Clients at High Point Partial Care had a recent visit from three creatures that were not the four-legged, soft-coated variety that usually comes to provide pet therapy. In fact, these animals had no legs at all and instead of fur they had scales; the guests that came crawling to High Point, were snakes, pythons to be precise.
The reptile program at High Point was arranged by the facility’s Quality Assurance Coordinator, Breanna Deemer, a true animal lover. On learning about the program, she contacted presenter Eliza Hubbell and had her bring the three pythons to the facility. Eliza works with the New Jersey Snake Man, Steve Lengen.
The Snake Man and staff provide educational snake programs to communities all along the eastern seaboard. One of the main goals of their program is to expose people to wildlife who otherwise might not have that opportunity. “It is important that all people develop relationships with animals.” This includes inner-city children and, it turns out, people being treated for mental health or substance use problems.
Snakes, as a High Point counselor noted, offer an excellent symbol for recovery: they shed their skin (molt) and in so doing renew themselves. High Point’s clients are working to shed their former selves and embrace a new life (though maybe not embrace it as tightly as the pythons.
While some of the clients wanted to keep at a safe distance from the snakes, almost all of High Point’s mental health clients were intrigued by the them. More than half were open to holding one of them at the end of the program.
Eliza explained that pythons are constrictors, meaning they coil around their prey and slowly squeezing the life out of them. Other snakes, including some found in New Jersey, use venom, not poison, to attack their prey. Eliza distinguished between venom is delivered through a bite, and poison, which is either ingested or enters the body through the skin, such as with poison ivy. New Jersey does not permit people to keep venomous snakes as pets.
The three varieties of pythons that Eliza brought were the Ball Python (native to Africa), the Children’s Python and the Wilma Python, both found naturally in Australia. The friendliest of the three was the Ball Python; the most striking, with bright yellow skin, was the Wilma. One of the snakes, as yet unnamed, might be dubbed “High Point.”
Some in the audience knew some basic facts about snakes before the program, such as that they are cold blooded, which explains why they tend to coil up on rocks in the sun and draw warmth from them.
By the end of the presentation, Eliza said she generally sees some audience members fall in love with snakes and adopt snakes as support animal. Some of High Point’s clients just might just do that.
The snakes will be making a return trip to High Point in the coming weeks, as presentation for the substance use clients is in the works.