Thursday, July 26, 2007

Snake Ethics (a work of fiction)

Today I walked into the backyard and found our dog Molly lying still on the ground. She was barely breathing. As I drove her to the vet her heart stopped. She died before we arrived. After the vet examined her he asked if we owned a poisonous snake. He said he believed a snake bit Molly. Where did the snake come from?

This afternoon a friend pointed out that one of our neighbors has been raising snakes as a hobby for several years. I was shocked and furious. We pulled apart my back yard and found no trace of a poisonous snake so I went to see this snake-raising neighbor. The inside of his home felt more like being inside a reptile house at the zoo. He was clearly a snake fanatic. However, he was very understanding. He informed me that all his snakes were accounted for and that, as a responsible snake owner, he would never allow one of his snakes to get loose. He added that the vet was probably wrong since a snake of this type could not survive in our local climate. He didn’t know if anyone else in the neighborhood was raising snakes. He pointed out that there were indeed snake-owners who gave his good hobby a bad name. I couldn’t help but feel the hypocrisy of many a zealot echoing in his hollow words. I felt like he was lying to me.

For the past few months the relationship between the snake lover and my family has been tough. On the one hand I believe he has every right to a hobby that brings him happiness. On the other hand, he has an inherent right to the community to do so responsibly. Unfortunately, I cannot prove that one of his snakes escaped and therefore I cannot prove that he was raising snakes irresponsibly.

Last week I started talking with neighbors about my perception of what was going on in the community. Perhaps I should have thought through all of my actions but I can’t impede what has been set in motion. I was emphatic in my description of the crazy neighbor who has taken away our family dog. My crusade has been met with a variety of reactions. “I didn’t know that lunatic was raising snakes”, “This is a free country, if he wants to raise hyena’s who am I to judge or get in his way”, and “I don’t know if he is crazy, I’ve never met the man.” This issue might have dropped completely if today I had not also discovered another neighbor who’s family pet was the victim of a poisonous snake several years ago. To my shock they found the offending snake, and since it was not a species indigenous to this region, let alone the continent, there was only one place from which the snake could have originated. Unfortunately there was no proof and the snake lover had denied any responsibility or wrongdoing in that case as well.

For the past few weeks I have renewed my crusade against my neighbor. I checked city ordinances. I spoke at city council meetings. I am writing letters. I had citizens sign a petition. I am campaigning against this snake lover with zeal reserved only for the opposing factions of a holy war. Fight fanaticism with fanaticism. I am waging a global war on snake lovers. Communication between our families has come to an end. Lawsuits are threatened. Ugly glances and heated words are exchanged. I bought another dog, a large German shepherd, for my family to feel safe in our own back yard.

The situation continues to get worse. It seems we live a very stressful life side by side in this small city. Yesterday some kids from down the street took it upon themselves to throw eggs at my lunatic neighbor’s house. They don’t seem to like him – I’m not sure if they really know why. We all seem to be prisoners in our own homes. I do not condone the actions of these kids, but I couldn’t help feeling a little bit good about the egg throwing.

Despite continuous objections from civil libertarians, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring the licensing of all snake breeders within the city. Things are looking up and it seems our crusade is finally making progress. The snake lovers are being pushed out. I feel good.

Last evening a snake bit my daughter in our backyard. Today my daughter is in a coma at the city hospital. The police wasted no time obtaining a search warrant to enter my neighbor’s house. The trouble is, all his snakes are gone. Vanished. No hint that he ever raised snakes in the past, and he is denying everything but a passing fancy he had with snakes several years previous. Where did they go? Does he still have them? Did he move them? Is another neighbor now playing with snakes? These questions and my need to have them answered are stalled by my anguish and unrelenting fear that my daughter is very very sick.

I feel like ripping my neighbor’s house apart searching for clues. If he gets in the way I will hurt him. If I find a snake I will kill it. But the police have been there – I now have a faceless enemy and I do not know where he lives or where the snakes could be. I also believe my neighbor is still lying. But how do I get the truth out of him?

There is outrage on my street. How could this happen in our happy and quiet bedroom community? Support for my family has come from the entire city. We have been on the local news. Where are the snakes? The investigation is just starting to get underway. The police have little to go on. It’s almost as if the snake just materialized in the backyard. It will not last the winter most experts agree. Yet my little girl still lays in a coma.

I feel like I am at war. A war I did not start and a war I do not want to fight. How do I fight this war against the unknown? I don’t know whom to hit. I don’t know if I should hit. I just feel like staying inside to cry. My mind races through the events of the past year. Did I push too hard? Did I inadvertently make life for snake lovers in this community oppressive? Maybe these snake people are just like you and me? No way, anyone who has anything to do with raising snakes must be evil. But is my family the victim of evil or just some random event? Once we find the snake we will know.

We found the snake. It was dead. It was found beneath one of the loose bricks near another neighbor’s basement. The snake comes from Africa – it’s an Egyptian Cobra, an asp, of Cleopatra fame. No doubt this snake escaped from a breeder or was placed in our neighborhood. Placed in our neighborhood? Now we clearly have evil at work. Only the insane would release such a dangerous snake into a peaceful innocent neighborhood. Who would do such a dastardly thing? As my daughter lays in a coma I have no answers – only a swelling of anger and the support of the entire neighborhood to find those responsible. Even my more liberal neighbor seems upset based on his statement to me last evening, “I’m really sorry about your little girl. My children are terrified to go into our backyard. The freedoms that we took for granted and thought we were defending have been horribly altered and I am coming to understand that I should have backed you on this snake thing from the beginning. I know it’s late in coming but if there is anything I can do now, I most certainly will. We cannot have snakes running loose in our city – or crazy people who release them into our neighborhoods.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have campaigned against my neighbor so hard. I am so very afraid that I backed him into a corner that I have been blaming myself. But whoever did this is not a responsible snake breeder. My neighbor might have been responsible but whoever let that snake loose is a certifiable lunatic. Our neighborhood is gripped in terror. Men walk the streets and yards of our street looking for more snakes. The neighborhood vows to rebuild our status in the city. There is talk of scandal and property value. There is sadness. But nothing outweighs the burden on my daughter as she lies in some dream state deciding if she should awaken or leave us forever.

My daughter has decided to leave us. She passed away this morning. Unbelievable pain. More than I can stand. I can’t live – I don’t know what there is to live for – I am without direction. I will kill my neighbor. I will kill anyone who gets in my way.

Why didn’t I break into his house and kill his snakes last year? Why didn’t I know more about what was going on with the snake breeders? Good people don’t do bad things is the way I want to live. But now a very bad thing has been done to me and I want remuneration, I want retribution, I want revenge. I wanted to do things right. I wanted the legal system to handle the problem. It didn’t work. And now my family is suffering. Should I take the law into my own hands? Should I continue to seek resolution through our legal system? I can’t even prove that it was my neighbor’s snake. But now we have harm, wrongful death, homicide – the rules have changed. It is not just the snake that I loathe – it is those who harbor them. For who better to understand the danger’s of a venomous snake than the snake’s owner. For that reason alone, due to their gross negligence, they are guilty murderers, the instrument of my family’s pain. I will bring down the wrath of hell upon this neighbor and his kind before anything like this can ever happen again. I did nothing.

I heard my neighbor smiled when he was told my daughter had been bitten – I heard he turned pale when he found out she died. He hasn’t talked to me – there is nothing for him to say. There was a moving van at his house today. My friends tell me he moved out and left no forwarding address. Still we grieve. Nothing can fill the emptiness in our lives. We move about the day. We go to work. Nothing seems real. We are numb. I want release from this pain. If I die he will win. Maybe he should win. Maybe he was the better man. Maybe I should have minded my own business. I bought a handgun.

The police called today. They arrested a man in town for selling dangerous reptiles without a license. They say they intend to prosecute. I don’t care. How can I care? Slowly we are rebuilding our life – the pain is great. The reminders are all too frequent. I found out where my neighbor is now living.

The police called today. They said the man they arrested has evidence in our case. The man they arrested will testify that he sold my neighbor an Egyptian Cobra. He will also testify that my neighbor told him he intended to release it through his fence to take care of my dog. It was never intended to hurt my little girl. He intended to kill the dog. They will arrest him and charge him with capital murder in the death of my precious baby. A surge of energy enveloped me. Can this be true? Did my neighbor intentionally release that snake to harm my family? My anger returned – my questions were answered. Yes I should have broken into his house. Yes I should have killed his snakes. Yes I should have run this deranged and evil man from our town. Would the law have been on my side? Unfortunately it is difficult to look into the heart of a mad man. Did I drive him to it? Perhaps – but there can never be room in a civilized society for such a course of action. He had options open to him. He has a job. He has money. He could have moved away. He could have punched me in the nose. To strike at the innocent in a cowardly fashion is unforgivable.

My neighbor was sentenced to 30 years in prison for negligent homicide. The judge said his stupidity ranks right up there with drunken drivers who kill people. His punishment should be no less severe. Our pain will be no less severe. That night my murdering neighbor took an overdose of sleeping pills and died in his cell. Although I still feel the pain and heartbreak a threat and a menace to society has been removed. We must not act out of anger or revenge. But we must act. We must act with much thought and cannot expect to be held blameless. Those who cannot live in society and play by its rules must be removed. Removal from society must come about as a function of the whole society - not strictly by those seeking revenge or being owed retribution. This is the cost of our freedom. If we don’t pay these costs we will never truly be free.

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