When Diane Gastfreund called her dog in from her back yard on April 13, she found an unexpected visitor of the scaly sort.
"I heard a cat meowing and looked off my deck, because I figured it might be a gray cat I'd seen there recently," she said. "I saw some eyes that didn't really look like a cat's eyes ... I went away and when I came back a few minutes later, I could see a snake, with a cat's head and shoulders in its mouth."
Gastfreund, a resident of the Walnut Hills neighborhood, believes the snake may have come from a neighbor's yard, but is more concerned with keeping the snake out of her own.
The next morning, she called an exterminator to come and catch the reptile, but they were unable to set a trap for a snake of that size, she said. Instead they put a snake guard around the house. She then called Montgomery County Humane Society, who told her unless the snake was visible or trapped, there was nothing they could do.
They referred her to Brian Kristal of Reptile Wonders in Germantown, who came out to look for the unidentified slithery creature.
"We really don't know what kind of snake it is, but my best guess is that it's a large snake like a boa constrictor or Burmese python," he said.
Kristal, who specializes in large snake rescue and animal rehabilitation, said a snake large enough to eat a cat probably weighs about 45 pounds, could be at least 7 feet long and as big around as an adult's knee. Even at that size, it could be hiding in an area no larger than a cereal box, he said. Its most likely prey would be small pets in the range of 15 to 20 pounds.
Gastfreund's neighbor, Elanie Stavrakas, isn't worried about a pet, but she does have a concern about her 21-month-old daughter.
"I was away on vacation, and when I came back I heard about this," she said. "I'm horrified...I'm afraid to let my daughter play in the back yard."
Kristal said that although small children are not typically at risk from snakes of this size, he wouldn't let toddlers and young children play unattended until the snake is caught.
He also said that snakes of that size are typically let out of their cages purposely, thrown in a yard when they are believed to be dead or sick, or they escape from tanks that are unsecure. Because recent temperatures have been so warm, it is possible for the creature to be fairly active and to hunt again soon.
"Snakes of this size usually only need to feed once every two weeks," he said. "It's been so warm that I wouldn't be surprised if there was activity from the snake before then."
Gastfreund has taken some precautions to make sure her cocker spaniel does not become the snake's next prey. Instead of letting her dog run free in her fenced-in yard, they take walks together. And she has stopped feeding the squirrels, rabbits and birds that come to her yard, so that she will not be creating a food source.
"I feel trapped in my own home," she said. "I love the animals and now I can't feed them ...it's really very sad."