Sunday, April 30, 2006

Reptile Love

It’s not every morning you get up and find a dead frozen mouse thawing in the kitchen sink.

Ah, yes. Sunday brunch for Snappy Tom.

Snappy Tom is my boyfriend's snake. A Western hognose snake, to be precise, and a beautiful boy he is, with a pert little upturned nose and intricately patterned brown scales.

I've never understood what makes people afraid of snakes. They’re beautiful. They feel nice to the touch: dry, cool, and smooth. And if you don’t bother them, they have absolutely no interest in bothering you.

Then again, I know the exact same things are true of spiders, and yet I’m deathly afraid of them. Even little ones. If the upcoming summer movie that’s getting great buzz, Snakes on a Plane, was instead called Spiders on a Plane, you’d never get me into the theater. I barely got through the Shelob scenes in Return of the King. Heebie-jeebies galore.

Snakes don’t bother me, but I have to admit that as a pet, ol’ Snappy T. doesn’t do a lot for me. I mean, he’s just not that…interactive. Beautiful, yes, interesting, absolutely. A pal to hang out with? Umm…no. I look at him and make admiring noises, and then I go play with my dogs.

Which brings me to the human-animal bond. People who work with animals talk a lot about the human-animal bond. This is the emotional attachment people have with their animals, that benefits the well-being of both the person and the animal. You’ve probably heard about studies related to the human-animal bond: people who own pets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, children raised with pets have higher self-esteem and are more likely to be involved in sports and other activities, etc. Most of us naturally assume that the animals in question are the traditional “companion” animals: Dogs. Cats. Horses. Birds. Goats. Cattle and sheep, even. Critters that can tell your mood, who interact with you, who recognize you as an individual apart from all other humans, just as you’d recognize Old Yeller apart from all other dogs.

Can the human-animal bond exist between a person and a snake? A turtle? A tarantula? Do those animals have the ability to recognize a particular human, and if they do, does it make any kind of difference to them? Or is it strictly a one-way street, with humans projecting their wants and needs onto a creature that has no more discernment than a potted plant?

Me, I’m not bonding with any arachnids anytime in this life. What do you think? Possible? Not possible? Or do you think the whole human-animal bond thing is a bunch of hooey, even if the critter involved is Lassie herself?

I’d post a picture of Snappy, but he’s eaten his mouse and has holed up under his driftwood to digest. No matter what the species, this I know for sure: if you pester a boy when his stomach’s full, and all he wants to do is nap, he'll become a very grumpy boy indeed.

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