Kasey Talks Critters Episode 3 With Lori Torrini - Carpet Pythons
Hey Zen Friends, it’s Kasey. Today I am joined by Lori for this episode of Kasey Talks Critters. She is an amazing, amazing snake behaviorist and trainer. And I can't wait to get into asking her all sorts of cool questions about carpet pythons. So why don't we start by asking you some questions about you, Lori. So, what is your experience with animals?
I'm an animal trainer and behaviorist and I started as an animal trainer. And actually, when I was very, very young, I started as a veterinary assistant and pet sitter. And then I got into animal training. And over the years, which is a lot of years, over 30 years now, I just kept adding credentials to my animal training resume. And then about five years ago, I started specifically studying behavior science. And since I've incorporated behavior science into my animal training, it's just been amazing the things I'm able to accomplish in the level of communication I can reach with the animals. Just having that extra level of knowledge.
That is the goal right there. You have developed this wonderful career over so many years. That is definitely something that I think a lot of people aspire to do. So, in your position now, how did you get there specifically? Like what kind of training or schooling did you do to get to be there?
To be certified professional animal trainer, there are different routes to go. You can apprentice with somebody and learn that way. And that's how I started out. And then I took a test through the certification council for a professional dog trainer and got certified through them. And then I had to take a test to be accepted into the Fear Free Professionals program through Fear Free Pets to be a trainer with them, and that's general animal training. So first I had to take an injury test and then I had to take their course and pass that. But there are other organizations that certify animal trainers. But in addition to that, if you're interested in working across species with like with many species of animals, like I do, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has an animal training course that's 50 hours long. I went to that at the Denver Zoo, which isn't too far from me. And so, you can get your animal training credentials either through apprenticeship and working with another trainer until you're ready to train on your own and then taking a test with the certification organization. Or you can actually go through someone's certification program like Karen Prior Academy. They will train you in their program and then certify you or Victoria Stillwell Academy or things like that. And then of course the AZA has their training, so it depends on what type of program works better for you.
That's fascinating. I wasn't exactly sure how it happened and that is great. And the AZA, for our fans who don't know, they accredit zoos and aquariums to meet specific standards.
And then on the behavior science side, that's typically a degree or a certificate program. So, I earned a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and now I'm moving on to a bachelors in that in animal behavior. And then I plan to move on to a master's in applied animal behavior. So that's sort of a more academic route. To be an animal trainer. You don't have to have a degree. You just have to either have experience working with another trainer or a certification.
That’s really fascinating. And I love that there are so many levels that you can get so involved with education. So, I think we should start talking about Carpet Pythons!
They are my favorite snake, the carpet python complex, I should say. And that's the morelia genus and it encompasses morelia spilota which are the carpet pythons morelia bredli, which are the bredl's pythons, morelia carinata which are the rough-scaled pythons and then the morelia viridis, and those are the green tree pythons.
So why do you think the carpet python is so cool?
I love them because they're interactive and they're visible a lot. And I understand that some snakes are very cryptic. They like to hide and that's their nature. And we shouldn't be forcing them to do something that's against their nature. So, if you want a snake that's going to be visible and that you can see. I like the carpet pythons because these guys were sleeping earlier, but they were visible, they were sleeping on ledges and out in the open. And so even during their natural time when they would be asleep, you can still see them most of the time. They don't hide that often. I also like that they climb. I love to watch snakes climb. Some of them swim. I have a coastal carpet python and a python that I actually put water features in their enclosures because they showed me that they like to swim. So, I just feel like there's a lot of variability in behavior with these guys. They're very interactive, and when I say interactive, I don't necessarily mean handling because there are lots of ways to interact with your snakes where you're not physically touching them. Some of them are not really a minimal to be in touch, and that's just innate because in nature, if another animal touches them, they're usually getting eaten. So, it's not normal for them to allow us to touch them. And I feel very privileged that this guy chose to come out of his enclosure when I opened the door a little while ago, and that he's been so gracious and letting me handle him while we're doing this video. If he had chosen not to come out, I would not have forced him out. And it would have just been me in the video.
And that's absolutely fine. I think that is fantastic. And I wish that I had spent more time and I'm going to definitely spend more time with my animals to get them to that point to so that it's on their own, that I'm not forcing them to come out of their enclosures.
It’s a very rewarding experience when they choose to come out and interact with you. But it's also just as rewarding to watch their natural behaviors, even if they aren't amendable, to touch. There's plenty of things that I do with mine. I like target training and setting up different types of exercises for them.
Ball Python people don't come at me, but I feel like the carpet python is a cooler python and they get a little bit bigger. They're more interactive. So, do you think they might have a more prominent place in the future of the reptile industry? Do you think carpet pythons might become more popular?
I don't understand why some of the subspecies aren't more popular. And I will say that I have all of the subspecies legal to own in the United States, which are the inland carpet pythons, jungle carpet, coastal carpet, etc. I will also say the subspecies may be changing in the near future because there's just been a whole lot of phylogenetic research done and there's some new literature that's going to come out in the next few months. But the subspecies do tend to demonstrate different behaviors. So, the carpet pythons, I think, make excellent family members excellent pets. He's an excellent educational animal. And I've worked with four of them. I have three right now. One of them, unfortunately, passed away recently of cancer. But they're calm and they're very, very intelligent. These inland carpet pythons do some of the most advanced behaviors that I've trained in a snake. And so, I think they have a lot of potential to be excellent pets. And like I said, they're visible. They do tend to be more active in the evenings and at night, but they're still visible during the day. When they're sleeping, they usually have on ledges or they're out in the open. And so, I think there's a lot of potential for this subspecies in particular as a pet. And then I'm not saying the other subspecies don't make good pets. They absolutely can, depending on how they're raised, the temperament of the parents and, you know, how you handle them from hatchlings because part of their behavior is genetic. And then part of it is going to be from learning and experience and how they were raised up to begin with. So, my jungle carpet python, for example, is beautiful and she does train well, but she doesn't like to be touched. It's something that over her life I will work on. But if you think you can handle it, there are certain subspecies that I would guide people towards versus others because I've observed they tend to be more amenable to that. Like the inland carpet pythons, they stay a nice size. The inland pythons typically stay around five feet above the other subspecies and I want to just be upfront about that can get larger like 7 to 8 feet so you have to do the research as to what subspecies you’re getting or if you get another species within them really complex like bredl's pythons can get 6 to 8 feet. Coastal carpet pythons tend to be in the 6 to 8 feet range.
Absolutely, so do you think there is a particular owner that would be better suited for carpet pythons?
It depends on I when I'm working with people to pick out any snake, I have them make a list of their expectations and I ask them, what does life with your snake look like in your ideal world, in your mind and your imaginary perfect mind? What do your interactions with your snake look like? What are your expectations of this animal? And I try to match them with the species that's more likely to be suitable and sometimes it's not always the one they think they want. I had a client that wanted a specific species because of how it looked and her list of criteria didn't match up at all. Like there is no overlapping there between that species and what she expected of it. And so, we were able to find a different species for her that she was happy with how it looked and she's happy with this behavior and it's working out extremely well. So, carpet pythons are active, visible, really smart. They do well with the training that I do and the behavior activities, I'm able to let them roam. They're not flighty for the most part. There's always going to be exceptions and outliers, but for the most part, however, they aren't a snake that’s just going to sit and hang out with you and watch TV or hang out with you in your lap while you read a book like you saw that he was moving the whole time. And when I gave him the opportunity, he climbed on one of his activity stations. That's pretty typical of carpet pythons. And so, if you're looking for a snake, this is just going to sit there. That's maybe not the species for you if you're planning to handle it a ton, but if you want to interact with it a ton in other ways and have an active animal, they're very active.
That's awesome. I love that. So, because this is a Zen Habitats show, do we make an enclosure that is appropriate for carpet pets?
Yes, they do! I actually we have different enclosures here, so you will see some facilities that every enclosure is identical and they're all set up identical and that's for the esthetically pleasing person. I do the opposite. I try to assess what I think is best for the individual snake. And so, I have a hodgepodge of different enclosures here. 11 of them are Zen Habitats. And the reason I've chosen those for some of the snakes is they're very roomy inside, like the dimensions that the four by two by two, that's actually the inside dimensions of the of the habitat. There's very little this taken up by other stuff, where you have some enclosures that the space for the light like sinks down into the enclosure or the exterior dimensions are even just slightly smaller than four by two by two, which means the interior dimensions are smaller. I like the roominess of Zen. I like how light they are because I can move them around myself and I like that if the snake outgrows the four-foot length that I can attach that to another one and create a larger enclosure with the length extension kit. The other thing I like about the cubes, the two by two-by-two cubes, is that they're sealed up. And if you don't use the grommet for the cords, like even a tiny corn snake baby or a tiny carpet python baby, it's not going to get out of it. And it's roomy for a hatchling. So, I just like the options that they have.
That’s something that we really strive for. So, I was so happy to hear firsthand that that's part of it that makes me so happy. So, I think I'm going to get questions from our fans. So, they kind of want to know a little bit more about where do you find a good breeder for a carpet python?
So, with the carpet python specifically, there are some really highly educated people in the field and there's a book called The Complete Carpet Python. It came out in 2011. That was my main introduction to carpet pythons and I was in charge of the carpet pythons in the herpetology lab and I fell in love with them. And I read that book, The Complete Carpet Python in one night, but it's written in combination by a breeder, by a Ph.D. professor and then by someone who works with snakes on their phylogeny and their taxonomy. And that has been updated. That's one of the resources that I said, may change a few things because 2011, that's pretty long ago in regard to scientific information. And so, the authors have written the more complete carpet python and these are more like the combination of a textbook and a care guide, but more on the textbook side. But it's very accessible to, to most readers. And so, they go over husbandry in that, care, breeding and where the snakes come from in their natural history and their taxonomy. And I can't wait until the new version comes out. And I expect there'll be some scientific publications that come out after that in relation to the research done for the book. So, I recommend that if you know someone has spent the time and effort to publish a paper or publish an article or write a book and they also breed that species. That's how I would try to get a carpet python from. So, for example, all of my carpet pythons came from Dr. Justin Chu Lander, who's one of the authors of that book. And he also wrote the Complete Children's Python and the book about green tree python. And he's written some other books. So, my inland carpet pythons came directly from him. So, if you know that there are experts like that, I recommend that you try to get animals from them. So, if that's not the case, then I start looking on Morph Market, asking and groups that are specific to that species. I look at the reviews on Morph Market, I just try to research that breeder before I even contact them. And then if I think, okay, “I'm going to contact this breeder,” I have a whole list of questions that I ask, and it's probably a bigger list than most people because I ask about behavior and temperament, and I also ask about the behavior and temperament of the parents and the health of the parents. Are the parents still alive? If not, at what age did they die? What did they die from? I want a healthy animal that has a good temperament, especially for what I do. And so, I will ask how they're raised as well. And if they were exposed to any environmental stimulation, any handling, what they can tell me about each individual, snake's temperament and personality. If they give you a deer in the headlights look, when you start asking those questions, I usually find somebody who maybe isn't specifically assessing those things or specifically giving them environmental stimulation or enrichment, but that can answer my questions like just in an informal way and say, “oh, I happened to notice that one whenever I'm cleaning, it always comes out of the tub and it will climb around the rack or it'll come towards me or it'll climb around the room.” That is significant.
Yeah, absolutely. Those are very good tips. Now I have a question about diet and this kind of goes into more enrichment. Do you provide more than just rodents to your snakes? I'd love to hear more about the options that you feed your snakes.
Carpet pythons in the wild will eat pretty much whatever they can find because sometimes Australia's environments can be harsh. Now the ones that tend to flock towards cities and stuff, of course they're going to have access probably to more rodents than anything else because we lovely humans attract rodents with all of our activities. The ones that are living more out in the wild, away from human settlements, are going to eat whatever they can find. So, yeah, they'll eat small mammals, they'll eat birds, they'll eat other reptiles, they'll eat amphibians. And so, I try to vary the diet with mine. And these inland carpet pythons like the one you just saw, will eat rodents, which are rats and mice. He'll eat gerbils, he'll eat quail, chicks, and Reptilinks. And, you know, I'm sure he'll eat more stuff if I bought him more stuff. I haven't tried fish but he's eaten whatever I've offered him.
Well, that is definitely a contrast to some of the ball pythons for sure, who are so picky you know. So, I think we went over some really fascinating stuff about carpet pythons. I want to ask you some questions about you. So, these are more like just fun bonus round questions. So, what advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
Definitely get an early start with your animal education. And if you can get into an animal field early on, you're going to get further younger in life than I did. I've done this animal career my whole life, but for a long time it was a part time career and I had a full-time career working for the city of Colorado Springs. So, I was working 40 hours a week for the Colorado Springs Police Department while at the same time working 20 hours a week doing animal training, veterinary assistant teaching, horseback riding and, you know, building my animal training credentials. So, I was a busy person, but my heart was with the animals. Even though I had this other job because I wanted a retirement, I wanted benefits, I needed to pay for the animals. If you can have the best of both worlds and get into a career early on, that's what you love. I would recommend that. But I don't regret anything and I love what I'm doing now. I'm doing animals full time and I'm just as happy as can be. But I would say get an education. Whether that's an apprenticeship with a trainer or behaviorist, getting your certifications or going to a school to obtain those or getting a degree that is somewhat training and behavior related. There aren't a lot of specific animal behavior degrees. There's only a handful of universities that offer them. But something related, even like zoo science or zoology or biology or human behavior science or psychology.
I think that's fantastic advice. Is there a common myth about your profession or the field that you want to debunk?
Yes. Animal training is a science and behavior applied animal behavior is a science. I guess that's the biggest thing that I want to impart, is that I'm doing more science now than ever. I'm reading scientific journals, I'm reading published literature, I'm reading books and going to classes. And so, it's called behavior science, because there is a science of behavior, and that science doesn't change depending on what species you're working with. So, behavior is behavior, whether it's us or a carpet python or a dog or a horse or a frog. Of course, the way that you work with each animal is going to depend on their own natural history and biology. But the behavior science doesn't change, and the laws of learning don't change across species. Learning science is learning science and it is well established at this point.
Oh, that was beautifully said. Thank you so much. So, what is the biggest challenge you're facing in your role or in your project or in your position right now? And how are you tackling it?
It’s going to have to be financial. Animals are not cheap to keep. The snakes are probably the least expensive animal that I actually feed here. I work at an animal sanctuary and we have horses, dogs, and cats. We had all kinds of species llamas, rabbits, rodents, chickens, birds, pigs, you name it. It's been here. And so, animals are expensive and people want to get rid of animals, give you animals, sell you animals, and then you have to be able to pay for their food, their veterinary care, their habitat. You want to give them optimal well-being while they're in your care. And so, the animal itself really isn't always the major expense, it’s the care. And that's my major pitfall right now. There's so much more that I know I could do with my work, but I don't have the money. And I have lots of people that would like to intern and volunteer and come see the animals. But I live in this space where the animals are. So, I don't want a bunch of strangers in the same space that I live in. It's very different for the horses because they have their own building and pastures and people can come and visit and interact with them without coming into my living space. So, it's always like wishing you had an educational building where the public could come to any and engage with you and see the animals when they're not coming into your home. I do accept interns all the time from Pikes Peak State College, and they get a criminal background check, they get vetted, the school is responsible for them. And so, then they do come in and help me with the reptiles.
Oh, that's good. I understand, I've worked non-profit for a number of years myself. It is difficult. Funding is always difficult. So, if you were to go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
To push for some type of animal or behavior related degree in the beginning instead of sort of getting sidetracked with the whole police thing? I mean, I think that if, you know, you have a passion early on, I mean, I've had this passion for animals my whole life and I wish I had gone to school for it before now. I mean, I have an associate of applied science in zoo keeping that I got while I was working for the city. But I wish I had done all that initially and just gotten right into the animal career earlier, but maybe I wouldn't appreciate it as much if I did. I appreciate it so much now and I'm so happy now. Maybe I wouldn't have that feeling if I'd been doing it for 30 years full time instead of part time.
Yeah. No, absolutely. I think that kind of brings back to, you know, giving advice to our younger fans, you know, starting early, if, you know, you want to work with animals, get into it early.
It isn't going to pay a lot. It's not going to be like, “oh, I got my degree in animal science or zoology or psychology and I want to work with animals.” And I mean, you're going to have to struggle to get a foothold in that culture and in that industry and start making money. I mean, I make very I don't make as much money doing this as I did for the police department, but I'm building it and so it's sort of a thing where no one's just going to pay you this specific salary upfront. You're going to have to build that income over time as you build your experience and credentials and get more clients.
I do think that times are changing to, you know, there are a lot more pet focused people and pet focused products pet focused industry that, you know, is creating a lot more careers.
And that’s a great point. So, if you want to work with animals, get your foot in the door and it doesn't matter what it is with the animals. If you're cleaning kennels, if you're working at a veterinary hospital, if you're working at a zoo, even if that's not your goal, get your foot in the door and get some experience with animals of some kind, even if it's not the species of your choice. If you just get in the animal field somehow, lots of things cross over and it will build into other things.
Absolutely. All right. I have one last question. It is what is one question that you wish I would have asked, but I didn't ask and how would you answer? Oh, my goodness.
You didn't ask how many snakes I have! 113 snakes all in habitats. I don't have racks. I have some large tubs that I've put windows in and converted into habitats. But they're all in habitats. They all get varied diets. If they'll accept them, they all get time out of their enclosure if they want it. They don't all want to come out. And they all get individualized care based on who they are as an individual and as a species. And I love it. My husband, for, you know, we have a relationship where we try not to interfere with what the other one wants to do if it's a passion of theirs. And he's living in this house, too, and he's not really a snake person, he doesn't mind snakes, he's not afraid of them or anything. And he'll sometimes help me film or he'll pick one up if I hold one and if I need him to. But, you know, he wouldn't probably have snakes if he wasn't married to me.
Too funny! Oh, well, thank you so much, Lori. It's been a pleasure talking with you.