The County Board voted unanimously Saturday to revisit the proposed ban, with some modifications, at its June 17 meeting after more public discussion.
A previous version of the proposal had included hedgehogs among the banned species. Lyn Hainge, assistant division chief of the county’s public health division, said she received feedback from several hundred people, many of them pro-hedgehog, after the ban plan was publicized.
Snake owners, however, might still run afoul of the new rules.
Hainge said the original plan to ban non-venomous snakes that measured more than 4 feet in length has been changed. Now, those that weigh more than 10 pounds would be banned.
But Jennifer Toussaint, the county’s chief animal control officer, said that switch did not take into account different snake species.
“It can be confusing for individuals as to what they can and cannot legally acquire,” she said. “We have snakes that would fall into that list that pose minimal risk to the public.”
Bonnie Keller, operator of Virginia Reptile Rescue, Inc., said she has previously brought snakes that are 14 feet long and weigh 175 pounds to birthday parties for 4- and 5-year-olds. She offered to help educate the public about any risks.
Board member John Vihstadt asked for statistics on injuries caused to first-responders by such pets. Hainge said they are still being compiled and will be available at the next public hearing.
Vihstadt also said he wanted to see a “stronger foundation” for the new rules, and asked staff if they had talked with neighboring jurisdictions who have done similar work, and those who have not.
“What is the real foundation for this?” Vihstadt asked. “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?”
Board member Libby Garvey asked if there can be greater flexibility in registering existing animals, like if people move to work for the State Department and bring a favorite pet with them.
“We can’t imagine all the different circumstances there are, and I would like to have some wiggle room if there’s a way of doing that,” Garvey said.
The code change will be revisited in June, after further public comment.
“This issue has stirred a great deal of public interest and valuable comments,” said County Board Chair Jay Fisette, in a statement. “Staff has incorporated enough changes into the proposed ordinance that it needs to be re-advertised and we need to give people an additional chance to provide feedback.”
Photo courtesy Kelly