Man at center of massive SA snake seizure relinquishes ownership, avoids $20K repayment

Thomas Eichelberger may face animal cruelty charges

SAN ANTONIO – The man at the center of the snake and rodent seizure in San Antonio earlier this month has relinquished ownership of his 136 pythons and more than 400 rodents to Animal Care Services.

The animals were taken from Thomas Eichelberger's home in the 500 block of Katyon Ave. off Rigsby Ave. on Sept. 5.

As part of the agreement, the man will not have to reimburse ACS for the impounding, care and feeding of the snakes and rodents -- an estimated $20,000. 

Several snakes and rodents are under veterinary care due to illness and are being cared for by San Antonio Zoo herpetologists and veterinarians and ACS staff who have experience with reptiles. 

Shannon Sims, assistant ACS director, said he blamed the filthy enclosures in which the snakes and rats were found. 

Sims said after treating snakeskin issues and dehydration, "We've been able to keep the animals stable, get them in good condition and everybody is pretty much thriving now."

He said it was the largest and most unusual seizure ACS has ever executed, but the staff prepared in advance for it after already warning Eichelberger to take corrective measures.

"I could not be prouder of the team for the job that they've done in probably one of the more challenging situations that we could compare to a hurricane response," Sims said. 

When asked if this had been a case of animal cruelty or hoarding, Sims said, "A little of each. It wasn't cruelty as far as him willingly harming animals." 

Sims described Eichelberger's situation as borderline, low-scale hoarding. 

Less than 10 days after the seizure, Sims said, Eichelberger agreed to forego a hearing Friday in Municipal Court to get the animals back. 

Despite waiving the court appearance, ACS is still considering filing animal cruelty charges.

"It could be absolutely nothing happens to the individual or we could find him in violation of animal cruelty," he said. 

ACS spokeswoman Lisa Norwood said the agency has been in touch with several animal rescue groups to find suitable places for the snakes and the rodents, which are not up for adoption.

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