BUSHWICK — When Clifton Smith fell in love with Venom 12 years ago, she was a three-inch worm whose pastel yellow hue made her stand out from the 60 brown baby Burmese pythons that slithered in a Colorado pet store.
"You never find albinos in the wild, they can't blend in to survive," Smith explained of his choice. "Plus, I thought she was pretty."
Now, after feeding her biweekly live rabbit-and-chicken meals, carting her from Denver to the East Coast and frolicking with her around Brooklyn, Smith has nourished his reptile to the strong, healthy size of 15 feet and 150 pounds.
"I know her temperament, she's calm and cool except when she's hungry," Smith, 43, said as Venom wound around his front gate on St. Nicholas Avenue in Bushwick one recent afternoon.
"She loves to come out and exercise when it's warm."
And Smith, a Brownsville native who houses Venom in a tank in his apartment, said she and his other pets — two pit bulls, a cat and a large Arowana fish — constitute a harmonious family whose members live in mutual respect.
"My animals are my kids," he said.
"The snake doesn't bother the dog, the dog doesn't bother the snake, they just walk right over each other," he said as the different species played together on his stoop and passersby stopped to watch.
And in the apartment, he said, his pit bulls sit to watch when he feeds Venom her live meals.
"They watch her eat like they're humans watching TV," he said. "They jump clean out of their skin right when she starts, but then they come back to watch."
To Smith, his pets make more sense than people ever could.
"I respect animals more than humans because they only hunt for food and if they're being threatened, snakes will warn you first," he said.
"They'll only attack something for a reason."
Some of his neighbors admitted that Venom had changed their notions of snakes as they got to know her over the years.
"It stops traffic, cop cars do a U-turn to look at it," said St. Nicholas Avenue resident Mildred Delvalle.
"It frightened me at first, but then I touched it and it feels like leather. It's healthy and being taken care of."