(This Dave Barry column was originally published April 21, 1996.)
A question that more and more Americans are asking, as they become increasingly fed up with crime, is: What, exactly, are the legal rights of accused snakes?
Consider the case of a snake that recently ran afoul of the law in Virginia. According to a story in the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance-Star, written by Keith Epps and sent in by alert reader Venetia Sims, this particular snake, a four-foot Burmese python identified only as ''a Spotsylvania County snake,'' was apprehended by an Alcoholic Beverage Control agent and the Spotsylvania sheriff's office in connection with a liquor-store robbery. I am not, of course, suggesting here that the police thought the snake robbed the store. They thought it drove the getaway car.
No, seriously, the snake belonged to one of the robbery suspects, and, according to the story, the police had received information that the snake had money from the robbery ``stashed inside of it.''
Never miss a local story.
The story doesn't say how a person would go about stashing money inside a snake, nor how this person would get the money back out. But for the record, most financial advisers do not recommend that you put your money into snakes. Let me add, from personal experience, that real estate is not such a hot investment either. Some friends and I once put some money into a small apartment building, and we never did get it back out. What we got was a constant stream of tenant complaints, including every conceivable kind of toilet blockage and -- this is the absolute truth -- an infestation of bats that made the local TV news. Looking back, I think we would have been better off with a snake.
But getting back to ''a Spotsylvania County snake,'' the police took it into custody (presumably in a handcuff) and held it without bail for a week, during which time they X-rayed it. According to the story, the X-ray ''revealed something suspicious inside the snake, but police weren't sure what it was.'' It turned out to be snake poop, which -- and this is exactly what is wrong with our society today, if you want my and Pat Buchanan's opinion -- is still legal in Virginia.
So the police were forced to release the snake, although not on its own recognizance. (One of the unique things about snakes is that they don't even have a recognizance; biologists still have no idea how they reproduce.)
At this point, you are saying: ``Dave, no offense, but it is just so typical of media scum like you to make a big deal about one snake who is connected to a liquor-store robbery, while totally ignoring the millions of law-abiding, taxpaying snakes, not to mention ferrets.''
You make a strong point, which is why at this time I wish to present an inspiring story, which I am not making up, concerning a courageous ferret in Morton Grove, Ill. According to an item from the Northbrook Star, written by Kathy Routliffe and alertly sent in by Janet Kolehmainen, police received an emergency 911 call from a home in Morton Grove; upon arriving on the scene, they broke into the home and discovered that the call had been made by a pet ferret named ``Bandit.''
Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be one of those heartwarming cases wherein a loyal and quick-thinking ferret, seeing that its master was having a heart attack, called police and then administered snout-to-mouth resuscitation until help arrived. This was simply a case of Bandit, while walking around the house alone, stepping on the telephone speed-dial button for 911. But the point is that there could have been a medical problem, and if there had been, Bandit would be a hero today, perhaps even making a personal appearance on the ''Jerry Springer'' show.
Speaking of crustaceans, it's time for a:
LOBSTER UPDATE: I have been deeply gratified by the tremendous outpouring of letters from you readers supporting my courageous decision to come out of the closet and state that I think lobsters are big insects. Some of you also sent me an alarming news item stating that researchers at Harvard Medical School are -- I swear I'm not making this up, either -- giving Prozac to lobsters. The researchers say the drug ``makes lobsters more docile, and less likely to snap when fished out of a tank at a restaurant.''
The article states that the researchers hope their work will ultimately benefit humans. This raises some alarming questions:
1. Are there restaurants that keep humans in tanks?
2. Are these humans forced to wear rubber bands on their hands?
3. Do the restaurant owners claim that they taste ``just like chicken''?
I think that every concerned American should telephone federal authorities at random until we get answers to these and other questions.
I also think that for the time being we should all be extremely cautious when we leave our homes. Remember: ''a Spotsylvania County snake'' is out there somewhere.