Pet snakes join La. man for evacuation journey

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When Hurricane Gustav evacuee William Blanchard packed up toleave Houma, La., early Sunday morning, there were a few friends hewasn’t going to leave behind.

“I told everybody, ‘I’m not leaving without my snakes,'”Blanchard said, recounting the moment of truth when warned that hishome may see 6 to 8 feet of flood water.

Blanchard, 26, was in luck when he arrived at Sylvarena BaptistChurch in Wesson later Sunday afternoon. He found that thevolunteers there – who come from not only Sylvarena but Zion Hill,Strong Hope and Wesson Baptist churches – were just fine with histwo pythons, his king snake and his corn snake.

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Sylvarena pastor Stuart Givens just told Blanchard to keep thesnakes in their cages – or else they would be dead snakes.

“We found this place by the grace of God,” Blanchard said of histemporary home on the edge of Wesson. “If I couldn’t find a shelterthat would take them, I’d be sleeping on the road.”

Blanchard has become quite popular among the shelter’s 92evacuees.

Jaws hang ajar and big eyes follow Blanchard’s feet as he slowlymakes his way out the back door, through the rain and toward thebuilding where the Baptists let him keep his snakes. The kidsfollow him out there to watch him pick up the snakes, handle them,drape them around his neck and give them little smooches.

“People are scared of ’em, but I’m not scared,” Blanchard saidof his snakes. “I find them the coolest reptiles to be aroundpeople. If you keep feeding them on a regular basis and play withthem on a regular basis, they’ll never turn on you.”

Blanchard makes sure his snakes know that he’s the good guy. Athis home in Houma, he lets the snakes out periodically to roamaround the house and taste the air above various carpets and coffeetables. He even lets them crawl around in his bed.

“They need their exercise just like any other pet,” Blanchardsaid.

As long as you play by the rules, Blanchard said the snakeswould be harmless. They have to be fed in “feeding cages,” he said,because feeding snakes in their “living cages” would cause one’shand to become associated with food.

He claims that’s the only time he’s been bitten in more than 12years of owning snakes as pets.

“I got bit once, and it was my fault,” Blanchard said.

With the proper application of hand soap, Blanchard keeps hissnakes eating what they’re supposed to eat. The python is treatedto a big, fat rat once per month, and the king and corn snakes dineon “little fuzzies” – frozen baby mice purchased at PETCO.

Blanchard makes sure he doesn’t feed his snakes either of theChihuahuas he owns – or his border collie, his rat terrier or hisboxer. He has all the canines with him at Sylvarena as well.

Blanchard’s animals are part of Sylvarena’s total of 14 dogs,five cats, a mouse, a gerbil, a fish and a couple of birds – allbrought in from Louisiana as precious Gustav cargo.

Givens, himself an animal lover, has no problem with lookingafter animals as well as men at his church.

“Pets are just part of people’s families,” he said. “We’retrying to be available to help people with their needs. If ananimal is important to somebody, we try to accommodate them.”