Published: June 10, 2008
Updated: May 15, 2013 at 06:28 PM
ST. PETERSBURG - Six-year-old Amaya Crabtree walked past the nearly nude woman and asked, "Who are you?""A snake," said Christine Perry, who was covered in body paint and lying flat on the sidewalk while making herself appear limbless by holding her arms close to her sides."I love snakes!" the girl said with a big smile.The unusual lunchtime encounter at The Pier today was part of an animal-rights demonstration held by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The group said it was calling attention to the suffering that snakes and other reptiles endure when skinned for clothing and accessories, part of a protest tour of Florida that began Sunday in West Palm Beach.PETA chose the location primarily to target a Pier store called The Hideout, which sells exotic leather clothing and accessories made from animals including eels, water buffalos and ostriches, as well as reptiles.The store's owner, Fred Snook, said he had no problem with the demonstration."They have every right to their opinion and to protest," he said. "We have a difference of opinion from them. Our opinion is that things are farmed and they're food first, basically."Although most people don't consider reptiles "sweet and cuddly, they still suffer," said Cassandra Curbelo, campaign specialist for the Norfolk, Va.-based organization. "They still feel the same level of pain and fear as other animals."Snakes are commonly nailed to trees or posts and skinned alive, she said, and alligators are often beaten to death with hammers or axes.Snook said if snakes and alligators are being killed in the way PETA described, "then that's wrong and it should be stopped.""It's the least I can do for the animals," said Perry, 25, as she baked in the sun for an hour on the approach to the downtown tourist attraction on Tampa Bay.Perry, of Norfolk, said she is a full-time staff member with PETA who spends most of her time planning and participating in protests.A St. Petersburg artist, whom Curbelo declined to name, spent four hours this morning painting Perry's body, which was covered only by panties, to resemble snakeskin: Her belly and front were white and her back was covered in gold, yellow and black spots.Holding a towel to her chest, Perry lay on the sidewalk in a snake-like position, occasionally taking sips from bottled water that Curbelo held to her lips. Behind Perry was a grass-green poster that read, "Exotic Skins Belong in the Jungle Not on Your Feet."Two police officers watched the spectacle from an unmarked car to make sure no laws were broken.Shoppers, joggers and others did double-takes, snapped photographs or just gawked."Everybody has a cause, I guess," said Craig Dobbs of St. Petersburg. "As long as they stand up for what they believe, I guess it's all right.'Holding up the ring on his left hand, he said: "I'm wearing stingray skin in my jewelry, that I bought right here. I didn't kill it."