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Who should pay for finding Penelope, the runaway snake?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  February 10, 2011 11:25 AM

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The odyssey of Penelope the snake ended happily last week, when the reptile, which had been on the loose on the T for a month, was finally located aboard a Red Line train and returned to its grateful owner.

But, while the Dumeril's boa is not venomous, many commenters in the days since have been — and are calling for Penelope‚Äôs owner, Melissa Moorhouse of Allston, to be held responsible for the expense and delays caused by the snake search.

"I honestly think they should calculate how much time and money was spent looking for the snake and make the owners reimburse the MBTA," AlyGator wrote. Two letters to the editor in the Globe yesterday faulted the owner, who was carrying the snake around her neck when it slithered away.

In an email to the Globe, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo didn't directly answer a question about the cost of the snake hunt, saying instead that "our primary concern is for the customers inconvenienced when someone doesn't adhere to the T's pet policy."

"Small domestic pets must be transported in a secured animal carrier...and that applies to Penelope too," he wrote.

Yet, there was undoubtedly some cost incurred when the T took an entire train out of service to capture an escaped boa. And the questions that have been raised over who pays for the incident illuminate a larger question — where are the limits of when the public should be expected to abosrb the cost of individual decisions that are, at best, questionable?

Similar dilemmas have cropped up over who should pay for the costs associated with obesity, wilderness search-and-rescues, and collateralized debt obligations.

For instance, reckless hikers who get lost in the White Mountains can be billed for their rescue, a policy the Globe editorial board applauded in 2008.

On the other hand, AIG got $180 billion from the government to survive, so that its CEO could continue to lecture others on personal responsibility. Go figure.

As for Penelope, she is safely back home. But for any future cases of snakes on a train, some less snake-friendly readers have been suggesting the T take an action that seems to straight out of Homer.

Globe photo: Penelope, 3, the snake lost by Melissa Moorhouse lost while riding the T.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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