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Elderly residents battle garter snake infestation

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INWOOD -- After working hard and raising 10 kids, retired 73-year-old Mabel Anderson has a new vocation: Snake hunter.

"That's my killings there," she said, pointing to a small pile of red-sided garter snake corpses near a door to Inwood Manor.

"I'm scared of them," said the widow with 40 grandchildren, who is living near the world's largest red-sided garter snake dens in Narcisse, an hour's drive northeast of Winnipeg.

Her independent living facility is infested with the critters twice a year. Each spring, tens of thousands of snakes emerge from their warm limestone caves underground to mate then scamper around above ground before returning to their dens in the fall.

The snake issue wiggled its way into the Manitoba legislature Wednesday when Lakeside Tory MLA Ralph Eichler went after the NDP for ignoring the problem.

"I like snakes, but not in my bed," Eichler said.

Family Services and Housing Minister Gord Mackintosh said officials would look into the issue immediately.



Eichler said snake-proofing the care home would be relatively simple, preventing them from crawling between walls and into the attic of the facility.

Inwood Manor administrators were not at the manor to comment Wednesday.

In Inwood, Anderson declared the 55-plus facility a "snakepit." As she spoke to a reporter, one snake slithered toward the foundation of the building then disappeared.

"I check under my bed, I check my bedding. It's not fun for us," said Anderson.

In her suite, Anderson recently found three snakes in the baseboard heater, one on a rug and one in a laundry basket.

"It was a shock," said the woman with heart problems.

Next to her fridge, she has a hammer and a bent knife sharpener. "I broke it killing snakes."

"I chase 'em down" said Anderson, wearing dainty sequined slippers. "Twenty, 30 -- that's how many I can kill in a day."

She's fed up with the snake surprises in her suite and took action because the problem wasn't being addressed. Anderson knew it wouldn't make her popular.

"Everybody's mad at me. They say 'You shouldn't kill something so beautiful.' "

In 2000, the Narcisse Snake Mortality Advisory Group installed a series of small tunnels under the highway and barrier fencing to guide migrating snakes into these tunnels.

But nothing is guiding them away from Inwood Manor, where Anderson fears and reviles them.

"They stink -- it's an awful smell. They pee," said the woman who grew up in a rural area. "I'm not scared of a bear but I'm scared of a snake."

Sarah Monkman just moved into Inwood Manor last week -- without her husband. He won't move in until the snakes move out, she said.

"He's so deathly scared of snakes," Monkman laughed, holding up a harmless snake for a photo.

She has no fear of snakes but said most of her new neighbours do.

"Some people stay in their rooms and don't come out," said Monkman.

One resident who moved there in May said either the snakes go, or she goes.

"I had one in my kitchen last night when I was trying to make my supper," said Ann O'Malley. The snake scare haunted her the rest of the night.

"In bed, every time the blanket touched my leg, I thought 'Snake!' "

In the spring, two big balls of live snakes -- ripe for mating season -- were found in the crawlspace under the manor, said O'Malley, a retired bartender.

"I'd walk down the hall and gag from the smell," she said. O'Malley has complained to the administration of the building, her MLA and her MP, but hasn't got anywhere.

"Nothing has been done," she said outside the back door of the facility, where intruding snakes had been stopped dead in their tracks on the pavement.

"Look at the blood from people killing them," said O'Malley, who fears bacteria from the rotting snake corpses could be causing a health hazard.

"I hope somebody can block the holes so they don't get in... If you're not allowed to have pussy cats here, you shouldn't have to have snakes."


-- with files from Bruce Owen


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2009 A6

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