I now like to think of my wife and myself as bona-fide snake smugglers. Before I explain, I must appreciate my mom. When she heard our story of transporting a live snake in the car, driving 700 miles, a 90th birthday party, an overnight motel stay, and many stops along the way, without being discovered by our curious 9 year-old son, she was so amused that she thought it would be a great adventure to share on this blog.
It all started with a simple promise of mother to son – “sure honey, in 4th grade you can get a snake”. I can’t say I would’ve reacted any differently, especially since the promise was made months ago. As it turns out, the snake promise has led us on a journey brimming with learning and unexpected experiences. When we got serious about purchasing a snake, I brought up the topic to our local witch doctor, my friend and mentor Steven Young. He had us over to his house where we discussed the purpose of the snake, Niko’s (my step-son) hopes of snake ownership, and the demands of caring for a pet snake. We asked Niko questions like “you don’t want a snake so it will eat your sister, do you?” Thankfully, he answered “no”.
After some deliberation, debate and internet research, we decided on a California Kingsnake for our young aspiring snake handler. We called many pet stores and Craig’s list posters, and we found what we believed would be a great snake for Niko. We purchased the snake from a family who decided that the four snakes in their home were a few too many, hence they were selling one.
Going to retrieve the snake was an interesting experience for me, virgin snake handler I was. But I tried to act confident as I entered this snake-savvy household. When it came time to take Saphira (as our lovely pet is now named) out of the tank, everyone in the house proclaimed they were too scared because she moved too fast. I laughed inside as they goaded me into being the one to lift her out of her habitat. I was only a little jumpy as I set to the task and got her out of the terrarium. She then proceeded to slide her way up my body, around my collar, and into my pants pocket. I guess they decided I was up to the task, and the deal was done. I was grateful they also agreed to sell me the habitat.
Toni and I were set on giving the snake as a Christmas surprise. This was challenged by the fact that we would be spending the holidays with Toni’s parents in Lovell, Wyoming, which is an 8-hour drive. Therefore, we had to figure out how to keep the snake warm, and smuggle the snake and her 55 gallon tank without Niko finding out she was with us. To complicate things further, we had a 90th birthday party to attend in Manitou Springs. We would first drive two hours south of our home to the party, then head north to Wyoming, stopping at a hotel along the way. How could we do all this without Niko knowing Saphira was with us?
After more advice from Saphira’s previous owners and Steven, we determined that Saphira’s preferred mode of travel would be a pillow case, tied at the top, which we put in a cooler at the foot of the passenger seat, using a combination of hand-warmers (like you put in your glove when skiiing) and water bottles filled with hot water to heat our snake cooler condo. Prior to the voyage, we hid Saphira and her habitat in the basement.
When the day came to begin our cross-state overnight snake hiding journey, we sent the kid to a friend’s house so we could stash the 55-gallon terrarium in the car, covered with a sheet. The cooler worked great, but it was a bit tricky keeping the water bottles sufficiently hot by refilling with hot water from convenience store coffee machines, without discovery by our 9-year old snake recipient. In the hotel, I waited for Niko to fall asleep, which he didn’t do until we turned off Beavis and Butthead (which Toni and I thought way funnier than he did). With Niko asleep, I was able to let Saphira out of the pillowcase to cruise around the bath tub for a while. Twice in the car, when Niko was asleep, we placed the pillowcase-enclosed snake on our lap our in our shirt to keep her warm when our heating unit began to lose it’s vitality. Only once did Niko ask “hey mom, what’s in the cooler?”. Toni slyly replied “food”, knowing that our kids much prefer eating restaurant food when on the road, and if he inquired further, he might be forced to eat cooler-food from home.
It worked! We made it all the way to Grandma’s, and were able to hide Saphira in Grandma’s closet until Christmas Eve (we decided to give her to him early). Here is a picture of the outcome:
The journey back was much easier, because Niko took full charge of keeping her safe and warm in her cooler-condo, and he even took her out of the pillow case a few times so she got a chance to play.