The Morning File / Boa on the loose in Philly must be slithering toward my place


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Sorry if the column seems a little tired today. Not getting much sleep lately. Not since reading last week that a boa constrictor was on the loose in suburban Philadelphia.

Yes, it does seem a bit of a stretch to think that this 7-foot boa, a Swarthmore veterinarian's pet named "Snakey," would end up making its way to my particular home some 300 miles away. But it can't be ruled out; the odds seem just as astronomical against winning the Powerball, and yet we keep seeing people on television holding oversized checks to show it has occurred.

A boa constrictor can typically travel 1 mph. Not quite Usain Bolt speed, but if our calculations are correct, a snake leaving Swarthmore last Monday with its internal GPS aimed at my abode could be on my doorstep -- or under my bed, or in my closet, or slithering out of my toilet (at the worst possible time, no doubt) -- a week from now. And that's what I'll be worried about for the next week, unless he (she? it?) is found.

An estimated one-third of the human population has ophidiophobia, an irrational, crazed, idiotic fear of snakes. This one's not proud of it. Rather ashamed, actually. Know all about how they do a lot more good than harm, they're more afraid of us than we are of them, we'd be overrun with rats and other vermin if not for them. Undoubtedly, they've gotten a bad rap ever since Genesis (referring to the Bible, not the rock group).

Doesn't make a bit of difference. I could no more stand being locked up in a room with one of them than with a group of Yankees fans.

People like David Spiegel view snakes differently, of course. He's Snakey's owner, and he says the boa lives a safe, well-adjusted life with him and his wife, their two cats and small dog. They raised their kids around the 23-year-old snake.

Mr. Spiegel's accustomed on nice summer days like last Monday to letting Snakey outside near the back door to soak up the sun. The snake is checked on periodically. On this particular occasion, however, it disappeared.

Mr. Spiegel called police, but he says Snakey's of no danger to anyone except small animals like rodents.

"He's not out to do anyone harm," the veterinarian said. "We're just looking to get him home safely."

It's nice that the boa is apparently such a mild-mannered friend of mankind.

"They have a good demeanor and do make a good pet," Jason Bell, curator of reptiles at the Philadelphia Zoo, told the Delaware County Times. "They're not venomous, they're from Central and South America normally and they're a calm snake."

So Snakey's nothing like the python that got loose from a pet store enclosure this month and then fell through a ceiling hole into an apartment bedroom in New Brunswick, Canada, and killed the two boys sleeping there. Apparently, that wasn't the python's fault either -- it was frightened and just couldn't help itself.

Just saying, however, such incidents make it hard to feel a real bond with any species of the slithering, squeezing kind. Maybe this is why I'm not really one of those "hugger" people, who just feel like they have to embrace and air kiss people they come in contact with after not seeing them for more than, oh, the past 24 hours. I must be worried the person could suddenly transform into a snake -- which I think did in fact happen in a Harry Potter movie, so yes, it's possible -- and will squeeze tightly until I've been constricted beyond repair.

It would be much cooler to be the kind of person who enjoys being around snakes, even walks down the street with one coiled around the shoulders. Those people get respect. Bad people think twice before messing with a snake-walker.

Of course, the kind of person who has a giant snake for a pet does sometimes seem just a teensy bit like a person who might be a little off-kilter himself, and perhaps even deranged and dangerous, probably far moreso than the snake. But we're not saying that about all snake owners, mind you. It might be three-fourths of them, but we don't want to stereotype the whole group just because of a majority.

So yes, it's going to be a tough week ahead, unless and until Snakey is found, especially because of all the reptiles that deranged people reading the paragraph above are now going to leave on my doorstep. Let's just hope they don't know a way to access my toilet.

state - intelligencer - petstories

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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