It was a Canada Day weekend that Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) veterinarian Hugues Beaufrère and pet owner Troy Stuckless will not soon forget. The holiday weekend was interrupted by “Marshmallow,” a 10-foot-long albino Burmese python that needed emergency surgery after swallowing a bath towel.
Marshmallow isn’t from around Guelph. The snake had to be flown in from St. John’s, Nfld., and then driven from the Toronto airport to OVC. That meant surgery couldn’t start until after 9 p.m. on the Friday of the long weekend.
It was a nail-biting time for Stuckless, who had to wait more than 2,000 kilometres away and into early Saturday morning to hear whether his pal and “business partner” would be OK.
But it was business as usual for Beaufrère, OVC’s avian and exotic pet specialist. Marshmallow was the second snake he had operated on that week, he says, “although this case was different. It’s very unusual for a snake to swallow an entire towel like that.”
Stuckless owns Newfoundland Reptiles, a travelling exotic animal show. On June 27, he had given his beloved snake and star attraction a bath after the animal’s monthly meal. Five-year-old Marshmallow looked so comfortable snuggled up with the bath towel that Stuckless left the snake in its makeshift den. When he returned a few hours later, the towel was gone.
“This is where I felt more emotion in one second than I thought possible: worry, confusion, shock, anger toward myself and remorse, to name a few,” he says. “When you’ve had reptiles a long time like I have, you know there are a lot of things that can go right and a lot of things that can go wrong. This was so wrong that he could have died.”
No vets in St. John’s work on snakes, so Stuckless called OVC. “The people who picked up the phone were wonderful.” They told him that if Marshmallow did not regurgitate the towel within 12 hours, the snake would need emergency surgery.
After the towel failed to appear the next morning, Stuckless scrambled to get Marshmallow on a plane to Ontario. “The airline classified it as a pet emergency, and he got on the next flight.” Arranging transportation from the airport to Guelph was more difficult. “When you tell people what it is, some people hesitate.”
It’s not the first time a pet has winged cross-country to OVC. A pigeon, also from Newfoundland, was once flown in for Beaufrère. “We’ll try and help a pet from anywhere as long as they are able to come to us,” he says.
Marshmallow arrived at the veterinary college Friday night. “It was an easy case to diagnose: missing towel, bulge in the snake’s side,” says Beaufrère, “but the snake would eventually have died from it. The towel was far too big to have passed on its own.”
Also on the case were resident Delphine Laniesse, intern Sarah Wills and anesthesiologist Carolyn Kerr, a professor and chair of the Department of Clinical Studies.
Things went smoothly; the snake’s size – about 17 kilograms – worked in its favour. “He had a large head. It made it easier to intubate and insert an IV catheter inside its mouth,” Beaufrère said. “Snakes can also take a while to recover from anesthesia – up to 24 hours – but this snake recovered in a hurry – within a half hour – which was very fast.”
A few days later, Marshmallow went home. “He’s doing great,” Stuckless said during a telephone interview. “He’s definitely still hurting; I can tell. He is usually on the go in his cage all of the time, but now he is sticking to one spot until he’s healed up.”
Stuckless has to give his pet injections every three days. “I really don’t like needles. I almost passed out doing it. This has been a big experience for both of us.”
He shrugged off the inconvenience and costs. “If you have a business that involves animals, you have a responsibility to do everything in your power to care for them. My reptiles are my close buddies; they have distinct personalities.”
Stuckless was impressed by his first-ever experience with OVC. In a Facebook posting, he wrote: “The staff at OVC was the most professional and compassionate towards animals that I have ever witnessed.”
During the phone interview, he added: “Everyone at OVC was great. They held my hand the whole time. If I ever have another emergency, that is definitely where I will be going, but hopefully it will not be another emergency with Marshmallow.”