than you how your life should be lived are never going to stop trying to control you.
Our attackers do not need a kill-shot; they are perfectly content to grind away at the rights of reptile owners. They will do it slowly, one species at a time, if they have to. Which of the following scenarios seems most likely to you?:
- A complete ban the ownership of reptiles in the United States today or;
- A long-term strategy to gradually eliminate the ownership of certain types of snakes (with most/all being the long-term goal), the installation of complex and expensive permit systems that discourages many from attempting ownership, and laws that greatly reduce the numbers of animals a breeder can keep (thereby reducing production and profitability) as well as laws that put increasing levels of liability on reptile sellers. The evidence of this type of approach is already visible. One need only examine the laws passed against Tennessee dog breeders in 2009.
Consider some aspects of the game of football as an analogy; the team that can effectively run the ball, getting 4+ yards each play will wear the defense down. Time and fatigue will cause the defenders to fail and the score will eventually become insurmountably lopsided. And, from time-to-time, the side on the offensive will go deep on a play-action pass (2009’s H.R. 669, for example). Anyone who watches sports knows that it is hard to score when you’re always on the defensive.
So yes, denial is long gone. The increased popularity of reptiles has landed them squarely on the radar of the anti-pet movement.
Setting aside the obviously diverse opinions the country has on the outcome of the 2010 mid-term elections we should all be able to agree that it is was positive for responsible pet owners. Now that the Democratic party (who is most in favor of legislation that eliminates the rights of pet owners) is no longer in control of the House of Representatives you can expect to see the HSUS and other organizations to redirect their efforts away from Congress. You should expect them to return with greater frequency to the courts and city/state governments to push their agenda. They never left these venues but you can expect them to re-double their efforts now that they have lost their captive audience at the federal level. Unfortunately, this does not stop the current efforts to amend the Lacey Act. That train still speeds out of control.
Being angry is easy when other people try to take away your rights, especially when they try to do it by presenting lies and falsehood as truth. While anger is energizing it is not conducive to clarity of thought. In moments of anger we cannot think clearly and we are prone to irrational and inappropriate actions. The HSUS, through a calm and relentless onslaught of lies, is counting on many things to further their agenda, including their opponents to lose their cool and get angry. Angry people are easier to control and even easier to make look foolish. Angry people can be poked and prodded to provoke the reactions that support their opponent’s stance.
Being angry is fine. But in this type of fight it’s not OK to let it control your actions. Our anger needs to be used to strengthen our resolve and to keep us energized.
When your position feels shaky you begin to negotiate. This is often true even when you believe your position to be correct and just. Somebody once said that the only real guarantee in a compromise is that both sides will leave dissatisfied. And when the HSUS is dissatisfied they will find a new way to attack pet ownership. It’s part of their strategy. Take a little bit every time and eventually they will have taken a lot. The barrage of efforts to limit, constrain and eliminate reptile ownership has been unrelenting since January 2008 when a Democratic President took office. With the House, the Senate and the Oval Office all in-step it unlocked the animal extremist flood gates and the reptile community has been reeling ever since. In January 2008 the reptile community suddenly found itself face-to-face with a government whose majority was supportive of animal and environmental extremism. The anti-pet groups came out in full-force and showed us their prowess for working the political system. Standing in the shadow of such opposition can shake your resolve. Feeling that defeat is a real possibility people sometimes begin to bargain, to negotiate.
I heard the discussions all through the reptile world. “We’ve got to give them something!” was an all-too-frequent chorus. Give them Burmese pythons and they’ll leave us alone. No, actually, they won’t. It sickened my stomach every time someone said something so short-sighted. In the battle for large snake ownership some people and groups were open to the idea of a ban on Burmese pythons. In an astonishingly short amount of time the community went from lamenting the plight of the Burmese python to fighting for African Rock pythons and Reticulated pythons as well. Today, less than two years later, we are faced with losing nine species in the pet trade including boa constrictor. And listing boa constrictor by such a generic scientific name is nothing short of horrifying as there are a ton of subspecies that will be guilty by association.
I have never supported and will never support a bargain that eliminates any reptile species from the trade. I will not give up retics, burms, anacondas, scrubs or boas …and I don’t even own any of them! As far as I’m concerned those animals are part of our reptile-keeping culture and I fully support their responsible ownership. I can not and do not support any political philosophy that legislates to the lowest common denominator of a society or sub-group of society. Legislating all reptile ownership in order to remedy the actions of a few who make bad choices is an asinine way of leading people. I’ll stop there as I sense that I am digressing into a political tirade.
Endurance requires training. Along the way you become tired and worn down. With no end in sight to this fight for pet owners rights you see nothing but an endless road ahead. Faced with that reality it’s easy to see how depression can set in.
“Can’t this all just go away?”, you ask. Sorry, no. Right or wrong, the rights of pet owners are intricately entangled in larger issues such as global warming, energy, foreign trade, animal rights, interstate commerce, and separation of power between the states and the federal government. In some ways, reptiles are nothing more than a pawn in those larger games of chess. Victories that limit the ownership and transport of reptiles in the name of protecting the environment are little more than tick marks in the column for or against even more environmental legislation. It is a solid measure of hubris to think that the issue of reptiles is important enough to warrant this much attention.
When depression sets in you lose your passion. As more and more us lose our passion for the fight we are coming closer and closer to the end of the reptile trade.
At last: minus one.
I, and hundreds of thousands like me, will never accept an agenda tantamount to a cancer. The Humane Society of the United States is a malignant lesion, a growth of sickness and malevolence in our society. Their message is decaying and vicious. It preys on the apathetic minds of well-intentioned individuals. People who love animals as I do are presented with an onslaught of lies and misinformation that sour them to the true nature of pet ownership in our society. These misinformed individuals, in an effort to help the animals they love, give their money to an organization that actually hates them. Love dogs? Me, too. The HSUS thinks they love them, too. But the HSUS loves dogs the way that a psychotically jealous and abusive husband loves his wife. He loves her so much that he feels justified in killing her rather than letting anyone else have and hold her. “I love you so much I am going to kill you! I have to do it. It’s the only way I can protect you from the others!”, he says. “Psycho! Monster!”, you scream at his confession. The HSUS is the same type of abusive monster. But to the bewilderment of millions, people send them money when they present their lie-tainted agenda. With the honest sincerity of a silver-tongued sociopath they hypnotise you with their lies. Snap out of it! It is time to stop believing in and financially supporting their hate.
It is because I see the HSUS for what they are that I will never stop fighting against them. I will vote for candidates that disagree with HSUS’ agenda. I will educate my friends, my family and my co-workers on the nature of their lies and I will campaign for votes to put politicians in office who see as I do.
Vigilance, poise and intelligence are our most valuable assets in this fight. This assault is not going to end any time soon. As long as the HSUS (and other like them) is still in business there is not a pet owner or animal business in this country that is safe. I do not accept a life without the animals I choose. I will not allow my liberty to be taken from me.
The plight of the reptile industry is a caricature of our nation as a whole. The federal government, guided by the invisible strings of special interest groups, is seeking to remove the rights of responsible Americans because there is a small subset that can’t follow common-sense rules. Rather than holding the few accountable, all are made to suffer. The many suffer at the hands of the few and the rules are designed and enforced to the lowest common denominators of our society (gun control laws, social security & health care come to mind). Tearing down the responsible to address the needs of the irresponsible is a path that leads nowhere other than failure.
As I finish writing all of this I fear I may be screaming at the deaf. Reptile folk listen and nod. They even occasionally applaud. But I doubt most will act. The well water is muddy; we have gone to it too many times and too often. Evidence supporting this assertion can be found in popular Internet forums. Visit your favorite forum and look at the Laws and Regulations section. Find the posts that deal with impending legislation/regulation and make note of how many times it has been read. Now visit one of the sections that deals with lighter topics and see how often otherwise inane discussions are read and commented upon. Posts where people ask if their latest craigslist acquisition is a morph can have a thousand hits and hundreds of responses. Post a picture of a never before produced designer morph and you can get a few thousand views in a few short days. But post information about the fate of the community itself and people’s hyperlinks don’t change color. Many of us are too busy “polishing the brass on the titanic” to give attention to what’s really important.
This is not a fight you have to fight as an individual. But you do have to participate. It’s a painful reality but it comes with the territory in today’s landscape of pet ownership. We all have to be prepared to give our voice, our pen, our money and our vote to support our rights as responsible pet owners. PIJAC and USARK are the two best allies the reptile owner has. If you can’t or won’t financially contribute to one, consider the other. If you don’t give them money, give them your voice. If they ask you to make a phone call or write a letter, do it. It takes such a small amount of time. If you don’t you have knowingly ceded the fight and passed through into Acceptance.