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Reptile lovers share tales at Plaza Hotel

August 01, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HALFWAY

karenh@herald-mail.com

Martin Gilliss gazed at a box of tiny black-and-white rats clawing for freedom, their half-opened eyes seeking shelter in a room full of predators.

"It's a cruel world," Gillis, 46, concluded Sunday during a snake and lizard show at the Plaza Hotel.

Reptile enthusiasts walked around with snakes in plastic containers and miniature sandwich bags filled with rodents doomed to become snacks.

"A lot of snakes will suck those down like Milk Duds, you know?" Gilliss observed as he and his son, Matthew, 6, admired a box of squirming rats.

Nearby, a thin snake wriggled across Axel Burkhardt's hand. The 15-year-old Hagerstown boy shrugged when asked why he likes the creatures.

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"Not really sure. I just like them," he said.

Axel's mother, Gabrielle Sayers, 46, of Hagerstown, said her son has always been passionate about reptiles.

"We had a frog hospital for a while and actually got them well enough to be released," Sayers said.

According to Sayers and her son, Axel treated toads suffering from a bacterial infection known as red-leg disease.

Snake dealer Larry Kenton discovered an allergy to antivenom serum the hard way.

"That's part of my toe where I got bit by a rattlesnake in 1982," Kenton said, holding out one hand to display a stubby, misshapen thumb.

Doctors took a toe from his foot to repair his hand, the Reisterstown, Md., man said.

Kenton, whose most expensive animal Sunday was a $4,000 female snow boa, harbors no visible fears.

How many times has he been bitten?

"Plenty, but who cares? They don't hurt," Kenton said.

Gilliss, who lives near Hedgesville, W.Va., was in the market for a different animal - a $1 white bantam chicken in a cage underneath one of the rat tables.

Gilliss' wife, who has raised exotic birds, wanted a chicken, he said.

"I'll put it in a cage, and my wife can amuse herself with one until she gets tired of it, then I'll take it to the farmer down the road," Gilliss said.

He watched as the snake-food vendor snatched the chicken away from its flock, crammed it into a cardboard box and sealed the box with duct tape.

Gilliss said the new housing probably doesn't bode well for the bird, which traveled to the show with rodents bound for digestion.

"The future is not very optimistic," he said.

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