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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

October 21, 2011

Simple Minds

By Elizabeth Creith


Morning is quiet in the pet store. Hardly anyone comes in; it's the time I use to feed and water the animals and to clean cages, tanks or terrariums.

I'm good with people; I know how to explain things without making them feel stupid. But I'm better with animals. With animals, it's all body language. You can tell their mood by the way they move. It surprises me that most people can't read an animal's body language.

Red-tailed green rate snake

I'm not afraid of snakes. You can't be and work with them. But I'm careful of the 4-foot-long green rat snake. She's in a space that's really too small for her, as most things are in pet stores, and she's nippy. "Nippy" is pet store talk for an animal that's made a serious pass at someone.
She nailed my hand once, a quick strike-and-release when I moved too sharply taking out her water bowl to refill it. It wasn't her fault; I'd moved like a predator, and she was scared. It hardly hurt at all. I'm careful to move slowly and quietly around her; I don't stare at her, and I talk softly. I know snakes are deaf, but I figure if I speak softly, it'll help me move gently, too, and that she definitely understands.

The kid must have come in while I was running water. I say "kid," but he was on the verge of young manhood, 15, 16 maybe. Sneakers, T-shirt, windbreaker with some heavy metal band's logo on it, pants dragging on the floor. He stood in front of the rat snake's too-small terrarium, staring at her, his nose within a couple of inches of the glass.

The snake was erect, weaving just a bit. I could tell she wasn't happy with his posture and his proximity. Her nose was close to the glass, too, and I was afraid she'd strike and hurt herself.

"Hey, back off a bit," I said, "You're making her anxious. If she strikes the glass, she'll get hurt."

"He's challenging me," said the kid, ignoring my pronoun. He echoed the weave of her head with his.
"She. So back up and she'll stop." My hands itched to grab his collar, but that would be assault. Very big trouble.

"If I back off, she wins. If she hurts herself on the glass, she'll know she can't challenge me."

"Look, snakes have really simple minds," I said. "She  doesn't understand winning and losing. She doesn't think like that. Bottom line, she can't win. But you can't win, either."

He tilted his head at me. "Wha'?" The verbal prowess of teenage boys never ceases to amaze me.

"If you back off, you think you lose, so you lose. It's in your own head. And if you don't, and she hurts herself, I will boot your ass out of here, and you definitely lose."

He snorted in disgust and stomped out of the store.

Simple minds, I thought. Snakes aren't the only ones who have them. I put the rat snake's water dish back on the cart. I wasn't going to open the terrarium while she was still agitated. I'm smarter than that.

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