Originally created 09/05/01

Animal lovers help handle unusual creature cases



SAVANNAH - Tommy Parker has a Burmese python in his bathtub that fancies draping its 8-foot-long body over the shower curtain.

The snake isn't Mr. Parker's pet. It's his side job.

Like hundreds of dogs and cats, the snake got lost. But unlike conventional pets, pythons wider than a man's arm typically aren't welcome at animal shelters or handled by Chatham County Animal Control.

So the snake has lived in Mr. Parker's spare bath in Rincon, Ga., since Aug. 11, when Garden City, Ga., police found the python loose at Arbor Terrace Apartments and called Mr. Parker to take care of the animal. His "found-snake" notices didn't work.

"Animal control won't mess with snakes," said Mr. Parker, a paramedic. "And this is not a snake that you just let out to the wild."

Mr. Parker is among an unofficial string of animal lovers who are backups to Chatham County Animal Control and public safety agencies when it comes to Savannah's stranger creatures.

Police dispatchers and officers call on them - many with nicknames such as "The Bird Lady" - to help rescue an owl that hit a power line or a raccoon hurt in the road. Officers show up at their homes, sometimes with a bird in the paddy wagon, and drop off the animals. Some get as many as five calls a day - either for advice over the phone or to assist with an animal. Most do it for their love of animals, not pay. Sometimes, they temporarily keep the critters while trying to find them homes.

Mr. Parker, who specializes in reptile calls, said he tried to find "Miss Snake" a home. But the reptile's appetite for large rats and its need for a big cage hurt her chances.

"Someone probably bought it and couldn't tend to it anymore," Mr. Parker said.

Rural places such as Bryan and Screven counties are used to dealing with more than just dogs and cats. Last week, Screven County deputies removed a garden snake from a jury room in the courthouse.

But Chatham County Animal Control officers don't have the personnel or training, said Capt. Tom Tracy, the administrative officer over Animal Control.

"We have more than enough to do with cats and dogs," Capt. Tracy said.

At full staff, five animal control officers cover Chatham County.