People often ask about my work as a police officer. Recently, someone asked me if I’d ever saved anyone’s life, you know, in a heroic way. Yes, I was a hero. I saved a life. And I bagged a dangerous fugitive in the process.
It was a dark and dreary night when the dispatcher asked me to assist a wheelchair-bound woman – with an escaped pet snake. Although I’ve never been afraid of snakes, I’ve never wanted one for a pet. I barely remembered taking a fifteen minute snake catching class many years earlier. I had graduated by successfully snaring a fairly small rattlesnake that wasn’t exactly good-natured but was probably accustomed to human handling. The memory didn’t fill me with confidence.
The fugitive’s name was Boo. He’d escaped from his cage, trashed the front bedroom and overturned two bird cages. The parakeet got away by flying into the living room. Smedley the cockatiel wasn’t so lucky. I considered closing the door and offering the number of a reputable wildlife service but I knew the woman wouldn’t sleep while Boo was loose, even behind a closed door.
I confirmed that Boo was not any sort of viper before I peeked around the door jam. All I saw was a snake head the size of my fist. It was attached to a body as big around as my thigh and twice as long as my car. It was also about seven feet off the ground and barely two feet from my face. Boo had climbed to the top of a highboy dresser. He was king of the room. His kingdom was in ruin. The top of his cage was on the floor. A glass table with an aluminum frame was toppled. Plants were capsized. Potting soil was smeared into the carpet. Knick-knacks were strewn about. The bedding was in disarray. One curtain was pulled from its rod. The only thing left standing was a medium sized fern on a tripod.
Boo swung his head at me, opened his mouth and hissed. I was hesitant until I noticed the telltale bulge in Boo’s mid-section. Poor Smedley! The brute! Preying on an innocent bird! Even though my job was to protect and serve, I decided to avenge Smedley.
Whether he liked it or not, Boo was going to go back to his cage. This was war.
Snake catching is a delicate art. The trick is to gain control by pinning its head down. In snake catching class, we’d used wire coat hangers. I twisted one into a snare and slid it over Boo’s head. He bent it like it was string. When he started to retreat down the back of the dresser, I grabbed his body. Every time I pulled him back a foot, he pulled me forward two. We were playing push-me-pull-me, and I was losing. His head came around the left side of the dresser. He glared at me. It was a telepathic moment. I let go. When his whole body disappeared, I leaned over the potted fern to peer cautiously around the right side of the dresser. I jumped about four feet when I heard a chirp inches from my ear. I parted the fern’s leaves. There, standing perfectly still, wide-eyed with terror, was Smedley.
I was elated. Smedley lives! I held out my index finger, “Come with me if you want to live.” Smedley stepped onto my finger like a gentleman and sank his beak into my hand like a cad. I flinched and he flew. In his panic, he crashed into the wall and started to fall behind the dresser. It was like a slow motion movie scene. I stumbled across the room, arms outstretched. I caught Smedley just as Boo’s head popped up. But Boo was too late. I carried Smedley from the battlefield. Then I doubled up the coat hanger and returned to finish the job I’d come to do.
Boo had emerged to hunt for Smedley. The last three feet of him remained under the dresser. The first three feet of him rose up to greet me. The rest of him just stayed on the floor in an impressive show of bulk. I slid my reinforced coat hanger over his head. He bent it, seeming to laugh at my silliness. It was my turn to retreat. When I backed up, my foot struck the sturdy aluminum frame of the overturned table. An epiphany! I grabbed the sturdy frame and used it to pin Boo’s head down. I resisted the urge to step on it. I didn’t want to be accused of using excessive force.
I grabbed him behind his head. He was too heavy to carry but, once caught, he was obliging, as some criminals can be. He assisted me by lifting himself off the floor and coiling himself around my arm. My left hand held his head securely. His body held my right hand and arm securely. We were at an impasse.
That’s when I realized that I couldn’t reach my police radio, but it didn’t matter. By the time help arrived, I would have been wrapped in a snake like Mowgli from The Jungle Book. I managed to wriggle my arm out of my jacket sleeve and dump most of Boo onto the floor. A struggle ensued with me trying to elude capture and him trying to elude imprisonment but I was able to drag him across the room and stuff him, coil by coil, into his cage.
Smedley was safe and Boo was incarcerated. My work was finished. I drove off into a night that seemed a little less dreary, a hero in every sense of the word.
Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com