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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

September 4, 2012

Your Pet Snake Will Never Love You

By Elizabeth Creith

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I love animals. I even love animals most people don't love, such as lizards and snakes.

What I understand, though, is that Reptiles R Not Us, or even remotely like us, except for being carbon-based vertebrate life-forms. Another thing I understand is that many people who love reptiles are living in a state of delusion.

Take Bearded Dragon Guy. Bearded Dragon Guy didn't start out loving reptiles. He didn't even want a lizard. That was his wife's idea. Bearded Dragon Guy was actually a little creeped out—or is that "crept out”?—by the cute little six-inch-long beardie his wife bought. He was a good sport about it, though. He didn't object, as long as he didn't have to handle the thing.

Snake lover
Three weeks later, Bearded Dragon Guy came into the store looking chipper and upbeat.

"Hey!” he said as soon as he saw us. "I was watching football the other night, and I had a couple of beers, and I got the beardie out. He sat on the coffee table and watched football with me. We bonded, man! It was cool!”

Now, I'm happy that Bearded Dragon Guy is no longer crept out by his wife's pet. That is pretty cool. I'm not going to tell him that the only thing the beardie will bond with is his own status as Head Lizard. I won't disturb his little fantasy; it's harmless, after all, maybe even beneficial, if it makes him happier about his wife's taste in critters.

What I find less easy to take is the assertion—usually by young men—that their snake loves them.

I don't know if I've ever heard a young man—we're talking the macho, just-got-enough-facial-hair-to-qualify-as-a-beard group here—say that his dog loved him, or his cat, or his parakeet. But snakes? Snakes love these guys, to hear them talk about it.

"You know,” I said to one young man, "your snake doesn't love you. It will never love you.”

"Not even if I'm really, really nice to it?” he said.

"Nope.”

"Not even if I'm really nice to it and I have it a really, really long time?”

"Sorry, not even then. They just don't have what it takes.”

"But if you, were, like, really nice to it and gave it a big cage, and lots of mice, and, like, had it for years and years?”

At this point I wished I hadn't opened the subject, but I was too far into the conversation to pull out.

"Snakes can't feel love. Snakes have little reptile brains, which handle the four Fs: fight, flight, feeding and mating.” (We run a family-friendly store, right?)

"Oh,” he said. "So, like, they couldn't love you even a little bit?”

It was on the tip of my tongue to say, "Look, for snakes, it's simple. It's all hormones and timing. They don't have to think about love, right? They don't have to think about things like personal hygiene and dressing up and good manners and sitting through a chick flick in order to get a chance to mate.”

I opened my mouth to say this, and then I really looked at him. He was five-feet-eleven, in jeans with the crotch around his knees and the hems frayed from dragging on the floor. He slouched and he needed a toothbrush and a breath mint. His T-shirt said, "My other ride is your sister.” His beard looked like three days' worth of stubble, and he had his baseball cap on backwards.

"Maybe he could love you a little bit,” I said.

And maybe some of Us R A Little Like Reptiles.


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Reader Comments
We're actually quite like reptiles in some ways. One thing I'd like to highlight on hormones is that we are, maybe even unbeknownst to ourselves most of the time, always under the influence of hormones. Of these hormones, there is one that facilitates the response associated with love. Oxytocin, which is released when in the presence of young children(Assuming you're fond of them to begin with), and when interacting with pets; may also have a reptilian counterpart.

The reason we don't know is because veterinary research is rarely well funded outside of commercial applications. What we do know is that personality and emotion centers don't have to be very large to have a profound effect on animal behavior.

In the realm of pets, personality compatibility works in much the same way as it does in human on human interaction (Reptiles are no exception). Not only that, but, some reptiles have historically displayed preference for people other than their caretakers, going so far as to displaying preference for the non-caretaker person over the meal (But not indefinitely, of course!).

Fundamentally, if a reptile is capable of love as we perceive it, it would no doubt be simpler, but not different from the way we understand it. True love brings out some of an animal's most altruistic qualities, and acts as an attractor. As a caretaker, though, you're throwing a curve ball at a reptile's brain right there. They don't hatch with easily imprinted minds like warm blooded animals may, but are ready for survival from day one. Ready for survival, not ready to be nurtured or to be taught how to survive by parents.

It's hard to say this without making it sound like they really can't love but, it's easy for them to love, say, a member of their own species, because they, like us, are hard wired to make babies. However, if our 'love hormone' stretches beyond its base property, and is released for purposes other than procreation, there's nothing keeping their hormones from doing the same.

My conclusion on reptile to human affection is that it's a learned trait. A well cared for reptile learns that its environment, caretaker, and other people and animals aren't threats or food, which allows for a wider range of emotional bonding (Which is well within our range of knowledge about reptiles). After that, this emotional bond may be fortified to the point where love as we know it (From a hormonal standpoint) crosses a species(Or rather, class) barrier.
Ray, Springfield, IL
Posted: 11/19/2013 9:33:24 PM
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