Sondra Berg, animal services supervisor with the Santa Ana Police Department in Orange County, announced a new record this week. “Two years ago, we found 110 cats in an 800-square-foot home. This is much more severe.”
By “this,” Berg was referring to the finding of more than 400 non-venomous ball pythons in the home of a teacher at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach. Police arrested 53-year-old Bill Buchman and charged him with felony animal cruelty after finding 182 live snakes and more than 240 dead ones in his home.
Snakes were catalogued by name and type, and packed in plastic bins stacked floor to ceiling in four bedrooms. Buchman is a presence on Internet python sites and reportedly said he was a breeder. That used to be a lucrative endeavor, Berg told the Orange County Register, netting up to $5,000 a snake in good condition.
At some point, Buchman was breeding his snakes with various color and pattern combinations, a process known as morphing. A saturated python market and the poor condition of Buchman’s snakes probably reduced their value to $200 apiece. But it didn’t matter; it appeared he wasn’t selling any in the end.
Friends remembered Buchman mentioning that he bought a snake after his pet dog died. He was said to be devastated by the passing of his mother in 2011. He apparently became a hobbyist, and that morphed into hoarding.
Neighbors put up with the “ungodly” smell at his home for some time, although one next door told the Los Angeles Times his wife threw up from the odor. But when Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked at the door Wednesday, they were overcome by the stench. The Register said they thought someone was dead and called police.
In addition to snakes, animal control officers found lunch and dinner—more than 40 rats and mice—roaming around the house cannibalizing each other. Armed with Tasers and gas masks, they sorted through the mess and packed up live snakes for transport to a veterinarian for treatment and eventual disbursement to zoos, classrooms and other appropriate homes.