Arlington weighs ban on owning poisonous or dangerous snakes

Local,Taryn Luntz

Arlingtonians on the hunt for a pet python soon may have to settle for a garter snake instead.

The county is considering banning the ownership of poisonous or dangerous snakes.

"Currently, there is no code against venomous snakes as long as they are contained and they are kept in a way that doesn’t endanger the public," said Richard Cole, the county’s environmental health bureau chief.

"We have knowledge that there are some homeowners in the county that may own them, and so out of an abundance of caution, we think it’s better as a county to have laws against owning venomous snakes," he said.

The issue came to officials’ attention when Arlington County police, animal control and code enforcement staff responded to a report of several venomous snakes in a single-family home, according to a county staff report recommending the new measure.

"After a multi-agency investigation it was determined that there was no violation of any law, ordinance or regulation," the report said. "There is no prohibition of possession of poisonous or dangerous reptiles and it can be difficult to prove violations of regulations governing handling of these animals."

While Virginia does not ban the possession or sale of exotic animals, Fairfax County, Prince William County and Falls Church have passed laws banning wild, exotic or vicious animals, including venomous snakes.

Alexandria and Arlington have no such laws.

The report, which staff was scheduled to present to the county board Tuesday  night, identified several issues the county would have to resolve before adopting the law.

Arlington could choose to ban only dangerous snakes, ban a longer list of dangerous animals, or ban all or most of native and exotic animals "based on the concept that these constitute inappropriate pets in a densely populated urban area."

The county also would have to consider whether to grandfather pets that are already owned and whether to allow exceptions to the law for certified service animals such as monkeys.

To deal with "immediate public health and safety issues," county staff recommended passing a ban on dangerous snakes that would be effective after 60 days and recommended against grandfathering.

Staff would work with the current owners of the dangerous reptiles to ensure the proper disposition of the animals, according to the report.

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