Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Burmese python swallows owner?s electric blanket

Twelve-foot snake resting after surgery

Express Staff Writer

Veterinarian Karsten Fostvedt points to the switch box on X-rays of Houdini, a Burmese python who swallowed an entire electric blanket. The X-rays also show the blanket?s electric coils inside the 12-foot-long snake. Photo by Willy Cook

Houdini the snake bit off more than he could chew—or, rather, swallowed more than he could digest.

On Tuesday afternoon, the 12-foot-long Burmese python underwent surgery to remove what he'd eaten Sunday night—an electric blanket.

"This is something I've never heard of or seen before," said Houdini's owner, Karl Beznoska.

Houdini was resting comfortably at home later Tuesday after undergoing two hours of surgery at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

Beznoska said the electric blanket, 6 feet long and wide enough to fit a queen-sized bed, was kept in Houdini's cage to help keep him warm. On Monday morning, Beznoska noticed the blanket was missing and that Houdini didn't seem to be feeling well.

X-ray's confirmed Beznoska's suspicions. They show a tangle of wire running through some 8 feet of Houdini's 12-foot body.

"It looks like the whole thing is just wires. It's just a big electrical mess. I couldn't believe it either," Beznoska said.

He speculated that the blanket became entangled with Houdini's Sunday-night rabbit dinner. Once he'd ingested the rabbit, Houdini apparently just kept swallowing until he'd eaten the whole blanket, including the control box and electrical plug.

Beznoska hauled Houdini to St. Francis in the back of his pickup truck. After that, he brought him to the Idaho Mountain Express office late Monday afternoon and caused a bit of a stir when word went out about a python that had swallowed an electric blanket.

Stretched out under a camper shell in the back of Beznoska's pickup, Houdini took notice of his visitors, stretching out his neck and moving his head about in what seemed curious rather than menacing movements.

"He's a good boy—he's very mellow and very friendly," Beznoska said, while holding Houdini and playfully grabbing the snake's forked tongue. Houdini remained nonchalant, as if he's used to the game.

"Without the blanket he weighs about 60 pounds." Beznoska said. "He's not a happy camper right now. He's not feeling very well and he's not moving around very much. But he's alive. Hopefully, we can get him through this."

Veterinarians Karsten Fostvedt and Barry Rathfon performed the surgery, the first time either had operated on a snake.

"I hadn't, so we just basically called a couple of specialists and they told us where to go in," Fostvedt said. "No vet has done a lot of surgeries on pythons, especially up here."

Fostvedt said they were able to make an 18-inch incision through Houdini's abdomen and stomach and carefully pull the blanket out.

"The prognosis is great," he said. "The surgery was as routine as possible. Right now the blanket's out and the snake's alive."

Fostvedt said that since snakes have slow metabolisms, it will take several days for Houdini to fully recover from the anesthesia.

He said specialists at the University of California—Davis School of Veterinary Medicine told him that it probably took six hours for Houdini to swallow the blanket, and that the snake would have probably died by today if it hadn't been removed.

Houdini is a longtime Ketchum-area resident. Beznoska, who lives three miles north of the city, has owned the 18-year-old snake for about 16 years. Originally from Austria, Beznoska is a draftsman, finish carpenter and retired ski instructor who has lived in the area since 1965.

Houdini is sort of a local celebrity. Beznoska occasionally takes him to local libraries and schools to show him to groups of children.

"The kids just love him," Beznoska said.

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