Snakes are Pets Too

Exotic pets are not for everyone.
Story & Photos by Carla Edstrom
My first snake was just this little garter snake my dad got me at a pet store,” said Southport resident and long-time exotic pet owner Melanie Dess.

“The garter snake was my first snake but he’s not quite exotic, but I had cockatiels and parakeets since I was probably 12,” she said. She considers snakes some of the most interesting pets she has ever owned. “They don’t form attachments to you like dogs and cats do, but they seem to learn to recognize you if your the one who always brings them food.” She explained that they all have their own distinct personalities, much like owning a cat or dog. And getting to know them and how they process information and act in their environment is fascinating. “Some are shy, some can be a bit grumpy until you take them out of their enclosures. They’re always curious and they love to hang out on you when holding them for your body heat,” she said. “They are pretty smart in their own right. I could watch them all day.” Dess know the personality of each of her snakes and they are an important part of her family. “People don’t think snakes are adorable, I swear some of them need parents as much as some dogs,” she said.
Working at All About Dogs pet grooming, she is always around animals and most of her pets were rescued. In fact she decided to adopt one of her dogs when a rescue group brought in an adorable boxer mix to be groomed. “I have four dogs, two Chihuahuas named Ezekiel and Nefarian, a boxer mix named Lyla, and another boxer bully breed mix named Meat Hook. I also have two cats; a big chubby black one named Nightshade and a tiny calico named Sekhmet, two pet rats named Orpheus and Lyre and of course four snakes- Clever Girl, Bartholomew, Marshmallow, and Samael. I also breed mice and rats so I have over 100 mice, and currently only 12 rats that aren’t pets,” she explains.
Desses current pet snakes include a 7 1/2 foot long Irian Jaya Carpet Python and three Ball Pythons of varying colors and personalities. The Carpet Python is an arboreal species of python, which means they love to climb and rest in perches. “I call her Clever Girl after the raptor in the original Jurassic Park who is too smart for her own good,” she said. “She’s my most vocal snake and can be really grumpy. But once out (of her enclosure) she’s as happy as can be.”
Desses largest Ball Python, Bartholomew, is 5 feet long. “He’s a pastel morph so he’s yellow and light brown,” she said. “Like all Ball pythons, they like to hide all day. They’re nocturnal, and they love to have cozy hides and lots of clutter in their cages.” She explained that although he is shy, Bartholomew likes to come out of of the enclosure to see people.
Another Ball Python she named Marshmallow is a gorgeous ivory color. “He’s stark white with little grey specs on his head, and has 3 black scales on his side in the shape of a heart,” she said. Her fourth Ball Python named Samael is a darker pastel color. “He’s super curious,” she said. “You go near his enclosure and he’s out and about wondering if you brought him anything. He’s a bit cheeky and (also) likes to break the things I put in his enclosure.”
Dess obtained three of her snakes from Bruce Felker at Fresh Start Farm and Rescue and they maintain a good relationship as she often donates mice to them. Fresh Start takes in exotic reptiles that are relinquished and those seized by law enforcement from owners. “ We are an outlet for unwanted reptiles, many people buy them at pet shops as juvenile cute reptiles and four years later when they outgrow their homes usually end up with us,’ Felker explained. According to Felker, the main problem with private ownership of reptiles is some people only see the thrill of owning a snake or lizard. They don’t always consider the long-term care. “The work it takes to feed and properly care for a reptile can be overwhelming and expensive,” he explains. “They just impulse buy and don’t do proper research and then panic or very quickly lose interest and end up with a sick reptile that can be very expensive to take to the vet.”
Felker urges that if you want to adopt a reptile, do your research and make sure it is the right pet for you. “Reptiles require larger housing as they grow, they require hot and proper humidity to maintain a healthy life, there’s a lot to learn about proper care. You’ll also need a reliable food source and rodents and insects can be hard to find. And just don’t impulse buy and you need to know your local laws on keeping them as they vary from county to county,” he adds. If you are interested in adopting a retile from the rescue, they take the adoption process very seriously. “If you decide to adopt a reptile from Fresh Start be prepared to answer numerous questions about the care, we will go out and see your setup and will return for a welfare check a few times,’ said Felker. For more information about the rescue, you can reach them at
Dess wholeheartedly agrees that it’s important do a lot of research before you decide to own a reptile, and know your limitations. Joining online breed specific groups helps, and it’s worth the trouble once you get everything figured out. “I’d have more snakes if I had the space for more snakes.” She suggests that once a new snake owner gets through the initial learning stage, having these pets is a very rewarding and easy experience.

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