Turkey, the 4-foot, non-venomous snake that kept the Fitzgerald family in South Baltimore on edge since Thanksgiving, was caught yesterday.
The family was relieved, to say the least.
"I'd rather have a mouse in the house instead of a snake any day," said Lucille Fitzgerald, under whose kitchen Turkey had nested. "I can handle a mouse. I haven't slept for three nights."
"He's out!" said Joyce Agresott, Mrs. Fitzgerald's daughter. "I'm just going to let Pat have him. We don't care now."
Pat is Pat Dunnigan, who owns Boa Breeders of Riverside in Harford County. He drove 30 miles yesterday morning to nab the reptile by tearing up part of the Fitzgeralds' kitchen floor and taking the snake -- rolled up like a ball -- from his nest.
It was Mr. Dunnigan, who was called into the case by another snake expert, who named Turkey.
Mr. Dunnigan said Turkey, a ball python that is native to Africa, was feeling poorly, having caught a cold in the kitchen hide-out where the temperature is about 40 degrees.
The snake frightened Mrs. Fitzgerald and her daughter, Barbara, on Thanksgiving morning when it slithered out from under the floor boards and nibbled at the family dog's food as the women were cooking dinner.
The family called police. An officer who responded wrestled with Turkey, but the snake broke free and retreated to his nest beneath the water heater, where he remained all weekend, keeping the Fitzgeralds on edge.
Mr. Dunnigan located Turkey by poking underneath part of the rotten wooden floor with a steel rod. The snake later entwined himself around Mr. Dunnigan's neck to warm up as Mrs. Fitzgerald and her family breathed sighs of relief.
Police and an animal control warden incorrectly guessed last week that Turkey was a boa constrictor.
After a quick inspection, Mr. Dunnigan identified the snake as a male ball python, which suffocates its prey of small mice and gerbils and loves temperatures of at least 85 degrees. The snake expert also said that Turkey needs antibiotics immediately to cure his cold.
"He didn't have a good tongue flicker," which is an indication that the snake is not feeling well, Mr. Dunnigan said.
"He's on his last leg now. I'll give him a couple of needles, turn the temperature up and try to feed him. We'll see if it works."
Mrs. Fitzgerald said that neither she nor her neighbors knew where Turkey came from or how he had gotten into her house.
Mr. Dunnigan believes Turkey was a pet snake that escaped this summer because it is clean and does not have ticks or parasites like a serpent from the wild would have.
He said that pythons sometimes travel on boats or trains with goods being imported into this country. Earlier this year, he got a ball python that was found in the garage of a woman in Baltimore County who discovered the snake coiled around the air filter of her new car when she opened the hood to show a friend the engine.
"This snake is the escape artist of all snakes," Mr. Dunnigan said. "It can get out of almost any cage. It is small and stubby, strong and powerful. It can also go two years without eating."
Mr. Dunnigan estimated that Turkey has lived under the Fitzgeralds' basement kitchen floor for about six months and dined on mice.
The light brown snake with soft scales will now live with 11 other serpents at Mr. Dunnigan's house, where he plans to breed Turkey with another python.
"It's a celebrity snake, you know," Mr. Dunnigan said.