Friday, 10 July 2015

"Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers creep."

This guy. This fucking guy.
German proverb.

About three or four weeks ago, I was changing the snakes' water and commenting to Kyle that Ket had been particularly shy recently. He's always the more reticent of the two, so it's not unusual for us not to see him for a few days. But even by his hermity standards, he seemed reclusive. When we carefully poked around the tank for him, we found out why.

He'd escaped.

Let me stress that both snake tanks have very good locks on them. Ket has form for escaping and after his last, six-month-long stretch of freedom, we have been positively paranoid about those locks. The tanks are never left open unless we have the snakes out. The snakes are never left unattended. How he escaped was, and is, a mystery. I would swear blind there was no way he could get out, but he was gone.

And we were devastated. I mean, one escape is bad luck, but two? I felt guilty, irresponsible, and extremely worried about the possibility of Ket and Fergus running into each other (last time Ket escaped, Fergus was still living with my parents). So we did what we did last time: we tore the house apart looking for Ket. To no avail. Never underestimate how many nooks and crannies your house has that are snake-friendly and inaccessible to you.

The next step when hunting down a lost snake is to leave flour across the doorways at night, so you can see if he's been exploring the house under cover of darkness. Here's the thing though - snakes stick close to walls and floorboards; they don't like being out in open spaces. So the probability of him merrily making his way from room to room or heading upstairs was pretty slim. It's much more likely that he'd shelter behind a bookcase, under a floorboard, etc. We tried the flour trick anyway, but if Ket was slithering around at night, he was avoiding the flour.

The next-next step is to lay a trap, in the form of a big, empty coke bottle and a dead mouse. Yes, sorry, it's not a pleasant trap. The idea is your hungry snake will crawl inside to eat the mouse, then be too lethargic and big to squeeze out again. Here's the thing about that though - adult snakes can go several months quite happily without eating. And in the summer, leaving dead mice around the house in coke bottles is not the best. But we tried anyway, pretty much knowing it wouldn't work, and we were right.

There are other options. Stuff crumpled-up plastic bags into all those snake-friendly nooks and crannies, then wait for dark and see if he comes out and disturbs them. You could even try leaving his tank in the middle of a room and see if he decides to head back there for a nap. But what you need most is patience. As we well know, what with the whole "six months of freedom" adventure Ket had previously been on.

But you know, when your beloved pet is lost, it's really hard to be patient. And we're having a heatwave here in the UK - windows and doors have been open day and night. And as patient and hopeful as we wanted to be, we had to accept there was a strong possibility Ket had found his way outside and was having a happy life as a wild snake.

Devastating. But impossible not to think about.

Earlier this week we reluctantly started to discuss what to do if Ket didn't show up again. Kyle wanted to move Remic into Ket's tank (after cleaning it thoroughly) as it's slightly taller and Rem loves to climb.

Rem is highly susceptible to plastic bags, unlike Ket
I wanted to put that off as long as possible, just in case, but agreed Rem would be happier with those extra few inches of climbing space. So. Here comes the plot twist.

Last night after dinner I emptied the kitchen bin, as is my wont. I then opened the cupboard under the sink to get a new bin bag.

And there was Ket.

I mean, right there. On top of the bin bags, apparently enjoying a bit of urban exploration. As I did not expect to see a snake in my cupboard when I opened it, I screamed. Ket startled. I grabbed him, In the wild, something grabbing a snake unexpectedly is probably a bird of prey and that snake is dead. Their reactions are therefore extremely fast. Getting hold of him at all was pure luck on my part. Thus ensued a tense stand-off with me on my knees and my head in the cupboard and Ket halfway down a gap at the back of said cupboard. I'm terrified of hurting him by hanging on, but I'm terrified of losing him by letting go. And snakes are strong, okay. Really strong. There was no way I was going to force him out of his hidey-hole.

By this point, Kyle is behind me demanding information and I am having a massive adrenaline surge because yelling man + freaked-out snake = angst. I managed to get a better hold on him and with a combination of raw determination and lots of ridiculous baby talk, I eased Ket out of the cupboard.

Yeah, no, he was pissed off. Terrified too, I'm sure. I'm lucky he didn't simply thrash his way out of my grip again. So now I've got my hands full of angry snake (and Ket is so chilled-out normally, I felt like I'd grabbed hold of the Incredible Hulk) and Kyle is rushing to unlock Ket's tank, refill his water dish and generally give me somewhere to put this flailing bundle of scales.

"It's okay, baby," I tell Ket. Ket does not believe me. Ket bites me. "You little shit!" I cry, more affronted than hurt (corn snake bites are not painful but they are insulting). But it's fine! The tank is ready! And Ket shot in and hid under his dinosaur skull while we locked the tank and exclaimed "oh my god! Holy shit! What are the odds!" over and over for the next hour.

So. Ket's Second Grand Tour ends. I almost certainly did not get up three times in the night to check he was still in his tank. Tonight we'll see if he wants to eat and over the weekend we'll check him out properly, once all three of us are a bit calmer. We noticed some superficial damage to his scales, which will sort itself out when he next sheds, but we'll both feel better if we can take a proper look at him and make sure all is well. Hopefully this weekend we'll also get down to our local exotic pet shop and look into a new tank for Rem, so we can then move Ket into Rem's current digs. It's a newer, studier tank, and although we still haven't worked out how Ket escaped in the first place, it doesn't seem worth keeping a tank which has proved not to be snake-proof.

And that, my friends, was my Thursday evening.

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