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Monday, Aug. 1, 2016

SNAKES ALIVE!

Steven Kennedy and a few of his pets

Sanctuary promotes reptiles’ beauty and importance

Steven Kennedy searched the cluttered home more than an hour before giving up. Piles of clothing on the floor and in over-stuffed closets made the chances of finding the snake almost impossible, but he left his number with the homeowner in case it was seen again.

If you find a snake and call Caddo Parish Animal Control, you will probably meet Steven Kennedy. He loves snakes. He works with animal control and through his own rescue efforts to keep people from being harmed by, or harming, snakes.

“They will come through laundry ducts or sliding doors,” said Caddo Parish Animal Control Cruelty Investigator Eric Baker.

“We have been using him about four and a half years. We send him pictures, and he will let us know if it is poisonous.”

“As a firefighter and EMT, I get calls from people who have dialed 911 because of snake issues,” Kennedy said. “One evening, the fire department got a call that an 8-year-old girl had gotten bit by a snake. By the time I arrived, the paramedics had her in the back of the ambulance.

Her foot and ankle were swollen, but she was calm. They had killed the snake and had it in a jar.”

“One paramedic looked at me and said, ‘That is a copperhead, right?’ I told him it was.

He said he would not have known that if he had not watched my videos. He was able to call the hospital ahead of time so she could get [the antivenom] when they arrived.”

When he was growing up, his father killed snakes and his parents tried to thwart his involvement with snakes, but he wasn’t discouraged. “I remember seeing my first speckled king snake when I flipped over a piece of board in a lot behind our house,” Kennedy said. “I was just mesmerized.”

“Throughout all of those years, my interest and love for snakes continued to grow. Several years after I got married, I bought my first real pet snake, a baby corn snake. All of a sudden, it seemed like my enthusiasm exploded. My wife was very supportive, and now she and my kids love snakes, too. Snakes are actually our best pets.

My hobby has turned into a passion, and my pastime has turned into a pursuit. That’s how Steve’s Snaketuary was born.”

When Kennedy captures a snake, he usually releases it a remote location in the country, but he has kept almost 100 as pets and for educational purposes. He started his sanctuary to promote the beauty and importance of snakes through presentations to children and animal rescue groups.

“Throughout the years, we have rescued and released hundreds of local reptiles.” He has a permit through the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department to keep “venomous and constrictors over eight feet” and a Dealer’s Permit through Caddo Parish Animal Control. He removes snakes from situations where someone will try to kill them – the surest way, he said, that the person will be bitten.

“They only strike when they are agitated or aggravated. If someone does get bit by a venomous snake, the best thing to do is stay calm and get to the hospital quickly.

Remove any jewelry around the bite area. Do not put ice on the bite. Do not elevate the bite.

Elevating the bite allows gravity to cause the venom to rush to the heart faster, which will cause it to spread through the body faster. Do not put a tourniquet or constricting band around the bite area.”

“Snakes still have some reflexes left a short time after they are killed, and the venom glands in venomous snakes are located in their upper jaw so venomous snakes still have the ability to bite and envenomate even if their heads are cut off.”

According to the Department of Wildlife and Ecology Conservation at the University of Florida, only one in 50 million people will die from a snakebite. Most snakebites occur between April and October, according to American Family Physician.

Although most snakes are harmless, people don’t want one near their home.

“The best thing to do to deter snakes is to keep your yard clean. Make sure the grass is cut low, and get rid of anything that snakes can use as a hide. If someone has dogs and cats, they need to keep the food inside. Keeping food outside will attract mice and rats, which will attract snakes. Snakes do not run in pairs or groups ... just because you see one does not necessarily mean you will see another one. Snakes will not make your home their home,” Kennedy said.

“Most people believe that lime, sulfur, moth balls and (snake repellent products) work to keep snakes out of their homes and yards.

This is not true. Those products are not toxic to snakes. I have been to many houses where people have put all that stuff around and in their houses, and I have still caught several snakes,” he said. “What those products do is start to break down the food chain. Those products get rid of bugs that a few animals eat, which should cause rats and mice to leave which, in theory, would cause the snakes to leave.”

Kennedy has a healthy respect for snakes.

He has never been bitten by a venomous snake, although rattlesnakes, coral snakes and a cobra are among the small collection of venomous snakes he houses in a separate room within the sanctuary.

“If you come across a snake, leave it alone and call a professional to come remove the snake. Most snakebites occur because someone was messing with the snake or trying to kill it. Snakes are not out to get you.

They are not out to hurt you. A snake’s only defense is to get away or bite.”

He generally feeds his snakes a frozenfood mix so that they do not “stir around much” and get overly excited. None of his snakes has ever escaped.

“Snakes eat mostly rats and mice. I do have some that eat frogs and toads. Some of the lizards are carnivores, which means they eat meat, so they eat crickets and/or meal worms.

Some of the lizards are herbivores, so they eat fruits and vegetables. Some lizards are omnivores, so they eat meat and plants.”

In addition to snakes of all sizes, colors and types, the sanctuary is home to a small collection of lizards, either rescued or adopted from owners who could no longer care for them. He also takes care of turtles hit by cars or lawn mowers and releases them if the shells heal; he has seven that can’t be returned to their natural habitat.

“I had someone from South Louisiana call me and tell me they had a 4-foot water monitor (an Asian lizard) that they couldn’t take care of anymore because they travel a lot.

I told them we would be more than happy to take the pet in.” “Lizzie” is a beautiful female that he takes for walks on a leash.

The family occasionally takes a couple of harmless snakes out of their cages, he said. They also have a bearded lizard that sometimes roams around inside the house.

The dogs and cats that make up the rest of the family are not afraid of the lizards or the snakes.

Kennedy feels the aversion people feel toward snakes is a harmful prejudice that can be overcome through education. He works with the Pet Education Project, “an education and outreach program that teaches the core responsibilities of pet ownership,” and brings non-venomous snakes and lizards to schools and libraries in an effort to educate people and help them see the beauty and diversity he has grown to love in his pets.

Some of his friends also have snakes, and one friend uses Kennedy’s snakes “for movie and film work.” He recently loaned some out for the TV show “Salem.” Friends in Shreveport Community of Amphibians, Reptiles & Invertebrates occasionally partner in his presentations.

Steve’s Snaketuary does not charge for removal. “We do accept donations. We let the customer decide what it is worth to them to have the snake removed from their home or business.”

“Every summer, we constantly see dead snakes in the road and hear horror stories of people killing them in their homes and outside. We offer safe removal, relocation and rehoming of snakes, and we are here to help educate you on the importance of snakes. Snakes and other reptiles have their purpose in the ecosystem.”

–Katheen Ward

Learn More:

Visit Steve’s Snaketuary on the Web at www.snaketuary.com. He can be contacted at info@snaketuary.com or (318) 525-6241.

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