For most people, walking into a room in your home and encountering a 10- to 15-foot snake sounds like a nightmare.
But what was once a horrible fear recently became a reality for College Station resident Veronica Rodriguez when she went to flip the light on in her bathroom and discovered an African python crawling into her bathtub.
"It was a huge scare," said Rodriguez, who was still visibly shaken from the incident on Monday, eight days after the snake sighting.
It's most likely that the python made entry into Rodriguez's home through the back door, but when exactly the creature slithered in is an uncomfortable unknown for the 50-year-old single mother of a high school senior.
About 6 p.m. and while her daughter was at work, she decided to give the three household guinea pigs a bath.
After bathing each one, she would take it outside to let it run in a penned area while she cleaned its cage and would leave her back door open each time.
She estimated her door was left open about two to three minutes each time she would come out to her fenced yard with a new guinea pig and cage.
Before it was dark out, she and her daughter's pets were back inside the home, and at about 9 p.m. she got a call from her mother.
"I was on the phone with my mom and I kept hearing noises in the back," she said.
Thinking initially it was the guinea pigs, she said she went to check her daughter's room but found nothing.
A few minutes later, she heard more noises and got up to peek into her bedroom. Again, nothing, Rodriguez said.
The third time she heard noises that sounded like someone was knocking things over. She went to check the only room she hadn't: her bathroom.
"As soon as I turned on the light, that's when I saw it," she said. "It was crawling into my tub."
Immediately, she slammed the door and ran outside. While her mother called Rodriguez's brother to see if he could go help, Rodriguez said she called 911 and soon College Station officer Tony Gonzales arrived.
"When the officer showed up, he came with a brown paper sack," she recalled. "I told him, 'you're going to need a bigger sack than that.'"
Gonzales, who's been with the police department about five years, said he'd previously responded to three snake calls, but nothing like that.
"When I opened her bathroom door, there was a 12-foot python," Gonzales recalled. "I didn't know what I was going to do with a snake that large."
He asked dispatchers to send animal control officers. Shortly afterward, another College Station officer arrived, also armed with a paper bag, and soon the animal control officer showed up with a 10-gallon bucket.
"No one believed me that the snake was that big," Gonzales said.
The three officers settled on a city trash can as a temporary shelter for the creature, but getting it into the container was a struggle.
"It was pretty aggressive," Gonzales said. "It definitely didn't want to go into the trash can."
Once inside the container, the snake was properly secured and left on the side of the home until animal control picked it up in the morning.
Gonzales said the snake was initially transported to a reptile rescue facility, but had since been claimed and returned to its owner.
Toby Hibbitts, a curator of amphibians and reptiles for the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections in College Station, said snakes on the loose are typically looking for a place where they can maintain a favorable body temperature and access food without much effort.
While he's never heard of a python making way into someone's home in the area, he said it didn't necessarily surprise him since many people keep their homes at comfortable temperatures.
Judging from a photo of the snake, Hibbitts estimated it was about 4 to 5 years old assuming it had been fed properly. He added that it appeared healthy.
Hibbitts said he didn't think the snake posed much of a danger to adults, but may have put small children at risk had they been in the home.
Rodriguez was thankful the creature didn't harm her daughter's pets, but said the experience didn't leave her unscathed.
As someone who was "already afraid of everything," she's had trouble sleeping and has been especially jumpy, she said.
Her daughter, Kelsie Fowler, thought her mom was exaggerating about the size of the snake until shown a picture of it by The Eagle on Monday.
"I thought she was being over-dramatic, I thought it was just a grass snake or something," she said. "I'd probably pass out on the floor if I saw that."
Not surprisingly, Rodriguez said she's been overly cautious about making sure doors are closed since last week. "It really spooked me so bad," she said.
Hibbitts said anyone thinking about becoming a python owner needs to make sure they are well-prepared before taking the step.
"You have to know what the animal needs and you have to know how to handle it," he said. "It's a large animal that needs a fair amount of food and can be hard to handle by yourself. It takes a special pet keeper to hang on to them."