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Owner of snake that got loose refuses T cleanup bill

Melissa Moorhouse, with her husband, Ray, called the T’s $650 cleanup after the removal of her boa unnecessary. Melissa Moorhouse, with her husband, Ray, called the T’s $650 cleanup after the removal of her boa unnecessary. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff/ File)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / April 6, 2011

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Two months after being reunited with her pet snake, the woman who lost track of her 3-foot boa on the Red Line said yesterday that she does not plan to repay the MBTA for the cost of disinfecting the train.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority sent Melissa Moorhouse a letter Feb. 14 seeking $650 for the “unanticipated clean-up costs’’ to rid the subway car of germs that Penelope, a Dumeril’s boa, might have left behind. The Allston woman disregarded the letter, prompting the T to follow up late last week.

Moorhouse, contacted by the Globe, said she cannot afford to pay the bill and would not pay if she could, calling the cleanup unnecessary.

“I’m in no position to pay for that,’’ said Moorhouse, calling the $650 more than she can afford on her disability payments and her husband’s warehouse salary. “And if the T officials had given me any respect or listened to me in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened.’’

An MBTA spokesman, Joe Pesaturo, said Red Line cars are swept daily and periodically sent through a “wash alley’’ at the Cabot car house for interior and exterior cleaning, but the sanitizing treatment came at extra expense to taxpayers. The T expects Moorhouse to pay and may refer the matter to a collection agency if she does not, he said.

Moorhouse said that the transit authority did not take her seriously when she reported the missing snake, and that the nonvenomous Penelope posed no threat to riders. “It’s far more likely that Penelope would have gotten sick from being on that train for a month than anything harmful coming from her onto that train,’’ she said.

After the snake disappeared Jan. 6 on a southbound trip, the T agreed to hold Moorhouse’s train for a few minutes at JFK/UMass to check her car, then waited five more stops for the Braintree turnaround before inspectors combed through the six-car train. After they found no signs of a snake, a T spokesman reassured the public that the Red Line was snake-free.

Moorhouse said T officials that day “asked me what drugs I was on and if I was hallucinating,’’ and that the T subsequently rebuffed her calls asking to search the train herself.

To the T’s surprise, Penelope reemerged Feb. 3, glimpsed by a passenger that morning. After removing the train from service, it took the T another 10 hours to coax Penelope into a box with the help of a Red Line operator who is also a snake owner.

Two weeks later, Moorhouse received a letter from Wesley Wallace, the T’s treasurer-controller.

“While I am pleased that you were reunited with your pet snake, your violation of the MBTA’s pet policy . . . resulted in unanticipated clean-up costs,’’ wrote Wallace, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning that children and those with weak immune systems should avoid contact with reptiles. “To rid the subway car of any traces of germs such as salmonella, which may have been left by your snake, MBTA maintenance crews had to scrub and disinfect the Red Line car in which your snake was found.’’

Moorhouse disputed the salmonella threat. “That’s for reptiles that lay eggs. Boas give live birth,’’ she said, adding that cooks who handle raw chicken pose a greater risk on public transportation.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.

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