I think it’s safe to say that most urban dogs have not encountered a large snake. But there is something about a snake that elicits in the canine DNA — as it does in a human’s — a visceral reaction. And so it was with some alarm that two dachshunds out last week for an afternoon walk with their owner along the alley of Ingleside Terrace NW reacted to a legless reptile in their midst.
Would other dogs have reacted differently? Would a larger dog have thrown itself at the serpent? Did the dachshunds realize they were small enough to possibly be a meal — two meals — for the snake?
Or did the wiener dogs and the snake find the whole thing slightly discomfiting? Did they look at each other and think: You are long and low to the ground. Are we really so very different?
But, frankly, I don’t know what the dogs were thinking. I did not speak to them. I spoke to Joe Keyerleber, a retired filmmaker who lives with his wife, Jodi, on Ingleside Terrace, which is in Mount Pleasant. On Aug. 20, Joe was walking Junior, his golden retriever, when he came upon the tableau: woman, dachshunds, snake.
The snake, Joe estimated, was about six feet long and as wide around as his forearm. It was attractively patterned in mottled browns and taupes.
“It was all curled up in a ball in some grass,” Joe said.
Ingleside backs up to Rock Creek Park, and residents are accustomed to animals venturing out from the forest, though none could remember seeing a six-foot snake.
“The next thing I knew, about a dozen people were standing around there looking at this snake,” Joe said. “None of us really knew what, if anything, we should do about it.”
Some in the crowd thought the snake should be saved. Some didn’t. One neighbor suggested the snake — a probable danger to pets and small children — should be dispatched to snake heaven. He went off to get his shovel, the tool deemed best for snakeicide.
A call was placed to the District’s animal control office. Was the snake in someone’s house, the person at animal control asked.
Then we’re not coming, Joe said the officer said.
This annoyed the residents of Ingleside Terrace, who thought that this was a clear-cut case of an animal in need of control and thus fit perfectly into the agency’s mandate. After some cajoling, animal control agreed to come.
Said Joe: “They said, ‘Okay, we’ll send someone out, but if the snake is healthy, we’re just going to leave it.’ ”
The neighborhood police officer came by and warned people not to go near the snake.
In the meantime, word had gone out on the neighborhood e-mail message group that a snake had been found. Someone posted something to Craigslist, too.
The man with the shovel returned but rather than using it to flatten the snake, or chop it into cutlets, he helped Joe lift the snake into a recycling bin. Then a neighbor who had seen the e-mail posting said he would take the snake. He had a terrarium the snake could live in. He just needed to go to the pet store to buy some mice.
When animal control arrived, it said the snake was a ball python, a stranger to these parts. (They are originally from Africa.)
“I know that in Florida they’ve got thousands of pythons in the Everglades that they can’t get rid of,” Joe said. Maybe this was proof the snakes were migrating north?
No, said the animal control officer. It was probably a pet released into the park. A python, he explained, wouldn’t be able to survive our winters. It probably would have been okay in Rock Creek Park until the weather turned cold.
The residents of Ingleside Terrace are happy their snake has found a home. Who knows how many other pythons are in Rock Creek Park, sssssilently praying for more global warming?
It is an unwritten law in journalism that one often makes an error when correcting an error. Several readers said I did that in my item Monday about the word “peruse,” in which I offhandedly mentioned that the expression “the hoi polloi” is often misused. It means the masses, not the elite.
Since “hoi” is Greek for “the,” picky readers said that by writing “the hoi polloi” I was basically saying “the the masses.”
But the first known reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the poet John Dryden, who used the “the.” So did Lord Byron. I feel like I’m in good good company.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.