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Published July 16 2012

West Fargo denies request to allow constrictor snakes as pets

WEST FARGO – City leaders here denied a resident’s request Monday to allow constrictor snakes as pets in West Fargo.

Resident Robert L. Butts III told West Fargo commissioners that he owns two such snakes and believes they ought to be allowed, as they would be in either Fargo or Moorhead.

West Fargo ordinance prohibits residents from possessing “any poisonous, venomous, constricting, or inherently dangerous member of the reptile or amphibian families, including rattlesnakes, boa constrictors, pit vipers, crocodiles and alligators.”

In contrast, Fargo’s ordinance is broader. It prohibits any “wild or exotic” animals – including poisonous snakes, crocodiles and alligators – but allows residents to have non-poisonous snakes.

Butts said he owns two constrictor snakes: an 8-foot python he’s owned for six months and a 4-foot king snake he’s owned for two years.

“There’s only two types of snakes: poisonous and constrictor. They have to be able to kill their prey somehow,” Butts told commissioners. “A lot of people are scared – snakes freak them out – but as far as behavior and aggression, I don’t see how they’re any different than any other animal.”

West Fargo commissioners opposed Butts’ request by a 3-1 vote during their meeting Monday night, which keeps the city’s ordinance as it is.

Commissioners Mark Simmons, Duane Hanson and Lou Bennett voted to deny the change, while Commissioner Mike Thorstad opposed that motion. Mayor Rich Mattern was absent from Monday’s meeting.

“As of now, they’re against the law,” Simmons said.

In answering a question from Thorstad, West Fargo police Chief Arland Rasmussen said the city had not encountered any problems with snakes other than an incident at Elmwood Park involving Butts.

Butts said he only became aware of West Fargo’s snake ban this year after the confrontation with other residents at the park. He said he was taking one of his snakes for a walk when he drew attention from onlookers at a softball game. West Fargo police were ultimately called to the scene, and Butts was informed that the snakes he owns are illegal in the city.

This isn’t the first time in recent years when the West Fargo City Commission denied a resident’s request to own animals not allowed under city ordinance.

In May 2010, residents Justin and Ashley Morken sought to revise city code so that chickens could be kept in backyard coops in residential areas of West Fargo. The proposal was unanimously shot down by city commissioners.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541