Illegal rattlesnake seized from Olympia apartment

Staff writerApril 16, 2013 

A hybrid rattlesnake is an unusual -- and temporary -- resident at Thurston County Animal Services.

A Thurston County animal control officer seized an illegal hybrid diamondback rattlesnake from a Limited Lane apartment in Olympia on Sunday, and its former owner may face a civil fine of up to $2,000, a state Fish and Wildlife officer said.

The roughly five-foot rattlesnake was resting comfortably Tuesday afternoon at Thurston County Animal Services, coiled under a hollowed-out plastic tree stump in a glass cage.

Animal Services director Susanne Beauregard said “The Reptile Man,” Scott Petersen, who has a reptile zoo in Monroe, has already agreed to take the exotic rattlesnake, and will have its venom glands removed so that it will not pose a danger to the public.

The snake is particularly dangerous, because it is a hybrid bred from a diamondback rattlesnake and some other type of pit viper, meaning that there is no known anti-venom that could be used as an antidote if it bit someone, state Fish and Wildlife Officer Greg Haw said.

It is illegal to own a rattlesnake, or any other “dangerous wild animal” in Washington state, unless you have some kind of exemption from the law, such as for a reptile refuge or for educational purposes, Haw said. But he added that under the state’s dangerous wild animal law, people who possessed an animal prior to July 22, 2007, were grandfathered in and allowed to keep their pets.

Isaac Petersen, general manager of the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, confirmed Tuesday that his family’s organization is trying to get the proper permits to take the hybrid rattlesnake that was confiscated Sunday. Petersen said that although some people are afraid of rattlesnakes, they are actually beautiful, graceful creatures.

“The main thing people should know is that snakes aren’t vicious animals. They do not want to fight.” Petersen said. “They’re animals that need to be admired and respected for what they are.”

Haw said he referred a civil infraction against the hybrid rattlesnake owner in Thurston County District Court on Tuesday, but it will be up to the court to decide whether it will issue a ticket. The penalty for violating the law prohibiting ownership of a dangerous wild animal carries a fine of $200 to $2,000, he said.

Beauregard said that Thurston County animal control officers learned of the hybrid rattlesnake after the owner’s neighbor called authorities. The neighbor was concerned because the man had said that years ago, he had been bitten by a former pet rattlesnake and had to be airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Beauregard said.

Beauregard said rattlesnakes cannot survive in the wild in Western Washington’s cool, wet climate, because they would contract a fungus that is fatal to the species. Beauregard said she has experience dealing with rattlesnakes from growing up outside of Austin, Texas.

The hybrid rattlesnake owner knew he was keeping a pet illegally and cooperated when an animal services officer removed the pet, she added. At first, the animal services officer tried to corral the snake into a bucket, but the snake was angry and difficult to control, so the officer left the snake in its glass cage and brought it to the county’s animal shelter on Martin Way, she said.

The man who owned the hybrid rattlesnake also has numerous legal snakes, including a milk snake, a black pine snake and a baby Florida king snake, Beauregard said.

The snake has been showing signs of ill-temper in its private room at the shelter, snapping its head at its glass cage and even spurting venom from its teeth, according to Beauregard. “This is not a happy snake,” she said. Beauregard added that animal services employees have been trying to keep the room cool, which seems to pacify the reptile.

“The last thing you want in a shelter is a really irritable rattlesnake,” she said.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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