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    Capture of Jake calms neighbors

    Before a warning spread pythonic panic in Clearwater, the snake had already been caught by a reptile trapper.

    [Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
    Jake, an 11-foot Burmese python, slithers through the grass at the Humane Society of North Pinellas on Saturday.

    By AMY WIMMER

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 19, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Jake's beady eyes didn't dance with recognition at the sight of his master. He didn't nuzzle his owner. He didn't lick his face.

    "They don't have feelings or know ownership like a dog or cat," William Wright, 40, said of his 11-foot Burmese python, Jake. The two were reunited Saturday, more than two days after Jake escaped from his backyard cage at 1441 Pine St. "But I tend to think there's a lot between me and Jake."

    In any case, the reunion was brief. Jake will remain in the custody of the professional reptile trapper who caught him, pending the outcome of an investigation into Jake's captive living conditions and what led to his escape.

    "The animal will not be released back to them until I can see it's housed in a safe manner where this isn't going to happen again," said Steve DeLacure, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lieutenant who will handle the inspection.

    Jake was caught about 10 p.m. Wednesday, two days before Wright's family decided to inform the Humane Society of North Pinellas of Jake's disappearance. The Humane Society issued an urgent warning Friday, informing the public of Jake's escape and urging parents and pet owners to keep their eyes open.

    Jake's capture has restored peace of mind in his Clearwater neighborhood. According to Humane Society of North Pinellas director Rick Chaboudy, the organization received hundreds of calls Saturday from freaked-out Clearwater residents.

    One promised to guard his yard with a shotgun; another offered to assemble a posse to locate Jake.

    But Jake's freedom was short-lived. Less than two hours after he escaped, a motorist saw him slithering across the street and into a bush about two blocks from where he escaped. The driver informed the home's residents, who called Clearwater police, who called snake trapper Mark Neff.

    Saturday morning, Neff read of Jake's escape in the St. Petersburg Times and figured he had the right reptile, though Jake's description wasn't a close match to the snake Neff had in custody.

    Wright and his family guessed that Jake was 161/2 feet long and weighed 180 pounds; the snake Neff caught was 11 feet long and weighed 40 pounds. But Wright insists it's Jake. "I know it's him," Wright said. "I nursed him back to health."

    Jake has joined other pythons at the trapper's house while the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigates. Neff said most of his pet snakes started out as someone else's pets, but they were set free by former owners once they got too big to handle.

    Typically, once he captures a snake, he keeps it to give it a home. Newspaper classifieds are already crowded with advertisements for pet snakes.

    "Normally, no one ever tries" to get the snake back once it is captured, Neff said.

    And Wright and his family might wish they hadn't stepped forward to publicize their missing snake, he said. "I would doubt the people get the snake back," Neff said. "I would guess instead they get a nice fine."

    After a quick look at Jake's belly, Wright was relieved.

    "He ain't that lumpy," Wright said. "At least he didn't eat nobody's cat."

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