The AJC’s online version this week reporting new laws taking effect around the country noted that Florida has outlawed personal ownership of Burmese pythons, boa constrictors, and a half dozen other large U.S. reptiles. It didn’t mention alligators, however, so being a Gator, I’m glad to know I’m still legal in my home state.

It reminded me of an incident I covered in East Point a dozen or more years ago for the AJC when a pet 9-foot python slithered away from its owners, a trucker and his nephew. The two were hauled into municipal court, charged with violating the town’s animal cruelty ordinance — not cruelty to the snake, but to the live rodents it scarfed once a week.

The tale also produced on one of the best rebuttal lines I’ve ever had the opportunity to write: from a Zoo Atlanta reptile keeper who was amused at the fuss.

It seems that Ray Bryant and his nephew had let their exotic house pet out in the back yard to use the bathroom (even big snakes gotta go like the rest of us) and the critter wandered away, to the delight of local TV stations. The owners told police their python was missing , and so it made the evening news.

In a few days, a neighbor spotted Bryant’s snake under her window and called him, He retrieved his living property, and the problem appeared to be settled. Well, not so fast, folks. A local hairdresser who described herself as a “concerned citizen” filed a complaint.

Though she had learned “it’s legal to own these creatures, they’re not fit for residential living. especially around children and old people,” and probably in violation of the city code, she said.

“Personally, I’d like to have a tiger, but I can’t because it’s a dangerous animal, and if a python isn’t a dangerous animal, I don’t know what is.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Bryant responded. I called Zoo Atlanta, and a reptile expert there said “captive”pythons posed little danger, because they “generally shy away from humans.” In the jungles of Burma, adult pythons can grow as long as 20 feet, and have been known to eat antelopes and pigs; in captivity, adult pythons, and their close relatives, feed on live mice, rabbits and poultry. he said.

Bryant told me at the time he fed his python “feeder” rodents raised specially as snake food that he bought at an Atlanta pet store. The Zoo Atlanta expert, quick to protect any readers with queasy stomachs from the mental image of a giant snake swallowing a living,squirming, snack , explained that pythons and boa constrictors kill their dinner by squeezing it before they dine.

“You can enjoy them as home animals, as long you realize they are what they are,” he said. They don’t show affection like a dog does, of course.”

The municipal judge that heard the complaint, after directing code enforcers to monitor the situation, asked Bryant:

“Can’t you arrange to feed the animal meat? I can’t imagine even a rat being fed to that creature ”

Told of the judge’s earnest suggestion, the Zoo Atlanta expert quipped, “Maybe let’s you, me, the judge, the defendants, all of us, sit down at KFC and talk it out.”

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Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery

Bill Montgomery, aka "Monty," packed it in a few years back after 38 years as a reporter with the AJC, covering mostly crime and other forms of public insanity, such as political campaigns, strip club crackdowns, and the Georgia legislature. His career includes coverage of zanies that run the gamut from Lester Maddox and J.B. Stoner to Larry Flynt, and crime reporting that followed the 1973 Alday family killings in South Georgia to the execution of ringleader Carl Isaacs 30 years later, and the 20-year saga of Palm Beach millionaire James V. Sullivan, who hired the murder of his estranged wife at her Buckhead condo by a gunman packing a pistol in a box of roses. Montgomery lives in a Decatur condo with his wife Linda and their Boston terrier.