Unrattled: Scales of justice apply to snakes, teen says
By Miles Smith
Some people call Keelan Smith the snake guy.
It’s a name the 17-year-old founder of Caldwell County Snake Removal has earned for himself, having turned a childhood fascination with and comfort around snakes into a business that he says has grown substantially since he started helping people with their snake removal needs just two years ago.
And those clients aren’t just his neighbors. They include the City of Lockhart and the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office, he says.
“I didn’t expect this much notoriety when I first started this,” said Smith, who finished high school in December. “A couple of years ago, I was just a reptile keeper at the Capital of Texas Zoo.”
Holding a Western Hognose snake (poisonous, but Smith assured they were not dangerous to humans), Smith said his familiarity with snakes began at a young age.
“My grandmother and aunt kept snakes for years,” said Smith, putting the seemingly docile Hognose back in his Tupperware container. “I grew up around pet ball pythons and carpet pythons. I grew to appreciate them.”
But he didn’t stop with constrictors. Not even a rattlesnake is enough to scare Smith, who gets multiple calls per week to remove snakes from properties as temperatures heat up.
“They’ve always fascinated me,” Smith said. “I’ve always liked them, and I wanted to learn more about them.”
He doesn’t harm the snakes he catches, he says. Usually he’ll get a call, and he’ll head out to the property, where he’ll locate the snake the owner wants removed. Using a couple of long tongs and poles to keep plenty of distance between him and the snake, he’ll put it in a pillowcase or bucket.
Where does it go from there?
“Different properties,” he said. “It’s easy to find people who will let you move non-poisonous snakes onto their properties. The poisonous ones are a little more difficult, but there are pieces of land that people don’t occupy and don’t mind if I put them there.”
Why would anyone acquiesce to that? They’re an important part of the ecosystem and pest control, he says.
“Mice and rodents,” Smith explained. “Mice can do a lot of damage to a property, and one female mouse will have up to 15 babies. They chew wires and start fires. Snakes don’t do that.”
Smith said educating people about snakes was one of his passions.
“They really aren’t out to get you,” he said. “The snake is just trying to survive from one day until the next. Eighty percent of venomous snake bites happen because people are trying to kill them. If you just turn around and walk away from the snake, the chance you’re going to get bitten turns to zero.”
But don’t snakes chase people? Smith says that’s not true.
“It’s an old wives’ tale,” he said. “A lot of people think that, but it’s false. A snake will try to get away from someone when it’s spotted, and if you are in the way of where it knows its hiding place is, it will move toward you. If you move to the side, the snake will continue going where it was headed.”
Caldwell County Snake Removal has a Facebook page. Smith says some of his business comes from there, while other business comes from the city, county and word of mouth.
Smith, who was home schooled in Lockhart, also works for Ascension Media & Drone Services and is taking online college courses.
He hasn’t quite decided what he’s majoring in, he said.
“I’m interested in zoological husbandry and zoo management,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of places to do that around here, though.”