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Years ago, when I was working at a New York clinic, a client arrived for group therapy with Flower, his beautiful young pet boa constrictor, wrapped around his shoulders.
I vividly recall being the only staff member that wasn’t frightened. Most of the others were terrified and disappeared instantly into their private offices.
Later the client offered to let me hold Flower. I was amazed by her soft, smooth skin texture and marveled at her beautiful body patterns. He spoke of the snake’s special needs, how crucial it was to feed and cage her properly; emphasizing precautions he took to ensure people’s safety as well as that of his beloved pet.
While some folks consider snakes to be excellent pets, several species require special feeding, careful supervision, and (of course) secure escape-proof enclosures.
Unfortunately some snake owners are not as responsible as others. There are those who underestimate the primal, instinctive reptile nature of a pet they consider “docile,” especially if they are hungry.
Central Florida faced another murder trial this past week as a result of blatant negligence coupled with an insufficient knowledge of snakes; in a terrible, very preventable accident, two-year-old Shaianna Hare was killed by Gypsy, her mother’s pet Albino Burmese python.
And while the prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, made it crystal clear the snake was innocent and not on trial, the two co-defendants, Jaren Hare, 21, the child’s mother and Charles "Jason" Darnell, 34, her live-in boyfriend, were charged with manslaughter, third-degree murder and child neglect.
The ravenously hungry python was malnourished and severely underweight, having not been fed for at least a month. Her last meal was road-kill. And it was not the first time Gypsy had gotten out of her inadequately-built enclosure, fashioned from an aquarium topped with a quilt having a hole the size of a baseball.
But on the night of July 1, 2001, once more the snake escaped, on the prowl for something to eat. Tragically, Gypsy considered the two-year-old child its prey, resulting in the baby’s death.
It’s not necessary to go into the gory details. Those interested can read about it elsewhere.
Even though the snake had escaped at least five times, a secure enclosure was not provided. Offers made by friends—worried about the child’s safety—to either adopt Gypsy or to buy the family an appropriate enclosure, were repeatedly declined.
The prosecution team’s line up of witnesses included a Gainesville, Florida snake breeder who said that the python's depressed weight and size clearly suggested she was "very, very underfed, undernourished."
Defense attorney for the couple, J. Rhiannon Arnold, claimed it was a tragic accident, not murder or manslaughter. Referring to Darnell she said, "He is guilty of making a stupid decision and having a stupid pet. He's guilty of not being a dog-lover and liking snakes."
Gypsy remains in the custody of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Florida has changed the state rules to prohibit the possession of Burmese pythons and other large constrictor snakes following this tragic event.
During the brief two hour deliberation, the six-member panel found the couple guilty of all charges pertaining to the death of two-year-old Shaianna. Jaren wept in the arms of Darnell, who showed no emotion.
What are your thoughts about pythons and constrictors as pets? Let us know in a comment.