By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Village Board has decided not to remove boa constrictors from the ordinance pertaining to prohibited animals.
The village board discussed the issue of removing boa constrictors at the May 23 meeting, following a request from Michael and Jade Roatch so that it would be legal to keep the snakes in Colfax.
Scott Gunnufson, village president, noted that both he and Colfax Police Chief William Anderson receive telephone calls every week about missing dogs and cats.
“It would be a different situation if a boa constrictor is loose,” he said, adding that no one doubts the Roatchs’ snakes are well taken care of and secured, but if the snakes came up missing, residents in Colfax would “imagine the worst.”
Jade Roatch wrote a letter to the village board about the issue: “We have been here for about one year now, and we did not know about this ordinance. My husband and I own two red-tailed boas, and we have had them for several years. We wish that we can keep them. I know of several people that have owned these types of snakes. Our snakes are kept in cages at all times. My kids can hold if they choose, but Mom or Dad are right there for them.”
Police Chief Anderson said he became aware of the boa constrictors after a show-and-tell event at school.
A parent called and asked if those types of snakes are prohibited by ordinance, and as it turns out, the ordinance does prohibit constrictor snakes, he said.
All together, the list in the ordinance includes 28 different types of animals that are prohibited, including chimpanzees, gibbons, gorillas, orangutans, baboons, bears, bison, cheetahs, crocodiles (longer than 30 inches), deer, elephants, ferrets, game cocks, hippopotami, hyenas, jaguars, leopards, lions, lynxes, monkeys, ostriches, rhinoceroses, sharks, snow leopards, tigers and wolves.
The Roatchs did their research and discovered that Dunn County ordinances do not prohibit boa constrictors, but they did not check the village’s ordinance, Police Chief Anderson said.
The police chief said he had sent Michael and Jade Roatch a letter saying that the constrictors are prohibited according to the village’s ordinances.
“We cannot police what happens in people’s homes. This discussion is for the ordinance,” Gunnufson said.
Village Trustee David Wolff asked whether the discussion pertained to rescinding the whole ordinance or only removing constrictors from the list.
Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, said she suspected that the code of ordinances for Colfax was based upon a template and that many small municipalities may have similar ordinances.
“Have you had problems with them getting out of the cages?” Wolff asked.
Michael Roatch noted that he has owned the snakes for six years and that he has glass aquariums with locks on them.
Because there are children in the house, padlocks seemed like a good idea to ensure that there are no accidents, he said.
The largest of the red-tailed boas is a female about eight years old and is ten feet long; the male boa is about seven feet long, Michael Roatch said, noting that he has not bred them and does not intend to breed them.
The females get aggressive after they have been bred, Roatch said.
According to information available on-line, mature female boa constrictors are generally between seven and ten feet long and can weigh up to 60 pounds.
Jade Roatch said she had seen a snake outside one day as large as their female red-tailed boa moving toward the river.
Several village trustees asked what kind of snake it was, but Jade Roatch said she did not know.
Village Trustee Casey Rihn wondered if the constrictors were removed from the list, “would we see people carrying snakes down the streets?”
If a dog or a cat bites someone, the owner is liable. If a snake harms someone, the owner also would be liable, Police Chief Anderson noted.
Michael Roatch said one of his children had asked if he could bring a snake to school and that he had taken the female red-tailed boa for “Jungle Week” on “snake day.”
Before bringing the snake into the school, the Roatchs had asked the teacher first if it was okay to bring it in for that class.
Village Trustee Keith Burcham wondered what would happen to the constrictors if the village board voted to keep the ordinance.
“The discussion is only for rescinding the ordinance. What happens in a home is up to the homeowner,” Gunnufson said.
If the ordinance is not changed, will the police chief send a notice to the Roatchs telling them get rid of the snakes and will they be fined? Wolff asked.
Ordinance 7-1-13 does not include a provision requiring village residents to remove animals on the list from the village within a certain amount of time.
The ordinance does include fines of $25 to $100 for a first offense and $50 to $200 for subsequent offenses.
The Roatchs are doing what the village board would expect residents to do by coming forward and asking about the ordinance, Gunnufson said.
“I’m sure they are not the only snakes in the village,” he said.
“I respect them for coming in … if (a snake) gets out in the yard and the neighbors complain, then it will become a police matter,” Gunnufson said.
A motion to leave the ordinance 7-1-13 as it is was approved on a vote of five “yes” to two “no.”
Gunnufson and Village Trustees Mark Halpin, Carey Davis, Rihn and Burcham voted in favor of the motion.
Village Trustees Wolff and Annie Schieber voted “no” on the motion.
Michael Roatch asked if it would be acceptable to the village board for him to circulate a petition asking that boa constrictors be removed from the list of prohibited animals in the ordinance.
“We have nothing against petitions,” Gunnufson said.
The village is in the process of working on re-codifying the ordinances, and 7-1-13 may be one of the ordinances that needs to be changed, Schieber said.