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Animal Expert Bob Freer Plays Not My Job

Animal expert Bob Freer answers three questions Liberace.

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CARL KASELL, Host:

From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR news quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. And here's your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, Host:

Thank you, Carl.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thanks so much. You're great. This week, and this is why you're clapping, it's the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Morning Zoo.

KASELL: Animals can be cute. They can be our friends or they can be lethal threats to our way of life. And when that happens, the man to call is Bob Freer. He is the founder of a wild animal shelter in South Florida and was our guest when we visited, along with Charlie Pierce, Roxanne Roberts and Paula Poundstone in January of 2005.

SAGAL: Now, if you're in south Florida and there's an alligator swimming in your backyard pool, who are you going to call? Bob Freer, that's who. He is the founder of the Everglades Outpost, an exotic animal sanctuary. And he is the go-to guy when something with big teeth crawls out of the swamp. He joins us now, without any of his animal friends. We stipulated. Bob Freer, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BOB FREER: Thank you.

SAGAL: Now this is true, South Florida is filled on the one hand with an awful lot of people living in their homes near the ocean and all kinds of lovely things. And very nearby, a very large wilderness with lots of animals in it. And sometimes the two meet, and this is where you come in.

FREER: This is where I come in.

SAGAL: Okay, so describe what you do.

FREER: Basically, we take in hurt and injured wildlife, rehabilitate it, release it back to the wild. We have a lot of problem with exotics down here, the large pythons, so we've gone out and caught up large snakes out of people's backyards or they'll crawl up into their cars.

SAGAL: Pythons are not native to south Florida. Am I mistaken?

FREER: Nope, you're correct. They're not native. But unfortunately, we sell them by the thousands through pet stores. Kids will buy them when they're little and small. And then when they get to be about 10-foot large and bite them, then they realize they don't like them anymore and release them out in the Everglades.

SAGAL: Oh, my gosh.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Imagine not wanting a 10-foot thing that bites you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: Ungrateful whelps.

SAGAL: So can you give us an example of some of the most extreme examples of the things you've had to go take care of?

FREER: Yeah, one extreme one would be we had some ostriches that were running loose at Miami International Airport.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: Apparently, somebody had some pet ostriches in their backyard. They escaped. And they were running around at night and someone had lights on in their house, they'd see the reflection of themselves in their window.

SAGAL: The ostriches would.

FREER: The ostrich would, yeah. And they would peck at...

SAGAL: So the ostriches were like, hey, more ostriches.

FREER: And they'd try to get closer and that'd break the windows. So we got a panicked call that there was ostriches running around breaking windows at Miami International Airport.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So what did you do about the ostriches?

FREER: Well, we went up and I had a tranquilizer gun, so this made it easy. But unfortunately, I only had enough for one ostrich.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Oh, that's a common mistake when facing down the ostriches.

CHARLIE PIERCE: Don't worry, men, I'll take one for all of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, so you have one tranquilized ostrich.

POUNDSTONE: If I had only one tranquilizer, you know who'd take it don't you?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: It'd be a lot easier to get them if I'm a little loose.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So what happened?

FREER: Well, the one was easy.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FREER: We tranquilized it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah, well.

FREER: And the other one, on seeing us carrying off his partner, decided to charge after us. And we're kind of surveying the situation to decide which way to run.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: And as it's running, it's throwing its feet out. Basically, it's trying to strike you with his feet, and he has his head down and he actually kicked himself in the back of the head and...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: Luckily, you tranquilized the smart one.

FREER: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: I imagine though, I mean ostriches - I mean, okay, you say they're dangerous and I believe you. But some of these animals are scary. I mean...

PIERCE: That wasn't scary?

SAGAL: Well, all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: It's an eight-foot bird with a claw about the size of a garden rake.

SAGAL: Well, I'm thinking about like some of these snakes. I mean, have you ever had like difficultly going after some of these huge snakes?

FREER: Actually, we get a few calls during the week on the large snakes now. Basically, the Everglades National Park is pretty much overrun with the pythons. They are breeding out there. About...

SAGAL: Oh hang on, I have to cancel my airboat tour.

FREER: Okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: Nine years ago, we had a call come in with a snake about a mile south of us, underneath somebody's home. And about five of us went out to take a look at it. And shined a flashlight underneath the house and we saw this snake, a big snake.

SAGAL: How big?

FREER: Well, we weren't sure, but we knew it was big.

SAGAL: All right.

FREER: But we're mostly, you know, adults, a little on the heavy side and we're looking at this small hole under there and realized that it wasn't going to be easy for any of us. But at that time, we had a young kid with us, a volunteer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: A volunteer, you say?

FREER: A volunteer, yes.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FREER: So we told him to make sure not to tell his mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Do you have any children, just out of curiosity?

PIERCE: Not anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: Yes, I have one.

POUNDSTONE: No, but he's got a giant snake.

SAGAL: All right. So you're there, under the porch, big snake. We don't know how big. A small hole.

POUNDSTONE: Fortunately, you got Oliver with you.

SAGAL: You put your arm around this eager young child who's come along with you to help with the cute little animals.

FREER: Volunteer, yes.

SAGAL: And you say what?

FREER: I want to tie a rope to your feet.

PIERCE: Oh, Lord.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: I'm going to give you a broom handle with a towel tied to the end of it. I want you to crawl on your belly in there and when you get close to the snake, just poke the towel at it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: And then when the snake bites the towel, you scream, we'll pull you out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So what happened?

FREER: Just that. He crawled under there and he screamed and we started pulling.

SAGAL: Uh-huh. And where is this young man being kept now?

ROBERTS: Well, how big was the snake?

SAGAL: When you got it out?

FREER: Okay. When we pulled the snake out, it was actually 26 feet long. The kid weighed about 90 pounds and the snake weighed at 320 pounds.

POUNDSTONE: Was it a hand towel?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: It was a napkin.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All we've got to say, we're glad you're out there. Bob Freer, it is a pleasure to have you here. We have asked you here, in fact, to play a game we're calling?

KASELL: You look fabulous in those 40 pounds of rhinestones.

SAGAL: If you want to talk about which musician of the 20th century was most influential, not the most talented, not the most popular, but influential, it's got to be Liberace. He's the guy who first showed that a lack of talent was no barrier to great success if you had style. We've got three questions for you about the man who did classical without the class. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Bob Freer playing for?

KASELL: Peter, he is playing for Ann Ordaleva(ph) of Boca Raton, Florida.

SAGAL: Excellent. All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Ready to play?

FREER: I'm ready.

SAGAL: All right, here we go. Liberace coined one of the most famous show business quotes of all time. I laughed all the way to the bank. He said it in response to a nasty comment from a New York music critic named John Crosby. What did Mr. Crosby say? A, quote, "Listening to his music is like being force fed 20 pounds of sugar beets soaked in molasses." B, quote, "If women vote for Liberace as a piano player, and I'm sure they do, it raises questions about their competence to vote for anything." Or C, quote, "What this world needs is a sociopathic music lover with a sledgehammer and access to Mr. Liberace's hands."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FREER: I'm going to say C.

SAGAL: You're going to say C, asking for someone to take a sledgehammer to his hands.

FREER: Yeah.

SAGAL: No, it was actually B. "If women vote for Liberace as a piano player, and I'm sure they do, it raises questions about their competence to vote for anything." Which inspired, perhaps justifiably, Mr. Liberace's putdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, you still have two more chances.

FREER: Okay.

SAGAL: This is not a problem. Liberace was known for his remarkable sense of style, which extended to his private life as well. He had one particular quirk, though, when it came to the design of his homes. What was it? A, he hated the sight of toilets and kept trying to hide them. B, he hated mirrors because, quote, "You can't airbrush a reflection," unquote. Or C, he refused to have a kitchen saying, food is not prepared, it is presented when one is hungry.

FREER: I'm not going to choose B. I think he'd like mirrors.

SAGAL: You think he'd like mirrors?

FREER: Yeah.

SAGAL: Okay.

FREER: I'm going to go with not have a kitchen.

SAGAL: No, it's the toilets.

FREER: It was the toilets.

SAGAL: Yeah, he hated toilets. He couldn't stand them. He kept trying to figure out a way to keep them completely out of sight. In fact, he even wanted them to sort of rise up only when needed, you know, on like motors. That didn't work. But he settled, ultimately, to simply having the bathroom off his master bedroom in his main home, done up as a gold throne. All right, the last question. Let's see if you can pick one up.

The end of Liberace's life was marked by a palimony suit filed by his longtime companion Scott Thorson. Mr. Thorson described Liberace as a controlling Svengali, who demanded absolute obedience and what else? A, Liberace forced Thorson to have plastic surgery to look like him, so Liberace could feel like he was romancing himself. B, Thorson was allowed to eat only the food that Liberace left on his plate. Or C, Thorson was required to walk no closer to him in public than 20 feet, and if asked he was to say he was Liberace's personal laundry attendant.

FREER: C.

SAGAL: C? You're absolutely confident it's C? Walk 20 feet behind me. If anybody asks, I don't know you.

FREER: I'm confident.

SAGAL: It was A. It was the plastic surgery. Yeah. As gross as that is, it apparently was true. According to Thorson's book, Liberace looked upon Thorson as the bandages were removed and said, quote, "A beauty. A star is born." By the way, Thorson's settlement for his palimony suit included a gold Rolls Royce, which probably made up for a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So Carl, how did Bob Freer do on our quiz?

KASELL: I think he struck out, Peter. No correct answers, so he needed at least to win for Ann Ordaleva and he had none.

SAGAL: I got to say, I think it's good that you lost. You don't want, with your job, your mind muddled with unnecessary facts.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bob Freer is the founder of the Everglades Outpost, a wildlife refuge in Homestead, Florida. He can also been seen wrestling gators back to the swamp on the Animal Planet TV show, "Miami Animal Police." Bob Freer, thank you so much for being here.

FREER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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