D.C. City Council member Nadine P. Winter, who recoils at the mere mention of slithery serpents, has introduced a bill to get tough with pet owners who allow their pet snakes to wander.
"The specific purpose of this bill is . . . to control peregrinations by snakes," Winter said in a press release describing her plan to slap careless owners of "wandering snakes" with a fine of up to $300 and 90 days in jail. The current fine for allowing any animal to run loose is $25, city officials said.
The Ward 6 Democrat reluctantly acknowledged, "People have the right to own snakes." But she insisted that "large numbers of people go into shock just at the sight of a snake."
Her bill would require snake owners to post signs on all entrances to their homes or businesses, reading, "SNAKE IN HOUSE: EXERCISE CAUTION."
Winter granted that "snakes may be unjustly maligned and our general aversion to snakes may be embedded in the Judeo-Christian ethic of this country." But she said in an interview, "You don't walk a snake like you walk a dog," and added that some residents who didn't care to come upon the critters asked her to introduce the measure.
A spokeswoman for the city's animal control center said her office gets "thousands of calls" about dogs but has had fewer than a dozen calls about snakes--usually only to pick up the garden variety, nonpoisonous snakes that wander into apartments.
The official said the Gaboon Viper that bit a 16-year-old youth earlier this year was a special case because that snake had been stolen from the national zoo.
Winter's three-page press release recounts what she said was a true tale of a mail carrier who encountered a snake on a front porch.
"Now enter the mail carrier, who is trained to deal with ferocious dogs and most other impediments to mail delivery. This otherwise calm, responsible person is almost struck down by a car while running away from a snake," Winter wrote.
"Think of the potential cost to society here. We may have lost a bread winner in a family that may have to come to the public for assistance . . . The driver may be traumatized for life as a result of hitting someone with his automobile."
Winter said the mail carrier's fear "has to be addressed by psychologists," but said, "the fact that the fear exists can be addressed by the legislature by minimizing potential contact with the terror-creating object."
Winter concluded, "The general public of Washington, D.C., has the right to be relatively free from terror, no matter what the source."