The Reptile Report - Few people are born into this world with the calling of their life already burned in their heart. Brian Barczyk is one of those few. He was born...
My Retic Saved My Life
The Reptile Report - Editor’s Note: Thank you, Marquendra Mercandante, for this important message.
Hi! I’m Marquendra and I am disabled.
Usually when you hear that someone is disabled, most people automatically assume it has to do with a physical condition, but I am mentally disabled. I don’t normally talk publicly my issues due to lack of understanding and belittlement that some people seem to bestow upon those with mental disorders. Thanks to sensational media coverage, the sheer lack of information, and a lack of help for those that suffer with these problems, we are almost always misunderstood. Ok, enough about that side of things!
Almost everyone knows that animals can be therapeutic for a lot of people—with or without disabilities. When you tell someone you have an animal that helps with a disability, the first thing that comes to mind is a dog. Well, I’m here to tell you that dogs aren’t the only animal that can help improve lives!
There are 2 different types of medically needed animals. There is the service animal, which is a trained dog or miniature horse. Only those animals can quality as a service animal because they have to be trained for a specific need. Then, you have the emotional support animal.
An emotional support animal does NOT have to be trained, and therefore, can be ANY animal. That doesn’t mean you go and round up tigers and elephants. You can’t just claim you need those specific animals. You have to have a medical condition (usually mental or emotional) and a doctor that is treating you for your illnesses has to approve a specific animal as needed for your health.
I happen to have a reticulated python and a Burmese python that are my medically needed animals. Of course, when I tell people what they are, I often get questioned with the most confused looks. In actuality, snakes have been proven to provide very therapeutic benefits to those that love or fear these animals. There are a few places that will let you be surrounded by large pythons to destroy your fear of them and show how awesome they are. Just holding one and letting it do its thing can be very soothing.
My own condition is different, more along the lines of “if I don’t have my snakes, I will literally go insane”. I have schizophrenia and explosive disorder (very bad anger problems). I see and hear things. I’m very paranoid at night—the works pretty much. And I have been dealing with this since I was in my single digits.
I’ve always gone to the doctor about my mental health, even against my will after trying to kill myself when things got too overpowering. I have barely anyone to talk to because most people don’t want to deal with someone like me. So I turned to acting out. It got the unwanted results of being kicked out of school and what not. Eventually, I gave up on life—until I saw people with these giant, beautiful snakes!
Of course my family didn’t like them, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to see them and learn about them. The first snake I ever saw up close was an albino Burmese python. I fell in love with how gentle it was while my family freaked out thinking it would eat me. From then on, my life was forever changed by the passion that grew from wanting a snake.
When I graduated and was able to get a job, I got my very first snake against my granddaddy’s wishes. She was a normal burm. Of course that’s not the snake you’d recommend for beginners, haha! But I never felt more in control of myself before I got her. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to keep her for long because my granddaddy couldn’t sleep at night. He thought she would get out and kill him, so I ended up having to rehome her. I never got over having to give her up. To this day, I still think about her and wonder if she is ok.
That was over 7 years ago. Since then, I have moved around and had other snakes to study them and love them. But each time I got one, I always had to rehome it due to the fact that I was living with family members that just couldn’t deal with them. So I had to wait. During that time frame, I was pretty unstable and violent towards myself and sometimes others. Even while pregnant, I was still a lit firecracker waiting to unleash pain onto the unlucky person that happened to cross me. At one point, it happened to be some cops.
Every time I was asked what would calm me down, I told them that snakes were the best thing for me, but I couldn’t have them while living with others. Eventually, I was able to finally move out on my own, but that came with a very heavy price.
About two months after I moved, the one person I could ever talk to or call a best friend died. My granddaddy passed away Feb 20th of 2014. I was raised by him so it was pretty much losing both of my parents. I just couldn’t handle it. I wanted to go with him… And I acted on it. The police that were there and the paramedics had to strap me in and take me to the hospital. I had to stay there for 2 days because I wanted to slit my wrist or have a cop shoot me. I just wanted to die. I will never get over my granddad passing.
So, the pain is always there. To this day, I barely have anyone to talk to. I literally only barely speak with my sister and my mom. So my doctor and I decided that it was time for me to have another snake in my life. But not just any snake. I loved the giants! I originally wanted a Burmese python, but it is very hard to find them in Tennessee since the 2012 ban. So I kept asking around and someone eventually told me about reticulated pythons.
I honestly didn’t know what they were until I joined the Retic Nation and got a briefing and rundown of what they are and what I would be getting into if I got one. I educated myself as much as I could on these animals until I had the money to finally get one after being approved for disability last year. I got her as a month-old hatchling and named her Shinigami!
There were a lot of things I was told to do with her, like hook training. But she didn’t like the hook at all, which is how I got my first nibble from her. So, I tried another method, using just my hands to pick her up out of her home. A lot of people got a bit mad at me for not using a hook, but I still have one in case I need it. She doesn’t have that extreme feeding response that retics are known for. I open her home, speak to her and praise her for being so majestic and beautiful, and pick her up.
She is great around kids and other people, even in shed. I have had her for over a year now, and my life has just been blooming. I am not the same person I feared and loathed. I am a lot happier and people tend to take a liking to me faster than they used to. I haven’t tried hurting myself or had suicidal thoughts. My anger problems don’t happen nearly as much. I still see and hear things, and I am still paranoid, but I’d say I’ve improved a lot since I got her.
But now, the hobby has come under attack. This attack resulted in these large and beautiful snakes being banned from travel across state lines due to bad science and lies. I know that there are others out there that have snakes for their disabilities. Not necessarily the large ones, but those that do, like me, are having to face a huge issue. We are being punished for loving something that is greatly misunderstood, unreasonably feared, and blindly hated for no reason.
Catching a felony just for traveling with your beloved snake is ridiculous and unfair to the max. What if you are in service to the US and need to relocate, but you just happen to have these animals? Or what if your snake becomes sick and the only experienced vet for large snakes were out of state? The emotional distress this addition to the law has created is insane! Putting the animals down may be the only option you have if you can’t find anyone that can care for them properly.
I believe that this situation should be taken into consideration for those that NEED these animals in their lives to function! The officials making these decisions don’t understand how badly this affects people. We need to get the word out that these snakes aren’t just a means to make money. They aren’t eating machines. They aren’t human destroyers, and they are not invasive. They are family to the majority of people that have them. Just like a dog or cat can be to you, mine is a python. You don’t have to try to understand what we see in them. All you need to know is that mine saved my life by being by my side.
Thank you for taking the time to read and understand.