When I return, miraculously, he is exactly as I’d left him. I carefully slide a piece of cardboard beneath him as I scootch the cup – a little technique I developed over the years to deal with spiders in the house. I scootch and scootch until the toad is fully on top of the cardboard, then set the cardboard-toad-tortilla-tupperware-package on the bench in back, beneath the traveler palm. I put the brick on top again, step back and pull out my phone to document my success.
I still look at this photo from time to time. There are things I can see in it that weren’t immediately visible to me in the adrenaline-fueled moment of capture. Like the tiny beads of milky white fluid dotting his shoulders. And the beautiful iridescent green of his sleepy eye, which gives him a look of resignation that still makes me a bit sad, even now.
But in that moment, I’m thinking of the Facebook update I’ll post later and how I can maximize the humor: “Tricky Toad Toppled by Tupperware!” “Toxic Toad’s Reign of Terror Terminated!” and other such alliterative nonsense. But these imaginary headlines are mere distractions from the very serious business at hand – figuring out exactly what to do next. I have the sunburn spray. I have the toothache gel. I undoubtedly have a freezer. But my husband is away on business and, without his help, I am feeling, shall we say, less than confident. I’m also hearing the echoing clamor of comments from Facebook in favor of granting the toad some kind of amnesty. Even my own father, man of supreme rationality, chimed in. I decide I can’t complete the deed.
So I make some calls. I start with a company specializing in Cane Toad removal, located in our very town. Perfect, I think. But then they say they have to charge me a whopping $150. I say, “I’ve already done the hard part. I’ve caught the damn toad! I just want you to dispose of it, and can even bring it to you. Can’t you charge me less?” Nope. So I say thank you with the air of someone who isn’t thankful at all and promptly hang up.
I call other “pest” companies including one that specializes in rats, raccoons, possums, snakes and skinks, among other things. I’m sure I’m getting somewhere. I explain my situation and the guy replies, “Lady, I’ve never heard of any such thing. I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.” He sounds like he thinks I’m trying to punk him. So I move on. But the responses aren’t much more encouraging – No, we don’t do that, try here… I’ve never heard of that, try here… You have a what and you want us to do what??
After an hour I find a wildlife refuge center in the town of Jupiter. Great, I think, I’ve got to go to another friggin’ planet to deal with this toad.
The refuge is exactly the sort of place I’d been to in California, where I’d taken a small bird pried from the jaws of Pickle, two slender snakes wormed away from Pepper, an adorable pocket mouse (think tiny kangaroo with big ears) that one of the cats deposited in our bedroom, and probably a few other critters I’m forgetting. The center had an in-house hospital to treat the animals’ injuries, keep them in captivity until healed, and if fully rehabilitated, eventually rerelease them back into the wild. They’d even send you home with an ID number for your animal so you could call back to check on its status. I always called. The bird and one snake made it. The other snake and mouse, not so much. But despite my 50/50 batting average, I nevertheless felt a sense of self-satisfaction and even something else that I can’t quite define, in the efforts extended to save these small creatures. Of course this situation, is different.
I’m transferred a couple of times but eventually land on the receiving end of a man’s voice, rather weary sounding, but who at least knows all about the Cane Toad, its non-native status and dangerous nature, not just to pets, but also native wildlife. After hearing my long-winded plea he says, “Yeah… you can bring it in, we’ll deal with it.” I know what he means by “deal with it,” and I also know he’s essentially taking pity on me – this dumb broad and her poison toad.
I’ll spare you the details of transferring the toad into a shoebox for the 30-mile drive to Jupiter, other than to say it involves the bucket and stick from my early days of toad hunting, several squats and deep breathing exercises, and a count of “one – two – three” like someone who’s preparing to jump into frigid water.
The woman in the gift shop gives me the schpiel for the center, handing me a brochure and map before directing me to follow the yellow arrows. I wander through exhibit after exhibit – an incredible array of animals – everything from the tiny native spotted skunk to panthers, bears, and all manner of swamp-swimming and sky-soaring creatures. It’s incredible, especially considering the bulk of what I’ve seen in Florida so far consists of 12-lane freeways, development-run-amok McMansions and condos, gated golf club communities, and more shopping malls than any one nation, let alone state, truly needs.
The yellow arrows end at a small building bearing a red cross. I climb the steps and am greeted by a woman who asks about the animal I’ve brought in. I set the shoebox on the counter and explain myself. She looks confused. I say I spoke to someone on the phone, a man. And she says, “We don’t normally do this, but go ahead and fill out this form and I’ll be right back.” To ease her conscience I open my wallet and pop a twenty in the donation jar as she eyes me.
(continued tomorrow in part 4, the final installment of Tale of the Bufo)