Since the beginning of March, I’ve started my official training at the animal ambulance service. What this entails is an introductory training course two evenings a week plus the start of on-the-job training. This latter involves riding along with an experienced ambulance crew under the leadership of trainer Roos to practice our newly learned skills in the field. Monday was my first time riding along with Roos and Francisca, the other ambulance personnel for that shift. It looked like it was going to be a fairly quiet day filled with relatively routine calls: a coot with an infected foot, a sick pigeon, a rabbit with myxomatosis, and taking an elderly client with her dog to the vet for a nail trimming. Even on the most routine days, however, the work is quite varied.
Nothing quite demonstrates the varied nature of this work like the two most noteworthy calls we responded to that day. The first was to come and pick up two goldfish – yes, goldfish – that had been found in a filthy aquarium during an eviction process. It did my heart good to know that the bailiff actually went to the trouble of contacting us to remove the fish rather than flushing his fishy “problem” down the drain. They had been placed in clean water in a glass bowl, inside a large plastic bag, inside a bucket. They looked (as far as I could tell) like happy and healthy little fishies and we brought them back to headquarters and fed them while dispatch tried to find a shelter willing to take them in.
The second call was out to a house where a snake had apparently been spotted in the back yard. This was exciting. We had no idea what would be awaiting us at this house. Would it be the harmless native Grass snake, the not-so-harmless but rarely seen native Adder, or an escaped exotic (which could be either venomous or non-venomous)? What had seemed like it was shaping up to be a day of routine runs was suddenly tinged with the thrill of the unusual and the unknown. It was with bated breath that we drove out to the neighborhood of duplexes where the snake had been spotted. At the door of the address we’d been given we were greeted by a woman in a state of near hysterical panic. “Where did you see the snake?” she was asked. In bits and pieces the story unfolded. She’d seen the “huge” (demonstrated by her taking two big steps to indicate its length) creature in her garden. Five days ago. It had not been seen since then.
We took a look around her garden, checked along the sides of the house outside the garden fence, and even emptied her (very cluttered) shed to make sure the offending critter was gone. We allowed her to look into every corner with a flashlight to reassure her that the snake had well and truly departed the scene.
Rather than being comforted by this, her panic escalated. Because her door had been open around that time, she was afraid it might have slipped into her house unnoticed. She had heard some noises in one of her cupboards and as evidence of the animal’s presence in her house she showed us the toe of a slipper and some plastic bags that had holes chewed into them.
Roos tried to assure her that snakes eat neither cloth nor plastic, and that perhaps what she had heard and what had caused the damage was something more in the order of rodentia (ie. mice), but seeing as this was “nieuwbouw” (a relatively recently built house), the panicked homeowner waved this off as an impossibility. Wanting to reassure her further, Francisca asked her from which cupboard these sounds had emanated. It was the closet near the front door. So, with the woman gasping with fear and running into the other room, Francisca opened the door and handed years’ worth of collected clutter to Roos and myself so that she could show the frightened woman that there was no snake hiding in her front closet. Thinking this would satisfy her, we suggested that the serpent – having last been seen five days earlier – was long departed from the scene and that if she were to see it again that she should call us right away. What we hadn’t counted on was how this woman’s friends and family had been feeding her fear. She had spent the intervening nights sleeping at a friend’s house where the flames of her panic were fanned by her friends and her daughter who suggested that perhaps the offending reptile had since found its way into the walls of the house and would be waiting for her to drop her guard so it could come out and attack her in her sleep.
We then proceeded, with Francisca maintaining the patience of a saint and Roos and I trying to contain both our frustration and mirth about the situation, to follow the woman around her three-story house, divesting every closet and cupboard of its dusty contents (where we encountered further evidence of the presence of the suspected muridae), moving every piece of furniture away from the wall, and looking under every piece of clutter in every room (including her teenage daughter’s room and the attic) to assure her that Elvis had truly left the building (and likely had never entered it in the first place).
When we were back in the car, all we could do was laugh. We were all somewhat disappointed that the offending reptile was no longer anywhere to be found; snake calls are not common and it would have been an exciting call to be part of. We had been there for an hour on a wild-snake chase, but at least we had a good story to tell. And on the bright side, we’d helped the customer on her way to some much-needed spring cleaning.