Unwelcome Guest : Slithers Are Giving El Cajon Family the Shivers

Times Staff Writer

An uninvited guest dropped in on an El Cajon family recently. The guest is quiet, doesn’t eat much; in fact, they haven’t even seen him lately. Still, they’d like him to leave. The problem is, they can’t find anyone to help him on his way.

The guest is a 7-foot, 100-pound reticular python that escaped from a next-door neighbor’s apartment several weeks ago. The owner, who is in New York for the next three months, left town thinking the snake had been stolen.

Apparently, however, the snake left of its own accord, eventually finding its way into the adjacent apartment, where 21-year-old Peggy Pioterek first spotted it wrapped around the dining room rafters.

“I went in to fix breakfast the next morning and there was snake skin all over the dining room table,” said Jeanenne Morgan, who shares a duplex on the west side of El Cajon with Pioterek.


The two women admitted they were afraid of the reptile but said they were more frustrated than anything else. Morgan called the El Cajon Animal Control Center, where a worker laughed at her predicament.

She has called the San Diego Zoo, where a spokesman responded: “We don’t rescue animals--period.” The zoo employee referred her back to the animal control center.

She received similar responses from the El Cajon police and from the Fire Department, where a spokesman said, “We’re sorry, ma’am, we don’t have the authorization to go up into your attic.”

She’s called wildlife societies, herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) centers and pet stores. Still no luck.


“Meanwhile, the snake sleeps in the attic while everyone else in the house stays up all night wondering where the slimy thing is,” Morgan said.

According to Dr. Jim Bacon, general curator of the zoo’s herpetology department, the snake can live for months without food but it needs water to survive. Morgan has even placed her pet bird in the bathroom as bait, hoping the snake will enter the room looking for water, if not for food. So far, the snake has not fallen into the trap.

Each night the snake nestles comfortably between the insulation in Morgan’s attic, where she claims she can hear it rustling around.

It’s not the fear of snakes that’s keeping El Cajon and zoo officials from rescuing the escaped animal, they said; it’s the actual danger of traipsing around in Morgan’s attic.


Morgan’s brother Martin fell through the ceiling during one valiant rescue attempt. City officials have agreed to remove the snake if the family can lure it out of the attic.

“They want us to do all the dirty work and then they will come in and take the glory,” said Martin Morgan. “What if we had a rabid dog in the attic? What’s the difference?”

But Jeanenne Morgan and Pioterek are not interested in heroics. Pioterek has sent her 2-year-old son to live with her mother a few miles away. “I refuse to bring him back into this house until the snake is gone. I don’t care how long it takes,” she said.

Morgan’s daughter Danielle still stays in the house but she is thinking of sending her elsewhere, too.


The two women have received calls from dozens of snake lovers who at first offer their services but back out when they realize they can’t keep the snake. The owner, when he learns that his pet has been found, undoubtedly will want the snake back in his collection, which includes a Burmese python, a scorpion, a tarantula, 25 tropical fish, a couple of cats and a dog.