A pet-loving city like ours is bound to go overboard. Our affinity for not only dogs and cats but chickens, pygmy goats, chinchillas, and hedgehogs isn’t enough. Seattleites have upped the ante with ever stranger—and illegal—pets. That’s when animal control officer Don Baxter and his colleagues step in. A few stories from the field:

WE’D HATE TO SEE THEIR HAMSTER

Baxter was called to a downtown apartment building in 2001 by a frantic landlord who’d just discovered a former tenant’s abandoned pet: an oversize piranha in a fish tank. Baxter estimates that the fish was about eight inches long and weighed more than a pound. “It had teeth. Not just tiny cartilage teeth, this thing had big incisors,” Baxter says. “It was pretty insane, the chompers it had.” He and his fellow officer loaded the whole thing, tank and all, into a truck. The piranha’s story ended in tragedy, when the animal shelter was forced to euthanize it.

THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS SNAKE FOR A CAT

In 2000, Baxter responded to a call from a woman who said she found a two-foot snake in her driveway. But when Baxter lifted the box the snake was trapped under, he got big a surprise. “Its head, which was the size of my fist, slithered up and looked right at me.” He wrapped the eight-foot python in a pillowcase, placed it in a cardboard cat carrier, and took it to his own home. He later gave the snake to the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society. “An animal that size could take a human out if it was hungry enough.”

WE’RE GUESSING SHE KEPT THE CLEANING DEPOSIT

Landlord Rachel Dillingham had already served an eviction notice to two brothers leasing a property in Lacey. When she showed up in December 2007 to ready the space for rent, she got a bigger mess than anticipated. The brothers had abandoned their belongings, including a six-foot aquarium housing a live alligator. Thurston County Animal Services field officer Ray Spragg cornered the creature, grabbed it by its neck and tail, and hauled it to a pond at the county shelter.

WHAT’S CHESTER CHEETAH DOING IN DELRIDGE?

When West Seattleites spotted two large, lanky, and improbably striped cats roaming their streets this past January, they were spooked. At least one resident reported seeing a baby cheetah. The mysterious felines were servals, creatures native to Africa that can weigh up to 50 pounds and have a 15-foot vertical leap. Animal control nabbed one in the crawl space under a house; the second was picked up at Madison Middle School. One was found declawed, suggesting the cats were being kept as pets.

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