I recently received a letter from the office of my representative in the US House of Representatives. The letter reiterates what one of his staffers told me during a face-to-face meeting when I went to his office in Washington DC. While I characterize Mr. Forbes as a delegate who is “on the side” of responsible pet owners I think his opportunity for opposition has been limited. This is, of course, unfortunate. What is more unfortunate is that the limitation stems from one of S373 and HR2811’s biggest sources of resistance: USARK.
In Mr. Forbes letter he points out that which we already know: an agreement has been reached between USARK and the HSUS to limit the scope of HR2811 to Burmese and African Rock pythons. That agreement unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee on 7/29/09. I was at that hearing, I watched it happen. USARK, in what they believed was an effort to save all pythons, offered Burms and Afrocks in the spirit of “we’ve got to give them something.” In reality USARK’s compromise didn’t give supporters of the bill nearly as much as it took away from its opponents. On July 28th Mr. Forbes was opposed to HR2811. By the time the afternoon of the 29th rolled around he had little choice but to support it. Why? How can he oppose a bill that has been agreed upon by both sides of the issue? He can’t. It would be politically silly and a waste of time to do so. This was the exact sentiment shared with me by one of his staffers during our meeting. USARK’s decision to agree to a limited scope for HR2811 effectively ensures its passage when sent to the House floor for a vote. I can see delegates saying, “HSUS likes it and the snake people like it, too? All right then! Let’s vote on this thing and go grab a burger.” What is there to debate? It appears that everybody is happy. Except me. I’m not happy.
If S373 passes the impending full Senate vote and HR2811 passes a House vote the absolute best we can hope for when the two bills are reconciled is the elimination of Burmese and African Rock pythons. It won’t be any time soon that I forgive anybody who is responsible for that.
It’s a horrifying proposition but plausible to think that one of the best things that could happen at this point is that the HSUS gets one of their Democrat House delegates to introduce a new amendment to HR2811 that makes it mirror the current verbiage of S373 (e.g. all 9 animals in the USGS report). At least that way the venomoid-rendered opposition in the House can have a renewed reason to oppose the bill. How else are they supposed to argue against it? That’s not really the kind of gamble I’d like to take but…
“Liberty, once seized, is seldom reclaimed.” -M. Levin
Many reptiles owners who are concerned about HR2811 and S373 may not realize it but these bills are positioned almost 100% along party lines. Democrats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate are in favor of it. Republicans oppose it. Republicans do not oppose these bills because they love pythons. They oppose the bills because they seek to bypass normal processes that have been in place for a long number of years, a point USARK has been trying to make.
The fundamental nature of the Democratic party is to seize the liberty of individuals in order to provide for the perceived benefit of the masses. According to Democrats, the impacts on individuals are secondary to the needs of the many. The way that state-minded Democrats (state as in “statism”) endeavor to do this by taking steps to give government more and more control over the lives of individuals. Easy examples include Social Security, the current health care debacle and the huge ownership stake government has recently taken in both the automotive and financial services industry. Bailouts were given and control was taken to protect the masses. The result: a larger government with reach yet further into the lives of individuals.
Fellow snake owner, you are now poised to be on the receiving end of that same seizure of liberty so often employed by the Democratic party. They want to take away your right to own the snake of your choosing for the betterment of the masses. It is a decidedly Democrat thing to do. What makes it worse is that all of you know that the reasons offered for why your rights are about to be seized are not even based on facts.
Remember this the next time you go to the polls and have to choose Republican or Democrat. Many people in this country are single-issue voters. In our last round of elections many chose to vote Democrat solely because it wasn’t “voting for Bush”. The result of those elections are that we now have a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Socialist, er, Democrat President. The Humane Society of the United States swooped into action as soon as that criteria was met (Democrats all-around). The result to the reptile community is the pain we are all feeling today. Never forget that.
P.S. – Mid-term elections are about a year away. If we can survive this round we can fix our problems (the reptile problem, that is) at the ballot box next year.
Note: I opened this up to discussion on the ball-pythons.net forum but they moved it to their “Quarantine Room” that is not visible to the general public. I guess it was more direct and to the point than what they like on their site. It’s their site, their call. Someone on that site suggested that I was unfairly trying to make this into a partisan issue. Uh, I’m not trying to make it a partisan issue, IT IS A PARTISAN ISSUE. This isn’t a secret. Pretty much across the board Democrats appear to be lined up to vote in favor of it and Republicans will oppose it. That is a fact and not a politically motivated attack on the democratic party. It is what it is.
- In June 2008 HR6311 was introduced by a Democrat. This bill had the same aims as HR669. Despite being introduced in a democrat-controlled House, HR6311 never even made it out of committee. Nobody fought too hard for (or against) this bill because George Bush was in office and he would have vetoed it.
- On January 26th, 2009, less than a week after Obama was sworn into office and the Democrat hat-trick was complete, HR669 was introduced by a Democrat. The reptile community had its first unified and loud reaction. The House sub-committee backed off in response.
- On June 10, 2009, HR2811 was introduced by a Democrat. This bill seeks to perform an end-around on the legislative process by adding large constrictors to the Lacey Act.
- On February 3, 2009, barely 2 weeks after Obama’s inaguration, S373 was introduced by a Democrat. This is the Senate version of HR2811. This bill also seeks to perform the same end-around on the legislative process by adding large constrictors to the Lacey Act.
There are two themes at work in the timeline above: 1) There have been repeated efforts to take away the rights of pet owners and 2) they have always been introduced by HSUS-sympathetic Democrats.
A ream of paper, a photograph, a young child and a tanned snake skin …this is the sum total of all arguments provided by advocates of a ban on pythons. In a purely technical sense they are wholly and completely inadequate. But the adequacy of arguments is not a prerequisite for buy-in from the misinformed masses. Sound bites and sensationalized overstatements are more than sufficient to convict in the mind of a Congressman or Senator. It is, of course, true (in a purely legal sense) that you are not guilty until convicted. As is often the case, things that exist on paper and in principal struggle to manifest themselves in reality. The practical result of our legal process is not ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It is actually this: You are guilty because you are charged. The verdict is irrelevant in the long-term. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who was ever legitimately acquitted on charges of rape, murder or child pornography; they never get their lives back. An innocent man set free after mistakenly being accused of doing something horrible to a child is never, ever, going to have a job in a daycare center. Why? Because truth and reality do not matter in the long-term. “Perception, ” as I was told in my younger years, “is reality.” The subtle irony of using a sound-bite to reinforce my perspective on sound-bites does not elude me. History is remembered by most people as snapshots, impressions and feelings. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory is; the longer it remains. Whether the feelings were created by information with a basis in truth is less important than the emotions they elicit. The horror we all felt to hear that a child was killed by a python left a scorch in the minds of most Americans. None of the facts in the case are going to distract people from the initial shock of the claim. All the media had to do was say it and it was forever true in the hearts and minds of our neighbors.
A photo of an alligator exploding out of the belly of a Burmese python…
The militant congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Shultz epitomized the overuse of this fantastical photo during her rude questioning of USARK’s Andrew Wyatt at a Congressional hearing on H.R. 2811. In Congress it is generally frowned upon to say things like, “Talk to the hand. I ain’t tryin’ to hear it.” Her position as a congresswoman is supposed to constrain her outbursts so the best she could do was to repeatedly hold up the infamous picture to punctuate her close-minded tirade. As a representative of the rational people of her district in Florida she is completely invalid; a danger to anybody who endeavors to participate in a careful contemplation of facts.
A tanned snake skin unfurled by Senator Bill Nelson during a session in the Senate…
In July of 2009 Senator Bill Nelson unrolled the skin of a 16ft Burmese python to a round of oooh’s, aaah’s and gasps from those in attendance. The Senator did not precede his dramatic presentation by saying, “This skin is almost twice as long as the animal that used to own it. Tanned skins are always significantly longer than the original animal.” Why would he need to say such things? Everybody know this, right? For him to diminish the dramatic effect of such a gesture would have been presumptuous about the intellect of his audience. Leave people to draw their own conclusions; it’s better that way. Now is a good time for me to point out that I am often being facetious when I write.
A child killed by a Burmese python…
The logistics of this tragedy have experienced Burmese python keepers around the country scratching their heads. People who keep large snakes are well aware of how they behave and the description of the wounds and the manner of the attack are so incredibly contrary to the actual behavior of these animals that every Burmese python keeper I know is saying, “It just dosen’t make sense. Burms don’t do that.” Maybe it’s wishful thinking on behalf of snake owners (myself included); we don’t want it to be true. But the confusion remains; the way this snakes is alleged to have killed this child is as unusual as the event itself. But guess what? None of my pondering matters. The Burmese python has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Facts are not relevant. It won’t matter if the police come out tomorrow and say that the boyfriend accidentally killed the child and then staged the scene to make it look like the snake did it. The child is dead and the python has been assigned blame. The result is simple: large constrictors are now in the category of things that are a “threat to human safety”.
A ream of paper in the form of a report from the USGS…
Several men of science have come out in opposition of this piece of literature and it appears that they are being written off as reptile-loving quacks. This particular writing of mine is not the forum for me to offer a contradiction to the USGS’ slanted report. You know what matters about this report? It is thick. Very thick. 300 pages, give or take. I am confident it has been printed and placed in a 3-ring binder by many congressional staffers. How many have actually read it? Very few, I’m sure. How many have read it and then sought professional advice as to the validity of its content? Fewer still. It’s 300 pages, after all, and there are more pressing matters in the country. Heck, I haven’t even read every word of it. This is the reason for the so-called Executive Summary. Distill this content into something small, please. Twenty pages? No, still too big. Senators and Congressmen are busy people. Let’s get this down to something smaller. A few sound bites would be nice. Perhaps a picture or two. It’s odd, …I just read a similar distillation of Sleeping Beauty to my daughter tonight as she went to bed. In ten lavishly illustrated pages the entire story of Aurora was told and at no point was an admission made that many relevant facts were being omitted. I am left to wonder if members of the House and Senate are aware that they are being read bedtime stories …stories re-written by special interest groups (HSUS and Nature Conservancy) that are full of canned and baseless drama. But the best stories are the ones that have a villian and an innocent child, are they not? Fairy tales. But the python is not a beautiful princess. No prince is riding to its aid. This time Maleficent may actually win…
Large constrictors, burmese pythons in particular, are typically lazy things. I have written it before that the burmese pythons I have kept in the past were some of the most gentle animals I have ever owned. The way they are characterized in the media and by the HSUS is completely undeserved. Here is a video showing just how interested in hurting people they really are. HSUS loves to try and sell pythons to uninformed politicians as sinister, people stalking creatures. The reality is quite the opposite.
The reptile community could really use a good public relations campaign right about now. I recommend you stop waiting for our industry’s “leadership” to make things right. You need to find a way to do something yourself. If you own a large constrictor why don’t you take a moment to mail (no, not email) some photos and perhaps a video to members of Congress showing them how your snake is not menacing and how you take care to be a responsible snake owner. Legislating to the lowest common denominator is no way to run a country. The only thing being paraded in front of our representatives are the negative husbandry examples. I know there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of responsible owners of large constrictors. What an awesome impact it would be if even 40% of us sent in personal testimonials about our pets. If you’re not motivated you better get there; your rights are on the line. If you are motivated, double it. I do not want to wake up one day and not have the right to own the reptile of my choosing.
P.S. – I seriously doubt politicians watch youtube so don’t post videos there thinking they are going to make it to the eyes of a government representative. I’ll throw a few bucks down and wager that the overwhelming majority of politicians don’t even check their own email. Kick it old school and send in a personal letter.
Fellow pet owner,
My name is Colin Weaver. I am 37 years old. I am probably a lot like you in that I have had a dog and/or a cat as part of my family for all but a tiny handful of years in my life. My current dog, a 4-year old Weimaraner named Seven, is not just a pet; she is a member of my family. Taking care of her and protecting her is no less a responsibility than taking care of my 3-year old daughter.
In addition to being a dog lover I am also an enthusiastic reptile fan. In particular I have an affinity for pythons. This fact, I suspect, will immediately distance some of you. Pythons are not conventional pets and because pythons are enigmatic they are often feared. Despite their fast-growing popularity, they are on the edge of mainstream pet ownership. It is true that reptiles do not show the same affection toward their owners that dogs and cats do. The opposite, however, is not true. The way you feel about your dog or cat is the way that many feel about their reptiles. For the moment I ask that you not judge the particular animal that some choose to make a part of their lives. For now, just focus on the way you feel about your pets and give credit to reptile owners for feeling the same way about their companions.
In the United States dog ownership is under constant attack. The source of this attack is most commonly the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Volumes have been written on the Internet about their deceptive ways but they continue to be successful in launching attacks against pet owners (and breeders) around the country. I know your frustration regarding this because I feel it, too. Dogs are only one of several targets of the HSUS. Reptile keepers are also struggling with the HSUS’ powerful lobbying skills. At this moment there is a bill in Congress called HR2811 which seeks a nationwide ban on many of the most popular reptiles in the pet community (the Senate version of the bill is called S373). At a recent hearing in the House a team of more than 25 HSUS members were present to forward their efforts to get this bill made into law.
The reasons proposed for this ban are false. They are being sensationalized by the HSUS and this is being compounded by the media. South Florida does have a problem with a population of pythons having established themselves in the Everglades. This problem, which is isolated to extreme South Florida is being used as a point of leverage to ban the ownership of pythons and boas throughout the entire United States. There are two primary points of the HSUS argument:
1.The HSUS and USGS feel that the python might be able to spread north from Florida and establish itself in the lower 1/3 of the United States.
- Because pythons cannot control their own body temperature this is simply not possible. Highly experienced reptile veterinarians with detailed understanding of reptile physiology have testified to this fact. The ecosystem of South Florida is largely unique in the United States. Their ability to spread north from the Everglades is false and being driven by nothing more than the average person’s fear of snakes. Pythons have been kept as pet for not less than 50 years in this country. If they had the ability to establish themselves in other parts of the country, they would likely have done so by now. One of the USGS’ selling points on this matter is that global warming over the next 100 years could allow the snakes to survive further north. Is that what we’re going to do now? Legislate the pet trade on what might happen in the decades to come? Really? Remember the movie Minority Report starring Tom Cruise? In that movie people were arrested and put in prison for crimes they were going to commit in the future. Banning the ownership of snakes because the temperature might change in the future is just as preposterous. That movie sought to teach us a subtle lesson; it appears that it was not learned.
2.Pythons are a public safety issue.
- The HSUS states that pythons kill people and are a risk to public health. This is both fear-driven and false. Of the pets that people choose to keep pythons are one of the least likely to be a danger. Severe injury or death because of a python is incredibly rare. It is estimated that more than 5 million Americans own a reptile, several hundred thousand of which are large pythons and boas. Over the past 30 years there have been a total of 12 deaths attributed to large pythons. While nobody should ever discount the value of a life we have to admit that so few deaths in that many years is hardly justification for pythons being a public safety issue. It is worthy to note that none of those 12 deaths was from a python or boa escaping into the wild and attacking someone. Each of those incidents occurred in the home and each was the result of poor caging and/or improper handling. The simple fact of the matter is that responsible ownership of pythons and boas is not a public health concern.
The pythons in the Everglades is a decidedly Florida problem. Florida Fish and Wildlife has jumped on the bandwagon of this ban because federal legislation means federal dollars. The prospect of getting the entire country to fund Everglades restoration is a compelling motivator. In order to generate support for their desired end-result they have begun actively searching for pythons and when found they parade them about on the evening news. The media, and their love of all things sensational, is glad to feature them.
One of the most recent efforts of the HSUS has been to call for a ban on the Boa Constrictor in addition to several python species (they initially tried to ban all pythons). Suggesting a ban on ‘boa constrictor’ is the same thing as suggesting a ban on all terrier breeds because you feel that pit bulls are a problem. It it absolutely ridiculous. If one of the 15 species of terriers (that’s how many my research showed there to be) was a member of your family how would you feel if they were banned because of a HSUS/media-driven view of pit bulls? I hope you would be as frustrated and angry as the reptile community is right now. Similar to the diversity of terriers, there are literally dozens of different types of boa constrictors and most of them are very small as adults. We are in danger of seeing a huge portion of the pet trade eliminated by this proposed legislation. We are scared. We are angry. And we are frustrated.
Now, here is the point of my letter: The reptile community is not large enough to indefinitely withstand the assault being launched by the HSUS and our current political representation is too new and inexperienced to avoid being blindsided by the clever lobbying skills long-since perfected by the HSUS. The passage of this bill is a very real possibility. Because of this I am asking you to help me and the rest of the reptile community. I need your help. Part of my livelihood and my right to responsibly own the pet of my choosing is in danger of being taken away from me. I need you to defend pet ownership in this country by contacting both your delegate in the House of Representatives and your Senator and tell them you oppose HR2811 (the House bill) and S373 (the Senate version of the bill). I need this help because I believe with all my heart that the only way that pet owners in this country are ever going to be safe against the efforts of organizations like the HSUS is for all of us to work together to protect the rights of all pet owners, regardless of what type of pet it is.
Do this for me. Please. I need your help. Make the call to your House delegate and your Senator and I, in return, make myself available to you when you need help in your fight for your right to have the pet of your choosing. It is past time for the pet owners of this country to come together, to form a collective and work as a unit to oppose the HSUS’ attacks on responsible pet ownership.
To find out who represents you in the House of Representatives, follow this link: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml
To find out who represents you in the Senate, follow this link: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
HR2811 is currently in committee in the House. Here is a list of the committee members: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/committee.xpd?id=HSJU
The reptile community has been suckered. We are falling for a very clever ruse and it is happening at this very moment.
What trick, you say? S373 and HR2811, of course. The clever nature of the trickery behind these bills has caused the reptile community to lose its perspective and react in a most unexpected way. We are now working for the other side. We are unintentionally supporting a ban. Allow me to explain.
Both S373 and HR2811 propose to add the entire genus PYTHON to the injurious species list of the current Lacey Act. If passed this will ban the importation of AND interstate transport of all pythons. This will effectively end the trade in every species of python there is. This is, of course, a horrifying proposition to python lovers everywhere. At first I laughed at the silliness of it and shook my head at how uneducated the people were who penned such legislation. But as I continued to think about it I came to realise that it may actually be brilliant wording on their part. It’s brilliance lies their anticipation of our reaction. As a community we have played directly into the hands of those who wish ban the ownership of exotic animals. And leading the packed on being tricked is one of our most active voices, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, USARK.
In my opinion USARK has officially thrown the Burmese Python under the proverbial bus. I have long feared it would one day happen but did not expect it to come so soon. On July 25th, 2009 USARK actively solicited the reptile community to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee to amend the wording of HR2811 to specifically address Burmese pythons rather than the entire python genera. In doing so they have become unintentional participants in the initiative to ban large constrictors in the United States. And I suggest that this is partially what the authors of S373 and HR2811 wanted to happen. I believe these bills are INTENTIONALLY vague (by using only the term ‘python’) in order to get us to say, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Don’t ban all pythons! Just ban Burmse pythons! “ Wait. Did we, the reptile community, really just say that? Yeah, we did.
The last I heard USARK’s position was that they did not support legislation that was not based on a legitimate scientific analysis of the ability of the Burmese python to expand beyond the Florida Everglades. Has such evidence surfaced? No, it has not. But their position appears to have changed. USARK wants to be the voice of the reptile community and they appear to be suggesting that we offer up the Burmese python as a sacrifice to protect all the other pythons.
Please don’t take my words to think that I am coming down on USARK as a whole. I do not intend to do so. I firmly believe that USARK has, at its foundations, nothing but the absolute best intentions for the reptile community. They are a group of people who have stood up to fill a void; a voice to represent reptile owners throughout the United States. But I do not agree with their reaction to this particular issue. And part of me thinks that they, like the rest of us, have been tricked into a position that supports the desired result of those who wish to ban the ownership of exotic animals. We have played into their hands. Just a few short months ago we were all screaming, “No. You may not ban pythons without scientific evidence to support their ability to be invasive beyond the Florida Everglades.” Now, in a tiny amount of time, we seem to have changed our voice to say, “Please, please, please! Just ban Burmese pythons.” The only way we could have changed our tune so quickly is if we were tricked into doing so. And tricked we have been.
If you are going to make a call on Monday to a member of the House Judiciary Committee regarding the wording of HR2811 (as the USARK suggests) you need to make a choice about what you are going to say. Are you going to advocate a change in the wording that says it’s OK to ban the Burmese python or are you going to tell them that the Lacey Act should not be amended until proof can be found that pythons are a national problem rather than just an isolated problem in the south of Florida?
And by the way, there is already a bill floating around that will fund efforts to hunt Burmese pythons in the Everglades (as well as multiple dozens of other non-native creatures that get no publicity). If Burmese pythons cannot expand beyond the Everglades and we are going to hunt them down and remove them, why do we need a law banning them throughout the entire United States? In short, we don’t.
Once the exotic animal banning gates are open we cannot close them. More and more reptiles and other exotics will find themselves legally unavailable for ownership.
P.S. – Where are the big shipping companies? Delta (via Delta Dash), FedEx and UPS all stand to lose a considerable amount of money if these bans are actually put into effect. They should want to lobby on behalf of the responsible reptile owning community and ensure the future of a large revenue stream.
Final note: It is not lost on me that USARK’s position may be one of minimization. They may be taking a precautionary stance by seeking to amend the wording to minimize damage if the unthinkable should happen. But even if that is true it doesn’t change the fact that there has been a shift in tone toward a willingness to let Burmese python ownership become a thing of the past.