December 18, 2014
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Bill may outlaw ownership of pythons, boas & crocs
Cranston Herald photo by Jessica A. Botelho
SLITHERY SITUATION: Jay Angilly, of Warwick, says his six-foot-long jungle carpet python, Snakey, is a "docile" pet, but a bill authored by Senator John Tassoni would outlaw the ownership of alligators, crocodiles, pythons and boa constrictors in Rhode Island. Tassoni said the bill is in response to the discovery of nearly 40 snakes, at least five of which were venomous, in a Pawtucket home last month.

A bill authored by Senator John Tassoni (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield) would outlaw the ownership of alligators, crocodiles, pythons and boa constrictors in the state of Rhode Island. Tassoni said the introduction of this bill comes in response to the discovery of nearly 40 snakes (at least five of which were venomous) in a Pawtucket home earlier this month.

"I've been talking with the RISPCA about problems they've been having," said Tassoni yesterday.

"I did address Mr. Tassoni and request he do something [about] the ongoing problem," said Dr. E.J. Finocchio, president of the RI Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Tassoni said his legislation was also inspired by the capture of an alligator last summer that had been released into the wild.

"Alligators get so big people don't know how to care for them," he said. "It's detrimental to society."

The Pawtucket man who was harboring nearly 40 snakes also had a de-scented skunk in his possession.

"There are lots of crazy things going on," said Tassoni.

Tassoni is a self-described animal lover who has introduced other bills in the Senate that tackle issues like animal abuse, birds psittacosis (an infection that can be transmitted to humans) and devocalization of dogs and cats. Tassoni said he regrets having to suggest a law that would affect so many because of the actions of a few.

"There's no bigger animal lover in the Senate than myself. I understand the issue. It's unfortunate some bad apples who don't understand the law have to ruin it for everyone else," he said.

Jason Oneppo, a reptile lover and former employee at Tuffy's Aquarium in Warwick and Warehouse Aquarium in Johnston, said the state has not done enough research to put forth this legislation.

"They're basing it on an incident of possession of poisonous snakes, which are already illegal," said Oneppo. "Passing this law will do nothing to stop people like that."

The legislation proposes a minimum $1,000 fine for those found to be in possession of the reptiles mentioned.

"One of the things the state doesn't understand is that there are thousands of these animals currently in captivity in the state," said Oneppo.

The legislation does not have a clause that would grandfather current owners of these animals.

Oneppo wonders what the RISPCA will do with animals currently in captivity once they are outlawed. He also wonders how the law will be enforced.

"It would be a big financial strain for the state," he said. "There are better ways for the state to spend its time and money."

Currently, reptiles like boas and crocodilia require a permit from the Department of Environmental Management, and the state must approve owner knowledge and the facility the animal is to be kept in.

"I'm in full agreement with current laws put forth," said Oneppo.

Oneppo said that people who are looking to own reptiles should do their research and understand the species they are thinking about purchasing.

"Snakes are long-term pets, relatively low maintenance and they can be excellent, rewarding pets," he said. However, he wouldn't recommend large reptiles for a home with small children.

Oneppo said that for large snakes, caretakers would need a cage measuring a minimum of 10 feet by 5 feet. For crocodiles, even the dwarf species that grow to about 4 feet in length, a cage 12 feet long would be necessary.

"I would venture to say you can go into a pet store where these types of animals are available and pick up an animal that needs a permit even if you don't have one," said Finocchio. He added that he is sure there are also "very responsible" reptile vendors in the state, too.

Finocchio said he is sure that pet stores and breeders will be opponents of the bill.

"I'm sure they're going to oppose this legislation because it's business," he said. "I have to look out for the welfare of these animals, not the almighty dollar."

According to Finocchio, 346 exotic animals came into the RISPCA's possession last year, due to both turn-ins and confiscations. Once RISPCA has the animal, Finocchio says they try to find a suitable home for it. However, this is not always an easy task, and sometimes the animals are euthanized.

"Ninety percent of all reptiles brought into the U.S. perish after one year," said Finocchio.

The major problem is that people cannot provide a proper environment for the reptiles.

"People try to set up pseudo environments for animals that do not mimic their natural habitats," he said. "Think about it; if you take an animal from the subtropics ... that's difficult to duplicate."

Although Tassoni's proposed legislation would only ban pythons, boas, crocodiles and alligators, Finocchio is in favor of eventually outlawing all reptiles.

"I'd personally like to see most reptiles banned," he said. "I don't want to be a Scrooge, but these animals do not provide what a dog, cat, rabbit or sheep can give to a person."

Finocchio called larger reptiles "dangerous."

But Oneppo argued that common pets like dogs could sometimes be more dangerous than snakes.

"I've never walked down the street and been bitten by a snake," he said. Dogs have bitten Oneppo on three occasions.

For now, Finocchio said he would like to concentrate mostly on banning members of the crocodile order.

"I would like to see crocodilia eliminated completely," he said. RISPCA came into possession of four alligators in the last year.

Tassoni said he is unsure when the bill would be heard, but it is likely to go before the Senate after the February recess.


Comments
2 comments on this item

So the 30-35 snakes that weren't venomous are ones that don't require a permit were legal and will be returned, so I don't see where the problem is with that situation. That number of snakes can be properly cared for in less time than it takes to properly care for a cat or dog. Snakes eat at most only once per week and some only every couple of weeks. Snakes are the easiest reptile to care for and they thrive in captivity, which most likely explains why people usually own more than one.

How many cats and dogs were turned into the RISPCA last year?

Maybe if the RISPCA could work with local stores to help place some of these animals in good homes and the stores would still be able to sell the caging and supplies for those animals, while doing a good deed.

When I lived in CA the local turtle and tortoise club worked a deal with Petco to help with aquatic turtle adoptions. I know if I was still in retail I would be willing to work out a program similar to that. All the stores would have to do is post signs with animals the RISPCA currently has for adoption, yes it may take the money for that one reptile sale away from the store and loosing out on a few reptile sales a year isn't going to harm their business as much as not being able to sell the animals at all and they would be doing something to help relieve the pressure and financial strain from the state.

Also I am not sure how many people realize they can adopt reptiles from the RISPCA, but maybe something can be done to raise public awareness that these animals also need good homes.

Many companies manufacturer cages and equipment that make it easy for pet owners to duplicate the tropical environments, besides proper lighting and heating products there are misters and foggers that can be controlled digitally to accurately duplicate the tropical environments. These same companies supply these products to zoos and public aquariums around the world.

According to some people I have spoken to their reptiles provide more than their cats, dog or sheep, rabbits or other furry animals do. many reptiles can be trained with treats and can also be litter trained. People underestimate the intelligence of reptiles, but some reptiles, such as the Mangrove Monitor have been know to follow their owners, even on swims in and out of the ocean. The comment referring to this above is obviously a one sided opinion. Follow this link for a story about why people keep reptiles and the companionship and enjoyment they provide. http://www.kingsnake.com/blog/archives/790-When-people-ask-why-you-keep-reptiles,-tell-them.html.

Fear mongering and ignorance. Where to begin? Dr. Finocchio has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. The Dr. says that "90 percent of the animals brought into the U.S. perish after one year. The Dr. is apparently unaware that well over 90 percent of all reptiles purchased from pet stores in the U.S. are captive-bred within this country. Ball pythons, cornsnakes, kingsnakes, ratsnakes, sand boas, red-eared slider turtles, boa constrictors, etc. All originally bred by hobbyists. Amateur keepers who helped produce viable, disease-free animals to supply each other and now the pet trade.

The Dr. goes on to state that, "People try to set up pseudo environments for animals that do not mimic their natural habitats," ... "Think about it; if you take an animal from the subtropics ... that's difficult to duplicate." The Dr., animal lover that he claims to be, has evidently never walked into a reptile petshop or a Petco or Petsmart and seen the proliferation of high-tech misting systems, heating devices, substrates, sophisticated caging and UVB lighting, all used to replicate the exact environment he seems to think can't be duplicated. The Dr. is concerned about the welfare of these animals: "I have to look out for the welfare of these animals, not the almighty dollar." This is reassuring because if this bill is passed, thousands of boa and python owners will be taking their snakes to the RISPCA, where the good Dr. will no doubt "look after their welfare" since their owners are now criminals and cannot own and care for their serpents any longer.

Yet another ignorant statement: "I'd personally like to see most reptiles banned," ... "I don't want to be a Scrooge, but these animals do not provide what a dog, cat, rabbit or sheep can give to a person." The Dr. thinks that people own reptiles for companionship, which is utterly ridiculous. While there are some who would give their snake a name, most reptile owners own reptiles to maintain a connection with nature, with something primeval and wild, something that evokes steaming jungle or dry savannah, rushing rivers or closed canopy forest.

I'm getting tired, but there's still more ! the Dr. calls large reptiles "dangerous." Dangerous because they're large? To whom are they dangerous? What would constitute large? Should there be a separate Senate bill to determine this? I have a large tortoise. I suppose he could be dangerous if I tripped over him. No one else could ever trip over him because he's in an outdoor pen in good weather and an indoor pen in winter. Same goes for all my other snakes and other reptiles. They are all caged, can't possibly bite anyone besides myself. So I guess they're only a danger to me. Funny though ... I don't feel threatened.

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