Woman: Seized snakes 'mean everything to me'

HOUSTON (KHOU) -- A soft-spoken woman standing before a justice of the peace in downtown Houston Tuesday proclaimed her love for a bunch of very large and dangerous snakes.

Brittany Barrineau's voice cracked as she talked about the 15 pythons and boa constrictors seized last week from her modest home in the Heights. She came to court on Tuesday to formally relinquish the reptiles over to the SPCA's care.

"I do love my animals enough to let them go, in hopes that they have bigger enclosures and a happier life," she told the judge in the hearing. "I've been with them for 15 years. They've been all that I've known for quite a while. And they mean everything to me."

Barrineau kept the snakes, some of which were more than 15 feet long, mainly in small containers in a back bedroom, authorities said. Some of them showed signs of malnourishment, testimony indicated, and one of them had a broken back.

"This has been really difficult for me," she said. "But I'm trusting the SPCA will take good care."

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She also described one of the seized animals as a "special needs snake" and asked for it to be turned over to a veterinarian in College Station.

"She is a beautiful, wonderful snake," Barrineau said, sniffling as she spoke. "And I want her to live a long, happy life. And I don't want her to be euthanized."

The court hearing culminated weeks of investigation by Harris County authorities, who repeatedly visited the woman's house before staging the seizure from a small pink house surrounded by a yard cluttered with junk.

Authorities said the woman apparently started collecting snakes 15 years ago after a former boyfriend convinced her she could make money breeding them. After the court hearing, she said that she no longer believed in breeding snakes and that the animals seized from her house were left over from her collection.

The constable in charge of the investigation said it still wasn't clear whether Barrineau would face criminal charges. He said he had talked to the woman about getting psychological counseling.

"Clearly she's in distress and we need to do all that we can as law enforcement," said Alan Rosen, a Harris County constable. "She's actually a good person. She's just overwhelmed by the fact that she doesn't have a job and couldn't care for these animals."

The snakes' ultimate fate is unclear. After the court hearing, a spokesperson for the SPCA, which now has custody of the animals, wouldn't answer questions about whether some or all of them might ultimately be euthanized.

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