Small child and snake video: harmless fun or accident in the making?

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To think that we are always in control of any situation involving an animal is the height of human arrogance.

A video making the rounds on social media has prompted quite a debate. Some people think it’s cute. Others think it’s an accident waiting to happen.

The video in question, which has gotten more than 1.4 million views, shows a young child sitting on a sofa with what appears to be some sort of albino boa constrictor or python. As the camera rolls, the little child says “do it,” and the snake appears to “yawn.”

I’ve shared the post on my business page, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Here’s what I think

For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve said publicly:

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

An objective and realistic assessment of any situation involving a small child and any animal, is that animals can be unpredictable, no matter how well they’ve been looked after and no matter how well “informed” their handlers/owners are. Animals act on instinct, accidents happen, and people (and the animals) get hurt. The only way to minimize the risk is to avoid potentially risky behavior. This is not a condemnation of snakes; the same thing can be said about dogs, cats, horses and other “mainstream” pets. To me a little common sense goes a long way. But that’s just me. We all have choices.

Just because this snake seems docile in this photo does not guarantee that this is “safe,” or that nothing will go wrong. To think that we are always in control of any situation involving an animal is the height of human arrogance.

What I haven’t said publicly (until now) is that it is one thing for adults to take risks. For an adult to put a child at risk is another thing altogether…

What are the odds?

With that in mind, I scoured the Internet in search of pet python and/or boa constrictor-related deaths and injuries in the United States. Here’s what I found.

According to the Humane Society,  incidents involving large “captive constrictors” resulted in 17 deaths in the United States between 1978 and 2012. Most of the fatal encounters (12) happened between 1990 and 2012.

Citing various sources in a 69-page report, the Humane Society summarized dozens of fatal and non-fatal incidents reported in 45 states. Here are just a few.

Fatal encounters…

July 1, 2009/Sumter County, Florida: A 2-year-old girl was killed in her crib by an
8½-foot Burmese python who escaped from an enclosure in her home. Weighing
only 13 pounds, the snake was determined to be severely underweight. The snake
had been purchased seven years earlier at a flea market. The child’s mother and her boyfriend were convicted of third degree murder, manslaughter and child neglect and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

August 22, 2001/Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania: An 8-year-old girl was
strangled by her father’s 11-foot, 26-pound pet Burmese python. The child had
been left home alone, and the snake broke through the top of the cage. Paramedics said she was not breathing when they arrived; she was taken to a hospital and placed on a ventilator until she was pronounced brain-dead two days later. An autopsy showed the cause of death was compression of her neck and chest.

August 29, 1999/Centralia, Illinois: A couple’s 1-year-old, 7½-foot African rock
python escaped from an enclosure and killed their 3-year-old son while he was
sleeping. They had obtained the snake three months earlier.

July 20, 1993/Commerce City, Colorado: A 15-year-old was killed by his brother’s
11½-foot pet Burmese python. He had snake bites on his body, and an autopsy
found he was suffocated. The 8-year-old snake had been a family pet since she was only a foot long.

Non-fatal encounters

August 11, 1997/Anaheim, California: A 10-year-old boy was attacked by his pet 12-
foot, 65-pound African rock python. The python, who was described “as thick as a
man’s thigh,” latched onto the boy’s hand and coiled tightly around his arm as he
was giving him a bowl of water. The boy’s older brother stabbed the snake several
times while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Worried that the snake would break
his arm, paramedics decapitated the snake with a kitchen knife. The boy was
treated at a medical center. One paramedic commented this was the third child he
has rescued “from the suffocating embrace of pythons.”

August 30, 2008/Las Vegas, Nevada: A 13-year-old girl visiting her father was
attacked by a pet Burmese python while she was sleeping in a bed. Responding to
the commotion, her father and uncle were unable to uncoil the snake. They
decapitated the approximately 15-foot snake with a butcher knife to rescue the girl. The teenager was hospitalized overnight with bruised ribs and a swollen abdomen. The snake reportedly escaped from a large tank with locks. The same day, a student zookeeper in Venezuela was crushed to death by a Burmese python.

I rest my case…

And with all of that being said, I rest my case. But please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below (and in the court of public opinion, of course)…


Hartford reaches settlement with owners of slain St. Bernard

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Eleven years ago, a couple of cops shot and killed a St. Bernard because it growled at them. And they did it in front of a little girl.

This wasn’t a pit bull or a Rottweiler or a Doberman. It was a St. Bernard. And no, it wasn’t Cujo. It was a family pet. And the cops shot it in front of a little kid.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

To me there is no excuse. There is no justification. And there is not enough money in the world to make up for what they did.

But recently, after a lengthy court battle, the Harris family finally got justice for themselves and Seven, their slain St. Bernard.  Specifically, the Connecticut city of Hartford reached a settlement with the family and agreed to pay them more than $800,000, which “includes damages and legal costs.”

To me an apology would have meant more. But in my opinion, a man who is capable of shooting a dog in cold blood isn’t capable of the human decency, much less the compassion and humility necessary to make a proper apology.

Paws up, don’t shoot!

Police claim Seven “growled” and “sprinted at them” when they showed up at the Harris house without a warrant in 2006.

According to news reports, Sgt. Johnmichael O’Hare and Sgt. Anthony Pia went to the residence after a gang member told them that ” two guns were stashed in an abandoned car in the backyard of (Glenn) Harris’ home.”

The officers didn’t find what they were looking for and were about to leave the yard when Seven acted on instinct. That’s when O’Hare shot and killed him.

According to published reports, “Harris’ daughter, who was nearby, claimed she saw O’Hare put the third bullet in Seven’s head, and that he then told her: ‘Sorry Miss. Your dog isn’t going to make it.'”

See you in court

Glenn Harris took matters into his own hands in 2008. That’s when he filed a lawsuit against the officers alleging constitutional violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

But as we all know, the wheels of justice turn very, very slowly. In this case it was four years from the time Harris filed the suit until a jury returned its verdict. When it did, it sided with the cops.

Luckily the story didn’t end there.

In 2012, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York revisited the matter. And it reached a different conclusion. Specifically, Judge Rosemary Pooler found that the officers did nothing wrong when they followed up on the tip, However she also said they did not have the right to set foot on the property without a warrant.

If only the cops had figured that out in the first place…

All I want for Christmas is…

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Yes, it’s old news. But it’s a story that made a lasting impression — for all of the wrong reasons.

Last December, the court of public opinion indicted a woman who reportedly spent a lot of money on a lot of Christmas presents for her children. While she defended her right to do as she pleased, critics said she was sending the wrong message.

I agree. Christmas is not about “stuff.” It’s not about what we get, or how much we get. It’s about so much more…

With that being stated, here’s a Christmas letter I hope you will enjoy.

Dear Santa —

True, I’m not a little a girl anymore. And as you know, I haven’t really been all that good. But I still felt compelled to write.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

You see it’s been a crazy year. Everyone seems so angry, and they’re all fighting for no reason. To make matters even worse, it seems like the people who scream the loudest and say the nastiest things get the most attention.

The whole situation makes me really sad. So I was hoping you could help straighten things out by bringing everyone some gifts they could really use. Here are some suggestions.

This year, please bring the world the capacity for:

  1. More love and less hate
  2. More tolerance and less ignorance
  3. More peace and less war
  4. More happiness and less anger
  5. More kindness and less cruelty

I know you’re extremely busy and this is asking a lot, especially at the last minute. But we can use all the help we can get.

I know you’ll do your best, and look forward to seeing you tomorrow night. (You know I’ll be up!)

In the meantime, please give my regards to Mrs. Claus and all of the elves. Oh, and don’t forget to pat the reindeer for me!

Have a safe journey.



Unanswered questions remain following Harambe’s death

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The rush to judgment following the Cincinnati Zoo incident that resulted in a small boy’s injuries and a gorilla’s death is understandable but unproductive.

It is understandable because the incident involves two issues that ignite our passions: the welfare of children and the welfare of animals. But pointing fingers and laying blame before all of the facts are known doesn’t do anyone any good.

A Comprehensive Investigation Is Warranted

From what I understand, authorities began looking into the matter this week.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

An article in The New York Times indicates the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office and Cincinnati police are now trying to learn more about the events leading up to the incident in which a three-year-old boy somehow got into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“The incident at the Cincinnati Zoo involving the young child who fell into the gorilla enclosure is under investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Once their investigation is concluded, they will confer with our office on possible criminal charges.”

A second statement issued by Deters’ office yesterday said the police inquiry had been completed and that Deters is reviewing their findings. His own review of the findings could be finished as soon as today.

According to media reports, the little boy was not badly hurt. However his adventure — or misadventure — ended tragically when zoo personnel shot and killed a large male gorilla named Harambe. While there are conflicting accounts about Harambe’s behavior, the  personnel on scene apparently believed he posed a significant danger to the child and acted accordingly.

Because the United States Department of Agriculture oversees zoos, federal authorities will be tasked with conducting a separate investigation should it come to that. Specifically, they would be charged with assessing conditions around the enclosure and determining whether the shooting was justified.

Here’s What I Want To Know

As I’ve already mentioned, there are conflicting accounts about Harambe’s behavior. Since I wasn’t on the scene, here’s what I want to know:

  • Were people screaming after the little boy got into the enclosure?
  • If so did the screaming seem to alarm Harambe?
  • If so why didn’t the zoo workers quiet the crowd?
  • Did zoo workers clear the area?
  • How many workers came to the enclosure?
  • Were they specially trained in dealing with gorillas?
  • What kind of training did they receive?
  • How often are training exercises done?
  • What types of training exercise are done?
  • What is the zoo’s policy regarding the use of lethal force?
  • What is the zoo’s policy regarding public safety?
  • How often are these policies reviewed?

I am sure you have questions, too. Please feel free to share them below.

This time a pit bull was the victim

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Every once in a while, I come across a story that makes me cry. This week I found two.

A Real Tear-Jerker

The first one was an article I found on To sum it up, the story is about a man who was afraid of pit bulls — and was scared to death of what his wife’s pit bull-mix might do to their newborn baby. As it turned out, the pit bull-Lab cross loved the little girl. As they grew up together, the bond between the girl and her dog got even stronger.

But one day, everything went horribly wrong. The man, Greg Heynen, claims some neighborhood children poisoned Zack — the pit bull-cross who faithfully followed his daughter to bed every night. Zack died and for the first time, Greg’s daughter didn’t have her faithful companion by her side as she climbed the stairs at bedtime.

That’s when Greg’s own dog, Sam, stepped in. Somehow sensing the little girl’s distress, Sam escorted the little girl upstairs that night — and continued the tradition until his death six years later.

Needless to say, a lot of people commented on this story. Some of them said it made them cry. Others expressed outrage that children killed Zack. One even said that they should be poisoned as well. Others said they should be thrown in jail. Most agreed they should be punished in some way.

I agree. If these children deliberately poisoned Zack, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. If permitted under state law, I would charge and try them as adults. Not only did they (allegedly) kill an innocent animal — they robbed a little girl of the rest of her childhood with her best friend. They robbed the Heynen family of a loyal and loving pet.

More importantly, if this was a deliberate act, these children demonstrated the depraved indifference characteristic of hard-core criminals. This is no exaggeration. Scientific studies provide irrefutable proof that children capable of harming animals can and sometimes do grow up to become serial killers.

Leo’s Story

The other story is one that hits closer to home. In fact, it’s about one of the dogs at the animal shelter where I have volunteered for almost three years.

Take me home! A dog up for adoption and an Adopt-a-Dog volunteer. Photo by A. Bogdanovic
An Adopt-a-Dog volunteer with a dog up for adoption at the annual Puttin’ on the Dog show in Greenwich last September. Photo by A. Bogdanovic

At this point, Leo, another pit bull-mix, has been at the shelter almost as long as I have. He came to Adopt-A-Dog in Armonk, N.Y., after a Good Samaritan spotted him by the side of a busy highway and rescued him in the spring of 2014.

He’s such an awesome dog that everyone at the shelter thought a family would adopt him pretty quickly. But a couple of things seemed to work against him from the beginning. For one thing, he will do best in a home with older teenagers. Secondly, he will be happiest in a household without any other pets.

The good news is that he’s thrived in the shelter’s enrichment and training program. He loves agility and he loves to swim, so he’d be a perfect companion for someone who needs a training partner!

You can learn more about Leo by clicking on the “What’s up at Adopt-A-Dog?” link in the sidebar here at tomorrow. You can also visit his profile page on the shelter’s website.

Finally, if you live in the New York metropolitan area and are interested in learning more about Adopt-A-Dog, you can also visit the shelter during our open house and adoption event on Saturday, April 23. The event, at 23 Cox Avenue in Armonk, N.Y., will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We look forward to seeing you there!

Passport, please: convicted sex offenders fight tougher travel rules

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I rarely read The Wall Street Journal, but every so often, I come across interesting articles there during my endless search for new stuff to write about. Last week I found an intriguing piece about a controversial law called the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking.

From what I understand, the law allows the government to issue modified passports for people convicted of certain sex offenses involving children and adolescents. Specifically, the essential travel documents issued under the law include some sort of symbol identifying the holder as a sex offender.

Pros and Cons

Those who like the idea say it can help combat the worldwide exploitation of  children. Specifically, they say the use of a passport mark promotes awareness and communication between authorities in different countries. If nothing else,  it is a simple and effective way to let them know when people who have engaged in criminal activity with minors are entering and leaving their countries, proponents claim.

On the other hand, opponents say the law is unfair. They claim it makes life even more difficult for people who already face hardship resulting from their inclusion on sex offender registries. They argue that it wrongly targets some people found guilty of relatively minor transgressions. Some even question whether or not the law is constitutional, and a federal suit has already been filed in California.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the suit is the first of its kind. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Cry Me a River

For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the issue. I am a firm believer in the old saying, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. And nothing bothers me more than a criminal with entitlement issues.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

I don’t care if you’ve been convicted for something as simple as sharing inappropriate photos on your cell phone or social media and I have no sympathy whatsoever if you’ve engaged in something as reprehensible as child molestation or abuse. There is simply no excuse for any kind of criminal activity involving or targeting minors.

As far as I’m concerned, the second you decide to target, prey upon, and exploit someone else, especially someone vulnerable, someone who can’t fight back or defend themselves, you’ve lost whatever right to “fair treatment” that you think you’re entitled to.

So if you’re worried about being branded as a sex offender and you don’t think that having a symbol on your passport identifying you as one is “fair,” here’s a tip: don’t break the law. It’s that simple.


Act would allow critters to comfort kids in court

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Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

If a proposed amendment currently wending its way through Connecticut’s legislative process doesn’t receive sweeping approval, it will simply reinforce what a lot of us already think about most politicians: that they are heartless (expletives deleted) without an ounce of compassion.

The act in question would “allow the use of therapy animals to provide comfort to children who are testifying in a criminal prosecution” of cases in which they have been assaulted, sexually assaulted or abused.  As presented it would apply only to children age 12 and younger.

If the change is actually made, “a volunteer team consisting of a therapy animal and a registered handler” as defined by law will be among the select group of people permitted to remain in the room while the child is testifying. The new rule, which would take effect this October, would also allow the therapy animal and handler to sit near the child as long as they didn’t block the view of the defendant or judge.

To me this is a “no-brainer.” A courtroom can be a big, scary, intimidating place — even for an adult. The possibility of testifying about a traumatic experience can be daunting for adults … just imagine how frightening it is for kids. Honestly. How would you feel if you were just a little kid who had been raped or molested or beaten and then you had to face that person in court?

Now think about how you’d feel if you were a little kid in that situation and you had a therapy animal (most likely a dog) that you really liked and felt safe with close by.

It’s a proven fact that interacting with animals helps people relax. It’s also a proven fact that therapy animals can help children cope with and overcome tremendous obstacles.

I should know. It’s something I’ve witnessed personally while volunteering at therapeutic horseback riding programs in Connecticut and Virginia. Kids who were grumpy when they arrived were happier by the time they left. Kids who had a hard time expressing themselves at home or in school mastered the verbal signals needed to control their ponies.

Of course that’s not to say that therapy horses belong in Connecticut courtrooms. But there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever why dogs and other small therapy animals shouldn’t be allowed to do what they are so adept at — providing love and reassurance when it’s needed most.