Snake and ladders – Alison Healy on the perils of minding someone else’s pet

It’s really so hard to get a good snake charmer in north Kildare these days

It is always an anxious moment when you are minding someone’s pet and you temporarily lose sight of it.

That anxiety was ramped up significantly for friends of mine recently because the missing animal is not the kind of pet that people are thrilled to find in their vicinity.

You see, their son had a snake but then he got a job abroad and emigrated. Thanks to that Samuel L Jackson movie, people are a bit jittery about snakes on planes these days, and a plan to rehome her fell through. And so, my friends found themselves taking custody of Marci, a very attractive one-and-a-half metre long corn snake.

The occasionally absent-minded husband decided to pay some attention to Marci one day and slid open the glass door of her vivarium for some quality bonding time.


All was going wonderfully until he left her unattended for a moment.

Upon spying the open door, Marci suddenly became alive to the possibilities outside her tank.

For a snake who slithered around her vivarium at a glacial pace, she now showed surprising alacrity and when he returned the slippery serpent had vanished without a trace.

The couple searched tirelessly for Marci over the coming days, but she proved extremely elusive.

It’s really so hard to get a good snake charmer in north Kildare these days so their options were limited.

They placed her dinner of a defrosted rat in the middle of the floor in an attempt to lure her out of hiding and used a fan to disperse the smell, but she remained stubbornly out of view. However, the fan did did send a rather earthy aroma wafting through the house at a time when most homes smelled of mince pies and pine needles.

The heating and hot water was turned off to drive Marci into the open and eventually they were forced to remove some skirting boards in the hope of finding the reclusive runaway.

Luckily, before they contemplated lifting the entire roof off the house, Marci was discovered lurking in the bookcase. Four days after the great snake escape, the cultured reptile was nestling among the CDs and books. Was she in search of Whitesnake’s greatest hits? Or perhaps she was on the hunt for Snakes and Ladders? We will never know but we do know that she returned to her vivarium without having a hissy fit.

Our friends were lucky that it ended so well for Marci. In other cases, escaped snakes have surfaced in neighbours’ toilets, vacuum cleaners and car bonnets.

Ten years ago, a Laois grandmother noticed a tail sticking out from under a bed in her spare room and thought it belonged to a child’s toy.

She was about to tug on it when she noticed it was moving. It was a metre long snake that had escaped from a house nearby.

The hot summer of 2018 saw a spate of snakes on the loose in Britain. In one case, a woman awoke in her Kensington apartment to find a python curled up in her bed. She raised the alarm, but the sleepy suspect slithered away before it could be apprehended. It re-emerged to be captured the following day.

A few days later, a visually impaired man in Exeter heard a crash in his bathroom and investigated. He felt a large tubular shape on the floor and thought it was insulation that had fallen from a height. He tried to pick it up before realising that he needed back-up.

It was a python, almost 2.5 metres long, that had escaped from a pet shop nearby and moved through the plumbing to arrive in his bathroom.

But no snake escapade was as dramatic as the one in 2010, when a wandering monocled cobra set off a chain of events that saw an apartment block being evacuated and culminated in one of the most expensive pet hunts Germany had seen in many years.

A 19-year-old mislaid his poisonous reptile in his apartment in the city of Mülheim. Because snakes have an ability to squeeze through the tiniest holes, the fire services evacuated the entire apartment block, sealed the windows and doors and took the snake owner’s apartment apart.

It took three weeks before the hooded Houdini was found, dead, in the owner’s apartment. The unemployed tenant had paid ¤70 for the snake but the operation to find him cost €100,000.

“He’s going to be getting a bill from us,” said the surprisingly optimistic city council spokesman Volker Wiebels.

However, he remained stoically silent on the young man’s prospects of securing a new tenancy.

I serpently wouldn’t hold out much hope.