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Erik Burgess, Published June 17 2013

West Fargo gives initial OK to some constrictor snakes as pets

WEST FARGO – Pet snakes could soon be slithering their way into more West Fargo homes.

City commissioners here unanimously passed a first reading Monday of a proposal to allow certain non-venomous, constricting snakes as pets.

The ordinance would require that prior permission be granted by police before bringing any such permitted pet snake out in public.

“If you have a snake and you keep it at home and you get a permit, you’re kind of good to go,” Mayor Rich Mattern said. “Otherwise if you’re going somewhere with it, call somebody.”

The pet snake issue came to a head last summer when a West Fargo resident took his snakes out for a walk, concerned some residents and was told by police that they are illegal in the city.

Fargo and Moorhead already allow constrictor snakes as pets, but West Fargo 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.”

The amended ordinance would strike boa constrictors from that list and set up a new section of non-venomous, constricting snakes that would be allowed with a proper permit. In addition to boa constrictors, the city would allow certain types of anacondas and pythons.

The permit would cost $150 and would have to be renewed each year for $50, said Sarah Nyhus-Wear, who is filling in as city attorney here.

Snake owners would need the permit prior to buying or bringing any restricted snakes into the city, and the owner would have to provide a full description of the snake as well as proof of veterinary check-ups and implantation of a microchip in each snake.

Failure to obtain a permit would carry a minimum penalty of a $100 fine, 10 hours of community service or both, the same penalty for not properly licensing a dog or cat. Not reporting a lost or escaped snake would also carry at least a $100 fine. The minimum penalty for bringing a snake out in public without police approval would be a $250 fine or 25 hours of community service.

Nyhus-Wear said a permit could cover up to three snakes, the maximum any one resident could own.

Because of what happened last summer, Commissioner Mark Simmons said he was wary about the ordinance and would rather have no snakes allowed in public at all, but Police Chief Arland Rasmussen said they had to include some kind of language to allow snakes outdoors for visits to the vet or even for educational purposes.

Rasmussen said he’s not a fan of snakes and may field a few complaints because he’ll likely decline “just about every” request to let snakes out in public.

City Commissioner Mike Thorstad asked Monday if other snakes not included in the list would be allowed, like garter snakes.

“If it’s not on this list, then it’s not allowed,” Nyhus-Wear said, though she noted that some snakes, such as a garter snake, are not prohibited under the city law because they aren’t constricting, venomous or “inherently dangerous.”

The ordinance requires a second reading to become law.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518