“He liked my antlers!” – Suzanne “Hogbabe” Howard on what first attracted partner John “Hogman” Schmidt to her
It is said that “perfect love matches” are made in heaven.
For John “Hogman” Schmidt and Suzanne “Hogbabe” Howard, however, the confluence of their lives began running together some three years ago.
By day, Hogbabe is better known as Suzanne Howard, R.N. – an ombudsman for patients at Ochsner Hospital on the West Bank.
“My specialty is that I resolve problems between patients and People’s Health (insurance company), their doctors and Medicare,” she says. “I’m like a liaison patient advocate. … Just about anything that has to do with a patient having a problem, I deal with it. It’s all about keeping the patients happy and keeping things running smoothly. That’s my job 8 to 5. Then at 5 or sometimes 6 when I get off …”
When she leaves her day job, Suzanne Howard, R.N. goes to her pickup truck where she has jeans, boots and “whatever,” and becomes “Hogbabe” also known in some quarters as “Suzy Trapper,” a nuisance wildlife control operator licensed by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department and ready to go anywhere to remove a pesky raccoon from somebody’s henhouse or a possum with a nasty attitude out of an attic.
“There are about 100 trappers like John and me across the state,” Hogbabe says with a tinge of pride in her voice. “Of that number, only five or six are women.”
Hogman on the other hand, is on call 24/7. His full-time passion for his life’s work is easily evident by the pickup trucks filled with traps and cages, and the body of a lone armadillo in the back of one of those trucks that line the drive way of the fashionable home off River Road that he and Hogbabe share.
The living room, walls lined with trophy deer heads, adds to the picture. The neat stacks of antlers around the house do nothing to refute the image that these are “outdoor people.”
“When I was a little boy I was fascinated with bugs,” the 55-year-old Hogman says. “When I got a little bigger, around 3 years old, I became fascinated with birds and my dad built me a trap to catch birds. It just took off from there … full time. My grandfather lived in Mississippi. Well, the lady next door to him had a chicken farm and she sold eggs. She was bothered by possums. I had been saving my birthday money to buy traps and she gave me the job of getting rid of those possums. So that was my first paying job – trapping possums – I was 8 years old.”
But these days when you spend your workdays depleting the pigeon population at Louis Armstrong Airport and your nights trapping 1,000-pound feral hogs, life can get a little lonely.
It was no less lonely for a registered nurse in Dallas who had just returned from a 10-year stint as a nurse for the Choctaw nation on a windswept plane in Oklahoma.
Though worlds away from each other, they both hit on the idea of searching for “the right person” on one of those “mate matching computer” sites.
“I had no idea how to use that service,” Hogman says. “A friend of mine told me that’s how he had met his wife. They were both happy. So I tried it. I Googled one of the services. Then I made a profile. That’s as far as I got. I had no idea how to proceed.” He continues, “I found one of my work pictures. I didn’t really have any pictures of myself. It took me three tries. The very next day, I had 120-something replies. I paid the money required so I could read them. And the very first one I read was from Suzy.”
When the service asked Hogbabe about a radius for the search she requested, she wanted to type in 50 miles, but accidently wrote “500 miles.”
“When the reply came back, I asked, ‘Where in the world is St. Rose, Louisiana?’” Hogbabe says. “But it really didn’t matter. He would have flown to Australia.”
Hogman and Hogbabe forsook all others and zeroed in on each other’s reports. Next step: they exchanged photos.
“She sent me a picture with her feet up on a table,” Hogman recalls. “She was out in the sun and on the table was a little deer antler …”
“He didn’t zone in on me and my beautiful feet,” Hogbabe says. “All he could see were those antlers. He writes to me and says, ‘What nice little antlers you have.’ Hey! What does he expect? I was born and raised in Antlers, Oklahoma … that’s the deer capital of the world.”
“I came down and I absolutely fell in love with New Orleans,” Hogbabe says. “I had no idea there were all these wild animals around this city. Anyway, I would go with him on his jobs and I thought, ‘This is so cool!’ I fell in love with what John does. But I knew I couldn’t even touch the animals until I had a license. I took the test and today, I’m a licensed nuisance wildlife control operator.” She continues, “I love it because I never know what the next telephone call is going to bring. It may be bats in some building in the French Quarter to beavers, nutria or coyotes in Belle Chasse, to hogs rooting up the polo fields on the Northshore … Or maybe just squirrels in somebody’s attic. You never know.”
As if to make her point, Hogbabe reaches into one of many cages that fill the back of pick up trucks in the backyard. She comes out with “Fatty Patty,” a pregnant possum who’s none too happy to be awaked from her sleep.
“Isn’t she sweet?” Hogbabe asks. “When she has her babies, I’m going to keep one and that’s going to be my pet.”
Hogman and Hogbabe walk off hand-in-hand as he’s telling a friend nearby about how he could’ve saved Jefferson Parish a “ton of money,” had the late Sheriff Harry Lee hired him to thin out the nutria population rather than declare open season on the rodents by allow his deputies to pick them off at night in the canals.
Hogbabe is stroking Fatty Patty’s coat with one hand and telling how she removed the possum from the registrar’s office in Harahan.
Somehow you just know that if Walker Percy had written this love story, it wouldn’t have been titled Love in the Ruins, but Love in Hog Heaven.