Be on the Lookout for: Parents Charged When Pets Turn Predator

Earlier this month, a Florida jury convicted Jaren Hare of manslaughter, third-degree murder and child-neglect after the family's pet python bit and strangled a 2-year-old toddler in her crib.

The 8-foot-6 Burmese python escaped in July 2009 from its 200-gallon aquarium while Jaren Hare and her boyfriend slept.

The prosecution argued that the couple failed to take necessary precautions in securing the lid of the snake's aquarium, repeatedly allowing the snake to escape.

Hare's defense attorney, Ismael Solis Jr., said during the trial that Hare had owned the python named Gypsy for five years and that "this snake was no different than a family dog. ... The snake is like a little puppy to her."

Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino argued in his closing statement, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist. ... If that kind of snake will take down an alligator, it will eat something else, even a small 2-year-old girl."

Hare and her boyfriend are the first people in Florida history to be convicted on criminal charges for a snake killing, according to the state attorney's office. Both face up to 35 years in prison at their upcoming sentencing hearing on Aug. 21.

Following the tragedy, the Florida legislature changed state rules to broadly prohibit the possession of Burmese pythons and other large snakes.

In a phone interview, Magrino admitted, "This legislation was something of a knee-jerk reaction to the incident. They went overboard."

Yet several similar cases have drawn scrutiny across the country as legal officials and lawmakers seek to distinguish family pets from deadly predators in the household.

Katrina Mitchell, a mother from Maine, now faces charges for endangering the welfare of her infant daughter who was mauled to death by the family's Rottweiler, and Steven Hayashi of California was charged with involuntary manslaughter after his pit bulls killed his 2-year-old step-grandson while Hayashi was out playing tennis earlier this month. Mitchell and Hayashi have both pleaded not guilty.

To address concerns about dangerous pets, last week the Los Angeles Country Board rewrote their animal control ordinance to make it easier for animal control officials to confine, lock up, and euthanizes pets that they deem to be "vicious" without requiring judicial approval.

According to Ledy Van Kavage of Best Friends Animal Society, these changes "give animal control unprecedented power."

Such cases might also place additional legal pressure on parents who unfairly assume their pets are docile.

Magrino concluded, "Even though it's tough as a prosecutor to charge a parent in a child's death, we need to go out our way to provide for the protection of children against stupidity and recklessness when it comes to their handling of deadly creatures."