Warning: This article deals with potentially distressing themes. Reader discretion is advised.
When I was younger, my sister decided to get a snake. It was a baby, very small, very cute. She liked reptiles, and was told this was a good starter pet. Low maintenance, doesn’t get that big, give it water once a week and food every other and it’s happy. This was about a year before she went off to secondary education. For that time, it lived in a tank in her room. She fed it when she needed to, she gave it water. At first, she would take it out and play with it, but the longer that she had it, the less that that happened. It was a relatively small tank for a relatively small snake. Things were good.
Then, she left. When she left, she decided she didn’t want the additional effort or cost of having the snake in the dormitory that she was going to be staying in. So, she just left it at home with my parents. My parents didn’t really like the snake. They didn’t want it in the first place, and told my sister that if she got one, it would be her responsibility. But now it was theirs. The snake, which was never named and just went by “The snake”, or “snake”, had started to grow in this year. It was as long as the tank was, and started to move around a lot more. It was clear that it was looking to set out and roam. To discover the world around it. It took barely more than an hour to explore around the single rock, under the small pile of wood chips, and through the fake plant that existed in its enclosure. And with my sister no longer home, it was no longer granted opportunities to explore the outside world. My mother, to her benefit, didn’t want to see the snake die. So she continued to feed it and give it water. Every two weeks a new frozen mouse was placed into the tank. It would dash at it in a blur, quickly wrapping itself against its dead prey, assuring that it had no means of escape, no chance to get away. Then, as snakes do, it would devour the mouse whole. It would lay straight, or as straight as it could in its tank, and allow the mouse to be digested. Its one interaction for the week completed, it would settle in for another week long hibernation.
When my sister was back from school for Christmas or the summer, my parents would say “You need to clean your snake’s tank, it’s starting to smell.” and so she would. Every time she would say “Wow, look how big it’s getting!” Like a mother seeing their child once every half a year, she would remark on the snake’s appearance, saying things such as “oh, it looks healthy!” or “Wow, it’s happy to see me!”. One time she even said “It’s getting quite large for that tank, don’t you think? We should probably get it a new one.”, to which my mother replied “Well, when you take it to live with you, that would be a great time for an upgrade.” and my sister said “Yeah, hopefully I can soon!” The snake was long enough to stretch from one end of the tank to the other and back again. If it decided to press itself along all four walls, it could almost lick it’s tail.
When my sister graduated, I went to the ceremony, I congratulated her. She said that she had met someone in school in her program that she was planning on moving in with. Somewhere close to where she was planning on working. Not far from where she was going to school already. No mention of snake was made. No intentions of bringing snake along on the next part of this journey were there. Snake was a forgotten part of something she wanted when she was much younger. A different person. And so, the process continued. Water once a week, food every other. The tank cleaned once or twice a year when my sister was home. Jokes made about taking the snake to live with her. Excuses about time, money, effort.
And then Snake died. I don’t know when. Nobody even noticed until my mother went to feed it. The snake was still in my sister’s room. Behind a closed door only opened when it was time to eat. My mother brought the slightly thawed frozen rat as she always did. She remarked to herself about the smell. She opened the lid, placed the rat into the tank, and almost didn’t even notice that the occupant was dead. She had turned and was ready to leave, before she realized that there was no snap of action. No flash as the snake grappled with the food. There was no movement at all. My mother sent my sister a text reading. “Sorry, your snake is dead.” My sister replied. “Aww” and a frowny face with a tear drop. Then, my mom was googling what to do with the body. It finally managed to reach the world outside its tank again, via a hole in the garden where its body would be used to feed the flowers.
That was two years ago. The tank is still in her old room, receiving nearly the same amount of attention it used to when occupied. Outside of a comment here and there, there has been no mention of that snake. It’s gone from everyone’s minds, just a creature that occupied a space within our space home for a while, and now no longer does.
Except for mine. I think about that snake a lot. Sometimes when I’m back home and visiting, I’ll go into her old room and look at the tank. To my family, that snake was always an “it”. But “it” implies that they were something to be possessed. A thing, not a living being. It makes me angry and upset, but that’s probably the most anyone felt for them, so maybe that’s not so bad. Throughout the time that the snake was living in my sister’s room I asked her if she wanted to rehome them, or if she wanted to put them up for adoption. At one point, I even found people that were willing to take the snake and give them a different life. She said that she still wanted the snake, just wasn’t able to handle the responsibility right now. That the snake would be happier once she finally took it. I pleaded with my mom to let me take the snake and give them to someone else. I reminded her that she didn’t even like the snake anyway, and that she even complained about having to take care of them. She said that wouldn’t be right. That it was my sister’s snake, and that we couldn’t just give it away without her permission. Because that’s what it was to my mother. a possession of my sister. An “it”.
I think a lot about whether I could have done more for that snake. Maybe I should have just taken them. Maybe I should have tried to find a way to convince my sister. Maybe the snake would have been happier had I killed it. I certainly thought about it a few times. It didn’t make me happy to consider, but I won’t lie and say I didn’t. The only thing that stopped me was the thought that maybe they were happy in their tank. With their water once a week, and food every other. No danger possible. They had everything that they technically needed, and that Snake didn’t really know what they were missing. Maybe they were happy. In retrospect, the thing I really regret is being too scared to play with them. I could have taken the snake out of the tank, given them some love and attention. Got them something different to eat. But I was only there a few times a year, and every time I saw them I just got mad. Got upset. I wish that I was stronger, so that I could have fought through those selfish feelings, to give them even just a piece of the love that they never had. When they died, I cried harder than I had in a long time. Snake wasn’t even mine. I barely even knew them. But I couldn’t stop it. Even writing this now years later, I’m struggling to keep my eyes clear.
I hate pet ownership. I hate that we feel we have the right to buy an animal and make them our slaves and do with them exactly what we please. And we do have that right, the law defends it! And there are millions of animals just like that snake all around the world in that exact same situation. Animals with owners that just don’t care, and never will. Animals that will die alone, in places where nobody will even notice. They deserve so much better. And it’s not just snakes. Not just reptiles. It’s dogs, cats, horses, all of the animals that humans can keep, living beings that feel pain, that feel love, that have feelings. All of them can be subject to the same neglect, all of them can suffer in silence, and of course all of them can be exposed to even worse. I wish I’d been braver. I wish I’d spoken up more. Please, if you or someone you love is looking to bring an animal into your life, understand what you’re getting into. They are a life. A living creature. They are only a part of your life but you are 100% of theirs. They deserve your time. They deserve your protection. They deserve your love. Please be braver than I was. Please don’t let them suffer alone.
I’m sorry, Snake.
Article written by Tarro (July 2022)