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And a Nice Chianti

Posted: August 20, 2013, 4:00 p.m. EDT

By Elizabeth Creith

We in the pet trade know there’s no typical snake owner. The general public may consider that a snake is usually accessorized with Doc Martens, a shaved head, multiple tattoos and—oh, yes—a Y chromosome. In fact, quite a few of our snake owners are women. So I wasn’t surprised when a smartly dressed, middle-aged woman came in one lovely July day and asked for a mouse to feed a snake. 

Snake owners can be quite picky when it comes to what they feed their pet. Shutterstock

"What size mouse?” I asked.
She looked a little startled.
"They come in sizes?”
Now I was surprised. Most snake owners not only know the exact size of mouse their snake eats, but also how many, how often and what color and sex the snake prefers. We put our mice in take-out boxes, and we always show the customer the mouse before taping the box shut. We’ve known customers to send the order back to the kitchen because their snake prefers white or brown; male or female. You think a wine connoisseur has taste buds? That’s nothing compared to some of our customers’ snakes.

"Hmmm, a full-bodied, mature white female with brown patches, kept on pine shavings and fed—hmmm—lab chow, carrots and—yes, a hint of celery. Delicious! Pass the chianti.”
I thought we were doing pretty well to offer fresh or frozen and four sizes, but maybe our selection is inadequate. Perhaps we should have a menu specifying sexes and colors; pine bedding or paper bedding. Maybe we should offer little packets of condiments with the mice. What goes best with mouse? Plum sauce, salt and vinegar or plain old ketchup?

It was positively refreshing to have someone whose snake wasn’t a connoisseur and who wasn’t going to quibble on the size of the ears or the shade of the fur!

"They come in several sizes,” I said. "Pinkies, fuzzies, hoppers and adults. How big around is your snake?”
"About this big,” she said, holding up her manicured baby finger. "Maybe just a little bigger.”
"A little hopper, then,” I said, and went to get it.
As I tipped the box toward her, however, she held up her hand and turned her head away.
"That’s fine,” she said. "I don’t want to see it. I’ll just tip it into the tank and leave. It’s my son’s snake, and he’s out West working for the summer. I said I’d look after the thing for him, but I’m not handling the mice.”
"What kind of snake?” I asked.
"An Egyptian house snake. He bought it here.”
"Oh, I remember that one!” And I did—a lovely, docile little brown snake with a beautiful sheen to his skin. "That’s such a pretty snake, and so calm.”
She looked at me like I was missing a screw—probably the same one her son was missing—took her mouse and left.
A week later she was back.
"You were right,” she said. "He’s a nice little snake. I’m kind of getting used to him. I need another hopper.”
Within a few visits she was positively chatty about the snake.
"I call him Henry,” she said. "My son never even named him—can you imagine? Anyway, he looks like a Henry I once knew.”

While I was still trying to imagine what that Henry might have looked like, she said, "One hopper, please.”
As I went to fetch it she called after me.
"A female, if you have it. I think Henry prefers the taste of the females.”
Time to print that menu and order the ketchup. <HOME>


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And a Nice Chianti

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Reader Comments
I can't guess how many times that the female significant other or family member of a male reptile keeper ended up more interested and informed than the guy who first purchased the animal. I think it has something to do with breaking the initial stereotypes about reptiles, so that the nurturing impulse can come through.
Steve, Rochester, NY
Posted: 8/23/2013 9:28:21 AM
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