The Huntington Branch Library staff members thought something might be wrong with Peaches the pet snake when the facility was opened up in the morning.
Later in the day, they began smelling a chemical odor that kept getting worse. They figured it was probably related to some type of cleaning or HVAC work being done in the overall complex, a former school building that also houses the Shelton Community Center.
“By 3 o’clock, it was getting really powerful,” Shawn R. Fields, branch director, said of the smell.
They soon realized it was coming from near the glass tank with Peaches, and might be due to someone pouring a chemical into the screen-covered tank.
That’s when they took the snake out of the tank and began to understand the seriousness of the situation. “She was obviously in distress,” Fields said of Peaches, a Creamsicle-colored corn snake that has been a mainstay at the Huntington Branch for eight years.
Peaches was particularly popular with young visitors, serving as a friendly ambassador. Peaches was the only snake who lived at the branch library.
Less than a week later, despite considerable medical attention that included two trips to a vet in Westchester County, N.Y., Peaches died.
What might have happened
The snake may have been poisoned due to someone pouring Goof Off into the glass tank. Goof Off is a cleaning solvent the library uses to remove the sticky adhesive that remains when labels are taken off items such as books.
On the same day that Peaches was found injured, a library patron had found a can of Goof Off in an unusual location in the branch facility and brought it to the front desk. At the time, staff members presumed the can had been mistakenly left out by mistake.
“We did not think anything of it,” Fields said.
The Shelton police now are looking into what happened.
Fields said the act of pouring Goof Off into the snake tank probably was done quickly. “It would only take 20 seconds to come in and do that,” he said.
He believes the chemical odor they originally smelled in the tank was from the Goof Off mixing with water in the snake’s water pan.
‘A huge draw’
Fields said Peaches was a popular — albeit, unusual — library pet. “Peaches was a huge draw,” he said. “Almost every kid who walks in the library wanted to see her. A lot of kids came to the library just to see Peaches.”
In fact, when he spoke to groups of young people at schools, Fields often would introduce himself as the person who worked at the library facility with Peaches the snake.
Peaches would regularly be part of library programs, and visitors liked to have their photos taken with the pet snake.
“This is a very tough time for kids to deal with,” Fields said of the loss of the beloved and friendly reptile. “They need time to process it, and to open up a dialogue with their parents or some other person in their lives.”
Many tributes to Peaches
A memorial has been set up on top of the snake tank, and the news of Peaches’ death drew many tribute postings on the library’s Facebook page.
The loss of the reptile has impacted staff as well as patrons. “Staff is very upset,” Fields said. “Staff is like family, and Peaches was part of our family.”
He said it’s much too early to discuss the possibility of getting another snake or some other library pet in the future. “Somewhere down the line we’ll make a decision,” Fields said.
Turned to vet for help
When staff members first took Peaches out of the tank after realizing something was wrong, they quickly contacted a veterinarian in Westchester County for advice. Other vets with offices closer to Shelton didn’t treat snakes.
They did what they could to help the snake with the vet’s guidance by phone, then drove Peaches to Westchester County that evening despite inclement weather.
After being treated to try to remove the toxins, Peaches was returned to the library. “We cared for [the snake] for a week,” Fields said. This included putting ointment on burns, providing oral medication, and giving the snake a few warm baths a day.
“It was not pleasant, the last week,” he said.
One more trip was made to the vet with Peaches before the snake was found dead by staff when opening up the library branch on the final morning.
“The vet said the toxicity in her kidneys was five times higher than normal,” Fields said.
Originally was someone’s pet
Peaches originally belonged to the daughter of Fields’ predecessor as branch library director, he said. When the daughter headed off to college, the snake found a new home at the library.
A few years ago, Peaches was moved into a larger tank after library staff did some research on the best controlled environment for a pet corn snake. They added more items inside the larger tank to provide additional activities for the reptile.
“She had plenty of space to stretch out,” Fields said.
The community raised money in 2009 to provide the bigger living quarters. The custom-made tank was designed by a local pet store owner, Fields said, and the state prison system built an accompanying cabinet.
Had a favorable lifestyle
Fields said Peaches was a healthy snake up until the time of its demise. The vet’s office who treated Peaches during the incident said it was the biggest corn snake they had ever seen, he said.
Peaches was about 5-feet, 9-inches in length, compared to the usual 4-feet, 6-inches for a similar corn snake.
Fields said Peaches would be fed frozen mice that staff members would have to heat up first.
The snake would shed her skin every few weeks, and sometime could nap for a few days during the process while generating new skin.
Fields said he has no idea why someone would want to hurt a friendly snake like Peaches.
“There are a lot of twisted individuals out there,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t come up with a reason why someone would want to do something like this.”