Getting serious about snakes

They can make great pets, but only if you’re prepared

click to enlarge Getting serious about snakes
Liesbeth Powers/Inland 360
Etna, 9, a Burmese python, stretches out during Snake Haus’s visit to Washington State University in April.

Snakes: It seems people either love ’em or hate ’em.

Irrational fear of these lanky reptiles can lead to unfortunate decisions, like killing a wild snake that should be left to hunt pesky rodents. But sometimes people love them to death, too, purchasing a pet snake, only to later learn the animal they’ve chosen is too much to handle.

That’s where Snake Haus comes in. Billed as “a retirement home for snakes,” the nonprofit rescue organization has locations in Lewiston and Snohomish, Wash., where former pet snakes go to live out their lives in comfort under the care of veterinarians who specialize in exotics care. Some are adopted by snake lovers more well equipped to care for them; Snake Haus policy requires prospective owners to meet a variety of requirements, including having a pre-approved enclosure.

Dr. Nicky Finch, who cares for wildlife and exotic pets at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman, runs the Lewiston location, which specializes in smaller snakes, like corn snakes and ball pythons. The western Washington site is operated by Dr. Sara Mayes and her husband, Mirko, who care for larger snakes, such as Burmese and reticulated pythons, which can grow to more than 20 feet in length.

Inland 360 staff members recently had the privilege of meeting some of the large snakes from Mayes’ facility when she and Mirko brought the animals to WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for an education day. Veterinary students practiced handling the massive animals and learned about treating them (for example, putting a large, cold-blooded animal under anesthesia can be tricky, and Mayes offered tips from her experience).

The snakes’ skin felt soft and smooth, and their movements seemed both effortless and methodical, their forked tongues flicking in and out, as they explored the room where students were handling them under Finch’s and Mayes’ supervision.
In keeping with our penchant for interviewing animals (see the marmot and cottontail rabbit interviews from our Groundhog Day and Easter issues), Inland 360 asked a few questions of a fictional snake, inspired by the ones we met at WSU.

Inland 360: We’re fans, obviously, but fear of snakes is pretty common. What advice do you have for folks who are afraid of you?

Barbara the boa: Education is the key. I think people who want to learn can overcome irrational fears while maintaining a healthy respect for us snakes (and all animals).

For example, if you go to see The Reptile Man, Scott Petersen, at one of his shows in the area (see Learn more today), you’ll hear him talk about how snakes help people by preying on rodents that spread disease. The plague isn’t spread by snakes, is what I’m saying.

Another good place to learn more about us is the Snake Haus website at While I don’t want people to fear me, I do want them to understand that handling snakes properly takes know-how. For example, the safe handling guidelines on the Snake Haus website make it clear there should be an extra person for every additional 3 feet after 6 feet of snake. There are many kinds of boa constrictors, and some get really big. If you’re trying to get over a fear, maybe start by arranging to meet a smaller example of our kind.

And venomous snakes (the only ones you have here are rattlesnakes) aren’t interested in messing with you, so if you keep your distance, you’ll have no issues. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings so you can avoid those unwanted interactions.

360: What about those who think snakes are so cool they’d like to have one for themselves?

BB: While it’s great to be appreciated, keep in mind improperly cared for and abandoned snakes are the whole reason Snake Haus exists. Once again, I suggest slithering on over to the Snake Haus website to review the recommendations for snake care. There’s a lot to digest.

You’ll learn about why screen-top aquariums are bad for us and what makes a better, safer enclosure that will keep your snake friend happy and healthy. You’ll learn about different kinds of snakes and how big they get. And you’ll see that our friends at Snake Haus take adopting out my brethren seriously: You can’t just acquire a snake from them on a whim, and the same should be true for any reputable supplier. (Snake Haus only places snakes in Washington and parts of Idaho; it does not transport them outside the area.)

360: How common is it for snake ownership to not work out?

BB: Snake Haus has nearly 100 snakes in its care between its two locations, if that gives you an idea. You can see the full list on the website, including each snake’s name. They include common boas, anacondas, various pythons, corn snakes, king snakes and several others.

360: What can people who care about snakes but aren’t in a position to adopt one do to help?

BB: Monetary donations can be made directly to Snake Haus through a PayPal link on the website, or donors can send supplies via another link (there’s an extensive list, including thermometers, thermostats, shelving, artificial plants and bedding materials.)

360: Thank you, Barbara. We’ve enjoyed learning from you.

BB: My pleasssure.

Stone (she/her) can be reached at

Learn more today

Zoologist and educator Scott Petersen, known as The Reptile Man, brings part of his menagerie — about a dozen reptiles, including snakes — to Moscow and Lewiston today (Thursday, June 27) for free library events.

Petersen, of Monroe, Wash., is scheduled to be outside the Moscow Public Library, 110 S. Jefferson St., from 2-3:30 p.m. and at the Pioneer Park bandshell, 203 Fifth St. in Lewiston, from 5:30-6:30 p.m, for a show presented by the Lewiston City Library.

Attendees can bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on to the all-ages events.
More information about Petersen’s reptile zoo is at