Last Update: 1/23/2015 4:44:00 PM
Carbondale home with 72 snakes poses zoning question
No one knows quite what to do about a Carbondale, Lackawanna County, home housing 72 snakes.
A Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging official initially referred the matter to the city earlier this month.
Since then, the police, a dog warden, a humane officer and the state wildlife officials have gotten involved, along with city code enforcement officer Chris Pezak.
"It's not too often you run into a situation quite like this," Pezak said. "There were white (snakes), orange ones, green ones. They were all different colors with all different names."
Because the current city ordinance covering pet ownership is vague, Carbondale City Council directed Mayor Justin Taylor and solicitor Frank Ruggiero to research options.
The mayor told council the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, a national nonprofit that protects keepers and breeders from restrictive regulations, has offered to send him examples of laws that are friendly to reptile enthusiasts but deal with possible sanitation and overcrowding issues. The organization also suggested a permit system that allows owners to apply for permission to house large numbers of reptiles.
"They don't want to us to have a knee-jerk reaction," he said.
The snakes discovered earlier this month were in good health. They were stacked and organized in an orderly manner in plastic bins with food, water and airholes - each with its own space. None of the snakes were poisonous.
The owners, whom Pezak would not identify, also raised mice and rats to feed the snakes.
Yet some city officials were uncomfortable with the idea of so many reptiles in one house, along with other pets including nine cats and a dog. Other species represented were geckos, rabbits and turtles.
Pezak, who is also the fire chief, said firefighters cringed as they imagined fighting a blaze with snakes tangled around their ankles.
The city's zoning ordinance has little to say about pets, and arguably nothing that quite addresses the snake situation.
"Customary household pets shall include animals, fish and birds which are generally considered to be domestic animals, such as hamsters, dogs, cats and birds including ducks which shall not be for human consumption," the ordinance reads. "Farm fowl such as chickens and turkeys and other farm animals not specifically designated shall not be considered as customary household pets."
That's it, which could be interpreted as providing no limit for any type of domestic animal unless someone is selling them from a home as part of an unregistered business - of which Pezak said there was no evidence.
On the other hand, the zoning board believes at that scale, the snake activity could be comparable to a business.
It is worth considering adding a provision to the zoning ordinance that specifically covers exotic pets, whether someone trying to keep alligators or a boa constrictor that grows to be 5 feet long and could be dangerous if released, City Council President Joseph Marzzacco said prior to Tuesday's meeting.
Restricting the number of more traditional domestic pets could be a little trickier, and city officials should review laws already on the books, the councilman said.
He suggested parts of the zoning ordinance dealing with cleanliness and public health, or the city nuisance law could deal with other pet problems.
"Do I think someone should have 20 cats? Absolutely not," he said.
Luke Ranker, staff writer, contributed to this report.
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