ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) - St. Charles County detectives knew by the stench as they tried to enter a home that there was something strange inside.
They were right: Authorities said the house was inhabited by 157 snakes and lizards and up to 2,000 mice and rats to feed them.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/xZS6RN ) reports that Anthony Higgins Sr., 36, and his wife, Michelle Higgins, 36, were both charged Thursday with two counts of child endangerment. The couple did not have a telephone listing, and did not yet have an attorney.
Their children, a 13-year-old girl and 15-year-old boy, were placed in the custody of an uncle.
Deputies were called to the split-level home on Saturday after a hotline call about possible child neglect. They found pythons, boa constrictors and milk, corn, and king snakes. None of the snakes were venomous. Court documents say the deputies also found five-gallon buckets in the kitchen that were used to grow meal worms to feed the lizards.
Deputies say the home was filthy - one deputy who went inside was so overcome by the smell he ran outside to throw up. Another borrowed an oxygen mask and tank from the Fire Department before going in to take evidence photos.
A deputy said the couple told authorities they knew raising their children in the environment was wrong, but they didn't want to get rid of their pets. They said the house had been that way for at least two years.
The couple cleared out the animals by Monday, St. Charles County government spokesman John Sonderegger said. The snakes were placed with a reptile rescue group and the rodents went to a man who supplies food to pet stores. The couple were allowed to keep their dog. The home, which neighbors said the couple rented, was condemned by county officials because of the conditions.
County ordinances allow a total of four cats, dogs or ferrets, but do not address snakes or reptiles. The county prohibits exotic animals, but the snakes were not considered exotic. County officials said the animals, which were caged, appeared to be in good health.
Neighbors said the family was friendly.
"I knew when they first moved in that they had a couple of reptiles," said next-door neighbor Bruce Smith, 63. "Evidently, from all the commotion over the weekend, there were a lot more."
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com