Norman City Council allows boas, pythons and anacondas to stay after subcultural uproar

Lauren Pinaroc’s Argentine Boa “Kita” will get to stay in Norman after city council members’ decision to exclude boas, pythons and anacondas from the exotic animal designation.  

The snakes have it.

After 30 minutes of discussion Tuesday, city council decided to eliminate a provision in a proposed ordinance amendment that would have prohibited pythons, boa constrictors and anacondas.

The decision came as a relief to snake owners like Lauren Pinaroc, who had expressed concerns at the Feb. 9 council meeting.

“I was really worried,” Pinaroc said. “I had just moved and locked in my lease for a year. (My snakes) really wouldn’t have anywhere to go if they banned boas and pythons. Both of my babies would be out of luck.”

Snake owner and recreational breeder Joseph Saunders said he feels that snake owners are as misunderstood as their slithering companions.

“A lot of people assume that anybody who does engage in this kind of thing is an outlier in society at large,” he said. “They don’t realize that there is a whole subculture to it. We have organized herpetological societies all across the country. Just about every major city has one, including Oklahoma City.”

City council member Stephen Holman said the proposal received criticism from snake-owning residents and the council got the message.

“We started getting a lot of emails and phone calls about it and I think we’ve seen tonight what that input can do,” Holman said. “The point is, the council does listen to the public when there are concerns. Decisions are not set in stone or made far in advance. We will listen, and I think this is an example of how we can change policy based on public comment.”

Norman Police Deputy Chief Jim Maisano said the amendment is aimed at clearing up confusion about what constitutes an exotic animal. He said it’s a helpful distinction to make for animal control officers and the public.

“We’ve had this ‘no exotic animals’ ordinance on the books since 1975, but there’s been no definition,” Maisano said. “This ordinance lets citizens know what we’re going to consider ‘exotic.’ (Today’s decision) allows the people around town that have the boas and pythons to keep them.”

The ordinance prohibits animals like chimpanzees, orangoutangs, gorillas, tigers and lions. It also prohibits all venomous snakes and reptiles, with the exception of those native to the state.*

Snake owners still will be subject to laws regarding animal cruelty.

They also will still be subject to laws dealing with dangerous animals, in the event that someone is threatened or attacked by their pet.

While exotic snakes are not regulated at the state level, the Norman Animal Oversight Committee may evaluate breeding practices and laws within the city.

For now, city council is set to vote on the proposed amendment at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

* State-issued permit required

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Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.