I recently read my daughter a bedtime story (for the 987th time) which centered on a young dragon taken in by Princess Aurora (of Sleeping Beauty fame). Starting with her husband, Prince Phillip, and continuing with each encounter with the story’s other characters Aurora is met with storybook disdain for her new pet. The universal reason: dragons are dangerous. The dragon, in an effort to fit in, tries to emulate other animals who do not suffer the same unearned contempt. But dragons are what dragons are and each attempt to be something he is not leads to moments of chaos involving, as you might guess, fire. It’s not until the end of the story that the dragon comes to terms with what he is and finds a place in the life of the story.
None of the characters in the story offered anecdotal evidence as to why dragons are dangerous; they just knew them to be so.
As an American I am chronically aware that many of my fellow citizens don’t pay much attention to what is going on in other countries. By no means is that an across-the-board statement; it’s just something I have made note of in my interactions with others as I travel about the country. It’s not unusual for Americans to be so unabashedly and ignorantly ethnocentric that they don’t have the slightest idea of what is going in the rest of the world. Who am I kidding? Many don’t even know what is going on in this country. Jay Leno is good at pointing this out from time-to-time in his late night talk show antics (and here). Most Americans know that something is going in in Iraq but many don’t realize that Iran is different than Iraq and they certainly don’t know why Israel is so despised by them. Most of us know that Princess Diana died a while back
The Humane Society of the United States has at least one (that I know of) full-time employee whose sole function is to communicate the organization’s message using social media. That’s it! Be an evangelist for the cause using the constantly evolving Internet as a tool. The existence of that job represents their commitment to reaching out to a whole new generation of people. They also have an entire division (attorney’s included) focused exclusively on advancing their agenda through the courts. Now think about how many people work for your favorite pet owner advocacy group. I’ll guess ten. A dozen, maybe. Fifty, tops. I often wonder how many hats people in those organizations must have to wear and how effective they can be when constantly switching back and forth between roles.
As I type my 40th birthday is barely two years away. And I don’t know if it’s my age combined with the times or if it’s the times by themselves but over the past few years I have become keenly aware of a rapidly increasing divide between the people of the United States. I know, I know, every generation laments the passing of the ‘good ol’ days’ and things were always better yesteryear. Time has that sort of scrubbing effect; it distorts the very perception of our own hindsight. But I sense that what is happening now is something more dark and angry. The happy-go-lucky naivety of my youth has passed.
The current state of affairs is that we can break the thinking people in our society into two general groups of people: liberals and conservatives (some people may prefer ‘statist’ and ‘libertarian’).
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?
As I type my daughter is a few months into her third year. As is often the case with parents I put nothing else on this planet before her. She is everything. Every parent wants to protect their children from as many bad things as possible in this world. To that end we often turn to professionals for advice on when it is OK to do certain things. Take peanuts for example. The prevailing medical wisdom says that if nobody in your family has a history of allergies then you should wait until your child turns one year old before exposing them to peanuts. If you have a history of allergies you should wait until the child is at least three. Because neither my wife nor I have any known allergies we treated the arrival of our daughter’s first taste of peanut butter with an unusual amount of excitement. Well, I did. Peanuts, peanut butter in particular, are a big deal to me. I find peanut butter delicious and combining chocolate with peanut butter is next-level stuff. The peanut butter cup is a triumph of taste and I am sure that achieving nirvana involves peanut butter at some point.
A few days after my daughter’s first birthday my wife and I decided to give her a peanut butter cracker. We had waited the required amount of time recommended by the pediatrician and it was time for her to learn about another wonderful part of being alive. About 9 or 10 hours later when we left the emergency room we knew that peanuts and my beloved peanut butter would no longer be welcome in our home. After taking a bite of a peanut butter cracker our daughter had gone into anaphylactic shock.
For longer than I have been on this planet people have been keeping reptiles as pets. The original reptile keepers were mostly academics, scientists fascinated by their enigmatic subjects of study. As reptiles began to enter into the pet world they were most often the choice of young boys and other people who were more …colorful …than mainstream society typically allows. The keeping of reptiles was often tolerated by the parents of young children who wanted to humor their whims and foster a love of science and nature. Thirty years ago there wasn’t a large captive bred trade in reptiles, at least not compared to what it is today. It wasn’t unusual for specimens to be either imported or, in the case of native species, self-caught. What better way to get a pet snake than to go out and catch one yourself? Those young herpers are now grown and they brought their once unusual choice in pet along with them. They grew up to enter into every facet of society across all levels of industry and income. Their choice to own a reptile was likely viewed as an oddity by many of their friends, family and co-workers. In fact, it was probably not unusual for them to simply not mention they had a reptile as a pet. Because reptiles were not mainstream and were viewed as a quirky choice in pet it was often easier to simply leave it out of conversations. Fifteen years ago I can say for sure the none of my professional co-workers knew that I kept snakes (I worked for a bank in those days). My banking buddies and I exchanged dog and cat stories often but snakes never came up during discussions about pets. On the few occasions that snakes did come up in conversation I often got the typical reaction that comes from the uninformed: disgust, fear and general discomfort at the idea of creepy crawlies slithering around my house.
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.
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