“I’ve been a resident of Tomball since 2001. For much of that time I’ve kept pythons within city limits,” said Alok Khanna, a resident of Bearing Star Lane in Tomball. “The facts are that dogs are much more dangerous than snakes.”
The new city ordinance makes possessing dangerous animals—those dangerous by nature or dangerous to human beings because of the animals’ size, vicious nature or other characteristics—illegal within the city of Tomball, the ordinance reads.
The ordinance was unanimously approved on first reading without discussion Feb. 3, but a second vote was needed Feb. 17 to adopt the ordinance. Despite many objections during the public comment period, council members unanimously approved the ordinance Feb. 17 with Council Members Mark Stoll and Lori Klein Quinn absent from the meeting.
“I do own a house here in Tomball ... and I own thousands of reptiles that many will fall under this ordinance. Your average person does not even know they’re there. They’re a nuisance-free, low-maintenance, allergy-free pet,” said Matthew Fank, who said he owns property on South Cherry Street in Tomball. “As a Tomball resident, it is my intention to open an exotic pet shop. ... Reptiles are costly. People who [would] come [to the shop] are spending money.”
Fank said the reptile industry is regulated by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and requires keepers to obtain a permit or be fined and have the animals confiscated.
However, the ordinance does not prohibit residents from possessing all snakes, city officials said. The ordinance prohibits snakes that will grow to be greater than eight feet long as well as all venomous reptiles, the ordinance reads.
“I can see somebody having a single snake in their home. I can’t see somebody having tens, fifties, hundreds, thousands of reptiles in their home. If they were not dangerous, you would not keep them under lock and key 24/7, 365 hundred days a year,” Council Member Derek Townsend said.
Dangerous animals also prohibited by the ordinance include lions, tigers, wolves, raccoons, foxes, rhinoceroses, crocodiles, fowl larger than a macaw, coyotes and other large animals. However, the ordinance does not apply to gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice and domesticated rabbits.
“A lot of these rules get put into place because of fear and misunderstanding of these animals,” said Adrian Berg, a resident of Katy representing the Texas Association of Reptile Keepers. “This [is] a loss of privilege. ... As of this point, the citizens of Tomball have not done anything in order to lose the privilege of keeping these awesome animals.”
According to meeting information, the ordinance was brought to council for approval because the city had received recent concerns from citizens in regard to the keeping of dangerous animals. One public comment and one email were read into the public record expressing support for the ordinance.
“I am for this ordinance because I don’t believe it is in the best interest of all of the citizens of Tomball,” said Kathleen Hauck, a resident of South Cherry Street in Tomball. “I wasn’t going to speak because I figured you guys would have the good judgment enough to see how many residents from Tomball—who actually really live in Tomball—came out to oppose this.”
Council members discussed whether to table the final vote on the agenda item until all five council members were present. However, Council Member John Ford made a motion to approve the ordinance Feb. 17.
“I would agree that there is a perception issue, but whether it’s perceived or real, we have to go with what the citizens feel, and that is that they do not want these types of animals in the city limits,” Ford said. “I understand loving animals and taking care of them, and I can understand someone who has that same feeling about a snake or a reptile. I just think that the citizens don’t mostly share that perception.”
Anyone found to violate the ordinance will be fined up to $2,000 per day of violation, according to the ordinance.