TARPON SPRINGS — Loren Mell was walking his puppy Bonnie in the woods near his apartment complex Thursday when he decided to look for a nice fishing spot.
Instead, he found a 14½-foot python sunning itself.
"I thought, at first, I was just going crazy seeing things," said Mell, 25. "The thing was huge."
Mell dashed back to his unit at Riverside Apartments and grabbed a mop to "guard" the snake while his roommate called police.
Police arrived shortly after 2 p.m. One officer used a dog snare to trap the African rock python. Two others picked up the 150- to 200-pound snake, carried it from the woods and then secured it in a garbage can.
"It took three full-grown officers to wrestle with it, to get it through the woods, and they had to take a break halfway through," Mell said.
Officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission removed the python. It was a "well-fed snake," said commission spokesman Gary Morse.
The python was definitely a pet at one time, he said. Whether it was properly registered is another question.
In Florida, African rock pythons are one of several python species considered a "reptile of concern." State law says they have to be registered and kept in a locked container. Owners must obtain a state permit.
The snake is being held by wildlife trapper Vernon Yates, who said he hasn't scanned the snake yet to see if has a registered owner.
If the owner isn't found, he said, he'll turn it over to someone who is licensed to keep pythons.
Pythons can be dangerous. In 2009, a 2-year-old girl was strangled in her crib by a pet Burmese python in Sumter County.
Tarpon Springs police Capt. Barb Templeton said it was disturbing to find such a snake near a complex with so many young children.
"There's kids out there playing all the time," Templeton said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.