Back in high school I sat through more than one government class. In my freshman year of college I went through the motions during a year-long course on the history of the United States. While sitting in those classrooms I wasn’t really investing in the information, I was enduring it. I memorized facts, names and dates that would need to later be regurgitated on an exam. Despite the quality of my schooling I must admit that I failed to process the information as anything other than raw data. True internalization of the information didn’t really happen for me. Part of the reason I missed so much was (honestly) a general lack of interest. For no good reason I found the history of places like Persia and Greece to be much more intriguing than that of my own country. History is often presented by academia as a string of names, dates, documents and military conflicts, each of which is summed up in a few paraphrased and often opinionated paragraphs. The impacts and long-term meanings of the events are not often taught in a way that encourages students to understand the information as it relates to their own lives. The end result is that many of us fail to fully connect the dots on how the events that occurred before our birth actually impact our existence. Teaching is an art form and most educators who have the ability to regurgitate facts lack the talent to make it relevant and interesting. As a result many students frequently purge the information after its usefulness on a test is complete. I do not fault my teachers for this. I take responsibility for my own actions, including the concerned attention I did not pay to my own nation’s history. During my earlier years I never fully took the opportunity to explore how the decisions of the founding fathers were supposed to impact the life I am living more than two hundred years later. The past several years, however, have changed all of that in a way I never expected. If someone had told me many years ago that it would be pythons and boas that suddenly caused the processes of government to be immensely relevant I would have rolled my eyes and wandered off.
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