New Mexico's Pet Resource SUMMER 2003


ANIMALS AND THE LAW

AN ANIMAL D.A. STORY, PART III
by Theresa Welch, J.D.

This is the conclusion of Theresa Welch’s article on the poisonous snake case in San Francisco.

The man called from his attorney’s house and informed us he had heard we were coming, so he put a number of snakes in his freezer to kill them. When he thought they were “dead,” he put them in the garbage, which had already been picked up. Now anyone who knows snakes knows they go into hibernation when cold and can appear dead when in fact they are very much alive. The snakes in question had been “frozen” for only a short period to time. So we had to send officers to the city dump to see if any of these snakes could be located. If the snakes were only in deep hibernation, they could now be roaming the dump or migrating to populated areas where they could hurt people. The search at the city land fill was called off when we were “tipped” that the remaining snakes had been taken to a store in another part of the state where they were being hidden. Since this store was out of our jurisdiction we could not pursue them. However, the owner of the house was arrested and charged with possessing illegal, poisonous reptiles within the city limits.

In the house we also found photographs of babies with snakes wrapped around their necks that had been sent as Christmas postcards. By reading correspondence it became clear that what this man did was travel the world, and send or bring back illegal reptiles from many countries for buyers who had ordered from him.

Needless to say this case got a lot of media coverage when it happened. Film of the SWAT team storming the house was on the evening news. All the area papers covered the story. Life magazine even sent a photographer to photograph all the seized reptiles. All the coverage made it very clear that sellers of illegal snakes were not welcome in San Francisco. Upon his release from jail the man who had been running the business moved out of San Francisco. The case also made it clear that offering a reward can help in pursuing an animal case. Without the phone tips we would have been unable to follow the case as we did.

Part I
Part II

Theresa Welch is a former criminal prosecutor with 20 years’ experience in animal cruelty cases in New Mexico and California who was instrumental in the passage of the 1991 felony cruelty law. She continues to advise people on issues related to animal cruelty.

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. –Thomas Alva Edison

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