Toddler death spotlights exotic pets

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Few would argue a rhinoceros makes a lousy pet, or that your neighbor shouldn’t be allowed to raise a cheetah.
But what about a boa constrictor or a badger or a pit bull – all apparently legal to own under state and local rules – would those make good pets?
According to some people, they do. But Wednesday’s strangling death of a Florida toddler by her family’s python highlights the danger such exotic animals can pose.
In the Florida case, the 8-foot snake escaped from its pen and slipped into the child’s crib during the night. When the family awoke the next morning, they found the snake wrapped around the girl. She was dead.
PetSmart in Tupelo doesn’t sell Burmese pythons, the kind that killed the toddler. According to the national chain’s spokeswoman, Jessica White, it doesn’t sell any dangerous pets.
But it does sell other types of snakes, like the smaller and more docile ball python. Even that kind, however, can bite.
“It could draw blood but it couldn’t do anything more than that,” said Shaunna Armstrong, a Plantersville resident who owns one. “They make really good pets. I would recommend them to people, as long as the snake is socialized – just like a dog.”
According to Mississippi law, several animals are considered dangerous and are prohibited to own except by special permit. Such animals include baboons, wolves, tigers, elephants and bears.
Violators face fines of up to $5,000 and five days in jail.
The city of Tupelo also has a few ordinances dealing with dangerous pets. Although the city doesn’t outlaw any of them, it does require residents who have them to get a $50 permit from the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society.
Those who fail to get a permit face a $150 fine.
TLHS Director Debbie Hood said the agency has issued some 200 permits the past few years, but all have related to dogs like pit bulls.
“No snakes,” Hood said.
Hood also said she has never taken a complaint about a snake or any other dangerous pet. The most frequent animal gripes consist of dogs and squirrels being menaces, she said.
The Tupelo Police Department doesn’t see many complaints about exotic pets, either – if any at all – said Chief Harold Chaffin.
“We just don’t see much of that,” he said.
That doesn’t mean people here don’t keep exotic animals, but they apparently haven’t been a problem.
Internet reports vary on which exotic species make good pets and which don’t, but most advise caution when bringing any animal into a house with children.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.