Darla McGinnis

Darla McGinnis


COUNCIL BLUFFS – Council Bluffs resident Darla McGinnis says Zagan and Draco help her deal with various illnesses, such as severe depression, anxiety and seizures.

City code, however, prohibits the pair from being in city limits.

Zagan and Draco are ball pythons that McGinnis has come to rely on.

“I can hold them, and they calm me down,” she said this week. “They’re very therapeutic, and, without them, I have to take more medication.”

Like all pythons, the 5-foot-long Draco and Zagan, a 4-footer, are non-venomous constrictors. Ball pythons are known for being docile and, as the name suggests, roll into a ball when threatened.

McGinnis said she has always kept both snakes secured in their own glass cases with no way of escaping.

“They’re not at all dangerous,” McGinnis said. “I can hold them up to my face.”

In early January, city animal control officials, apparently acting on a tip, visited her home and told McGinnis that Zagan and Draco had to go because constrictors are not allowed in the city; they are considered dangerous.

Currently, the snakes at a friend’s home in Omaha, which allows constrictors. In the meantime, McGinnis wants Council Bluffs to change its animal code.

“I want the code rewritten to allow ball pythons,” she said. “And, I’m not asking for special permission. I’m doing this for all snake lovers. It should be allowed for everyone. I’m just asking for what’s right.”

McGinnis said she’s collecting support signatures to give to the city council. As of Wednesday, she had collected more than 100 physical signatures with hundreds more showing support online.

The law she’s questioning has been on the books for some time.

“Any snakes that are venomous or constrictors are prohibited in the city,” Chief Animal Control Officer Galen Barrett said. “That ordinance was in place even before I came here to the animal control office 17 years ago.”

Barrett described the pythons as possible emotional support animals, or ESAs.

“Being an ESA, however, does not trump them from city code,” he said. “They’re not exempt from city code.”

Only dogs – such as seeing-eye dogs – are considered service animals, Barrett said.

“Snakes can’t be considered service animals,” Barrett said, adding he can’t recall any attempt in the past to make constrictors legal in town.

Unless the council changes the ordinance, Zagan and Draco will have to live elsewhere. If she brings them back, McGinnis could face a $750 fine, as well as court costs, with a judge deciding the snakes’ fate.

“This past month has been the longest in my life,” McGinnis said. “I just want to bring my boys home. This is where they belong.”

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