Yet again, our emergency department was host to an individual who was bitten by his pet rattlesnake. I could go on and on about the financial implications of such a thing, since he required very expensive antivenin and had no insurance. But I’m not going there.

What I want to know is this: when did we decide that poisonous snakes made adequate pets? What is the definition of a pet? I mean, I understand that people keep all sorts of bizarre things as pets, from horses to monkeys, hermit crabs to angel fish. In that context, a rattlesnake doesn’t seem all that bizarre. Not all pets are, well, ‘pettable’. Not all pets are soft or sweet. Heck, horses can be stupid and just as dangerous. But still, most pets create an emotional sense in us, a connection between man and animal. Maybe, with a snake, the connection is fascination with its danger, with its elegance, with the predatory loveliness of its movements, its skin, its cold eyes. Perhaps, snakes make pets because men need to face their darkest fears directly. In a cage. In their houses.
However, it seems to me that keeping a creature that is very likely to harm you if you aren’t careful crosses the line! I remember in residency when a man was bitten by a cobra while reaching into a bag to buy one on the street. Moron. ‘Yeah! I’ll take a cobra!’ Like they were gummy bears. Or maybe like buying crack. ‘Listen my man, get a cobra…first one’s free. Everybody is doing it!’

In the southeast there is a certain fascination with snakes. Fortunately for those of us with serious phobias about snakebite, most snakebite victims are drunk white men with tattoos. Which means they were doing what the most recent patient was doing. That is, holding them. Or in the case of another person I saw, kissing them. There’s a certain pathologic nature to this behavior. Like walking into the lion cage covered in blood.

Admittedly, you don’t have to walk them, bathe them or give them shots. A cage, some water and the unfortunate rat here and there, and you have a relatively content snake. But whether you call it an oddity or a pet, it remains a dangerous animal. And if you keep one and it bites you, maybe it’s time to move on to a bunny or a ferret. At least their bites result in less expensive hospital bills.

Ed

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