A friend shared the recent story of a woman who tried to smuggle a four-foot boa constrictor onto a plane by saying it was “an emotional support animal” with me, adding, “More proof of what you’ve always told me about snake owners being a bigger threat than snakes themselves.” He hates snakes and while we’ve known each other long enough that I’ve given up trying to convince him that they’re really wonderful creatures I do take this as a sign of progress.
Admittedly this isn’t really a case where either the snake or the owner was really only a threat to people who depend on emotional support animals, which is something I realize is an easy target for jokes and criticism, but I’ve seen how an emotional support animal can help a person. It’s a wonderful thing that shouldn’t be misused or abused.
The story also reminded me of my first up-close and very personal encounter with a boa constrictor. It was at what was then the Cumberland Children’s Museum, now the Adventure Science Center. Back then it had a collection of animals that included possums, hawks, owls, a two-hundred pound snapping turtle that sat in an aquarium on the second floor, some small local snakes, a tarantula—my friend hates spiders even more than snakes, but that’s another story–and a boa constrictor.
Most of the time the animals were kept in their enclosures but one Saturday when I was there one of the handlers was doing a demonstration with an antique camera and kids were invited to get their picture taken with an animal of their choice.
I was the only one who picked the boa constrictor, whose name, I learned, was Betty. Betty White, Betty Grable, Betty Davis, Betty Boop, my aunt Betty, Bettie Page—all wonderful people but there will always be a special place in my heart for Betty The Boa.
Betty just lolled around my shoulders and I had to hold her head up so we could both mug for the camera.
After taking each picture the woman would return the animal to its cage and turn out the lights so she could develop the film. Except with me she just left Betty hanging around my neck and turned out the lights. This didn’t bother me and it didn’t seem to bother Betty either. She just stayed where she was.
When the woman turned the lights back on she picked up the snake and said, “Oh, she must really like you. Betty doesn’t fall asleep for just anyone.”
Which, now that I think about it, sounds more than a bit menacing. Maybe I shouldn’t tell my friend this story.