Snakes alive in Glen Arm Scales of justice?: Python breeder has right to do his work in rural Baltimore County.

October 08, 1997

SNAKES MAY be "icky," as Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt recently opined, but rural Glen Arm neighbors battling a non-poisonous snake breeding operation need more than ickiness to stand on. Unfortunately for them, the argument that snakes are creepy seems to be the only one they've got.

Mr. Schmidt has yet to decide this case, but it looks as if the law is on the side of Peter Kahl, a professional breeder of pythons and constrictors who wants to get his business out of his basement. He has built a 50-by-100-foot, $160,000 breeding shed -- after securing an opinion from the county's Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board that what he wants to do is allowed in agricultural zones, and after getting the necessary permits.

The crux of the case is the board's decision that snake breeding is animal husbandry -- defined under county law as the breeding of animals for profit -- and therefore allowed by right in agricultural districts. The neighbors have challenged this opinion, saying you can't compare snakes with cows or sheep. The fact is, constrictors, like these other animals, are not inherently dangerous. Moreover, they don't smell, produce relatively little waste and would be kept in cages in a steel-reinforced building.

The law does not limit animal husbandry to traditional farm animals, which means more unusual creatures -- llamas, peacocks, even snakes -- must be allowed, too.

This does not mean anything goes. Federal, state and local laws govern the importation, possession and propogation of dangerous, endangered and/or exotic animals. It would be virtually impossible to secure permission to breed poisonous snakes, mountain lions or rabies-prone raccoons. But boas and pythons do not fall in this category. They may not be the kind of animal neighbors you hope for when you move out to the !B country. Legally, however, it looks as if Mr. Kahl is entitled to his business.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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