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A rattlesnake inside a bucket is being relocated from a house in Poway in this image taken on Sept. 20, 2021.
Maya Trabulsi
A rattlesnake inside a bucket is being relocated from a house in Poway in this image taken on Sept. 20, 2021.

A rattlesnake tale: How good intentions could be against the law

If you came face to face with a rattlesnake on your property, what would you do? Poway resident Patrick Brady hopes that you would consider calling him to help. He has been serving the area around Poway for decades as a handyman. When his phone rings, he knows it could be a call from a desperate resident hoping that he would come to relocate a rattlesnake.

In the community, he is known as "Trapper Pat." He answers the calls day or night, and prides himself on being where he is needed in a matter of minutes — all free of charge.

“You know, I have to tell myself all the time: 'Is today the day you're going to get bit? No, I'm not getting bitten today,'” said Brady.

But Brady doesn’t believe rattlesnakes should be killed. Instead, he prefers to relocate them nearby usually within a quarter mile from where the rattlesnake was originally found.

“I don't want to take its life just because of what it is. I mean, it's here for a purpose. He has a right to be here, has a right to live,” said Brady.

Word of his brave endeavors echoed their way up to state government. In a letter, state Assemblymember Brian Maienschein thanked him for his work. Ironically, Brady used the official envelope to write down the address to an emergency snake call.

Letter from Assemblymember Brian Maienschein to Trapper Pat.
Patrick Brady
A letter of gratitude from Assemblymember Brian Maienschein to Patrick Brady in this letter dated Sept. 27, 2019.

From the beginning of the year, Brady noticed something he hadn’t seen before: Most of the calls he was getting resulted in the relocation of a specific species of rattlesnake — the Northern Pacific. He called the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to share his field data. A lieutenant from the department called him back, and that, Brady said, is when everything changed.

“He said, 'Mr. Brady, you need to cease and stop what you're doing right now because you're not qualified to be doing what you're doing and, there's rules and regulations. You're breaking laws in California and codes,'” said Brady.

Fearing legal trouble, Pat stopped posting his stories on Nextdoor and social media. He took down his website and asked community members not to draw attention to him.

“And I felt bad because I felt like I was letting the public down,“ said Brady. “There's a lot of things going on that suddenly came to a halt because I wasn't sure what to do.”

Captain Patrick Foy from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) says the law is written to protect the homeowner. In order to kill a rattlesnake on your property you do not need a license, permit or authorization. That is the right of the property owner. When it comes to moving rattlesnakes, however, the law gets a little gray.

“They never really accounted for the person who might think 'I don't want to kill the rattlesnake. I want to remove it and take it someplace else and let it go,'” said Foy. “So, that was never really clearly made apparent in the legislation. So, now here we are today. Now we're having a different conversation.”

California Fish and Game Code 7149 Title 14 section 40 stipulates you can “take” up to two live rattlesnakes per day, with no license required. In order to release any captured rattlesnakes you must have the department's written approval. In most cases this means applying for a scientific collecting permit. This ensures the wellbeing of the snake and the local wildlife.

Rattlesnake relocator, Patrick "Trapper Pat" Brady, releases a rattlesnake in this image taken on Sept. 20, 2021.
Rattlesnake relocator, Patrick "Trapper Pat" Brady, releases a rattlesnake in this image taken on Sept. 20, 2021.

The California Fish and Game Commission, made up of five members appointed by the governor, sets policy and regulation. The CDFW law enforcement division enforces the laws and regulations set by the Fish and Game Commission, as well as the California Legislature.

“If I could have rewritten that law, I probably would have tweaked it a little bit to make some changes to accommodate that type of request,” said Foy, who added there is something else to consider. “I would not call an unlicensed, unbonded, uninsured person to my house to remove a rattlesnake, because if that person gets bit, you're going to own it. You're going to get sued ... Our recommendation is to go ahead and hire a permitted licensed bonded wildlife trapping type of a company. They do charge high fees, but they are paying for that insurance. They are paying for that training.”

Some pest control companies charge hundreds of dollars to answer rattlesnake calls. A price that is unaffordable for many property owners who may need assistance several times per year. The fire department is obliged to respond, but snake calls are not an efficient use of city resources, as engines and personnel are deployed. With either of these options, the rattlesnake is almost always destroyed.

Chief Bill Ganley says the San Diego Humane Society answered 963 rattlesnake calls in the past six months — spread over 13 cities.

“We prioritize rattlesnake calls as a priority one for us. So it goes to the top of our triage, and we respond within half an hour if they're a threat to humans by their location,” said Ganley.

Ganley’s team is trained to catch and release rattlesnakes close to where they are found. He says sometimes residents complain that the snake is being released too close. He explains that if the rattlesnake is relocated too far away, it won’t be a successful outcome for the animal.

“I've never met Pat, but I've only heard good things about him,” said Ganley. “I believe he's an advocate of humanely handling and releasing the snake. So that's a good thing in our book.”

Ganley says his organization responds to so many rattlesnake calls that if someone else is relocating snakes safely and legally, he sees no issue with that.
“I think that every law should be reviewed periodically to make changes that are more reflective of what's happening out in the county or the state," said Ganley. "I wasn't aware of that with Trapper Pat, and I hope that he's able to obtain the proper training to be able to continue to do what he does in the community."

Patrick Brady’s case has sparked internal discussion within the CDFW, as they try to interpret the regulation. They told KPBS, with the special permit, there could be a path for him to continue, which might include working closely with them to find suitable places for release. How easy that path is, however, still remains to be seen.

“My small little contribution in life in this little corner of the world that goes on,” said Brady. "It is doing a good thing for the community."

The CDFW also told KPBS, because of this story, it is considering recommending changes to California Fish and Game Code to make it easier for those who wish to relocate rattlesnakes in lieu of killing them. We are told that process could take about a year.

A rattlesnake tale: How good intentions could be against the law

I'm the news anchor for Evening Edition, which airs live at 5pm on weekdays. I also produce stories about our community, from stories that are obscure in nature to breaking news.