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Apr 09

Post-Traumatic Snake Disorder

Last week, as is my daily habit, I took my dogs on a little nature hike around the rancho. A jolly, carefree crone left the bunkhouse that day, but a broken woman returned. Why? Well, we don’t call it Dreadful Acres for nothing. I allude, of course, to another close encounter of the venomous kind with a Western diamondback rattler (see banner, above). Hear my tale.

Bert and FranThe dogs are just a couple of doofy retrievers, a yella lab and a golden, cavorting in a big hay field. Suddenly the yella lab leaps 2 feet in the air, startled. I’m 20 yards away, but from the dog’s posture I know what it is even before I hear the rattle. Sure enough, the serpent uncoils, rising a foot and a half off the ground in strike mode. The lab is maybe 3 feet from the snake, and the golden is rushing over to investigate. I try to impersonate a happy and delightful crone, keeping the terror out of my voice as I call them back, but horribly, the rattling snake is more interesting than I am (says a lot about me, I agree), and both of those flippin’ dogs totally blow me off!

Note to Crone: shit, we gotta finish that obedience class.

Finally the lab decides to heed my desperate cries. She is followed reluctantly by the golden, whose recall is notoriously the worst in all of Cottonmouth County. Immediately I stuff their faces with the emergency organic chicken hot dogs I carry in my mouldering pocket for moments like this, hoping they’ll remember, for future reference, that (running away from rattlesnake) + (toward me) = cured smoked sausage. Tragedy averted, narrowly.

So that’s the backstory. The current status is that I am now too freaked out to let Fran and Bert out of the yard, with the result that they have cabin fever. Well, there’s a fairly snake-proof fenced-in acre that they can access through a doggy door, but that’s a pretty crummy arrangement when they’ve been used to what the great poet Oliver Wendell Douglas called “land spreadin’ out so far and wide.” Unfortunately, I know all too well from past rattlesnake episodes that it will be a couple of weeks before I can face taking them out again, and possibly months before I’ll be comfortable bringing them down to the hay field.

Even if I actually installed a decent recall on those dogs (heaven forfend!), it’s no protection against the vipers they find when they’re out snuffling around on their own. What’s a crone to do?

BTW, if you’re gonna suggest that I turn to drugs and alcohol: I already tried that, and it’s awesome, but it for some reason it doesn’t seem to fix my irrational fear problem. If, on the other had, you’re gonna suggest that I either suck it up or move to a serpent-free zone such as Antarctica, that’s no good either, due to my having been born without that crucial part of the brain used to make sensible decisions (see “drugs and alcohol,” above).

__________________
A version of this post originally appeared as a thread at the CoTH forum. I only mention this because I am informed that in this post-Jayson Blair age, it is considered bad form even to plagiarize oneself. Anyway, the CoTHers, ever wise, suggested that I enroll the pooches in a rattler aversion therapy class. My Google fingers are like wings.

24 comments

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  1. rootlesscosmo

    hoping they’ll remember, for future reference, that (running away from rattlesnake) + (toward me) = cured smoked sausage.
    And hoping they don’t make the wrong connection, i.e. “Snake bring chicken! Find snake!”

  2. tinfoil hattie

    Keep Manhattan; just gimme that countryside.

  3. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    “And hoping they don’t make the wrong connection, i.e. “Snake bring chicken! Find snake!””

    Ha! I know!

    I have made a snake avoidance training appointment with the local bird dog wrangler. It involves live rattlesnakes and a shock collar, but I figure the shock is very much the lesser of two evils. It’s supposedly more startling than painful, but I really wouldn’t mind if there was some pain in there, to really drive the point home. Those goddang snakes mean bizness.

  4. ew_nc

    Good on ya for making that appointment for training. If you can stand the unsolicited advice from a former dog trainer, I’d say that yelling in an alarmed fashion would probably have been the better response. It would have conveyed the message of danger to them.

    Then again, I trained German Shepherds, not retrievers, and I don’t live in a county named for a venomous snake. I’m thinking your snake problem is actually a SNAKE PROBLEM!

  5. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    I hear ya, ew_nc, on the yelling alarmedly. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive, but my old trainer drummed it into me that the retrievers are generally more apt to perform the recall when the recaller is throwing a happy party. Even so, I am pretty certain that, despite my best efforts, when I was calling those dogs away from that snake I was probably screaming at the top of my register.

  6. Val

    Two words for ya: rattlesnake vaccine! I carry it & I’m willing to bet a vet in Johnson City or Marble Falls does too!
    I can look it up when I get back to office

  7. pheenobarbidoll

    The anti snake training is a MUST. The second they sniff out a snake they will book it the hell away. You’ll feel bad during it, but it’s better than rushing a screaming dog to a vet that may not even be able to save it.
    Just make sure the collar is set to vibrate, but if that doesn’t work a little shock is still better than snake bite.

  8. Laurie

    Yes, the vaccine saved our goony lab-rott mix’s life when a rattler bit her last summer. We’d given her the two-shot series in the spring.

    Never saw the snake and didn’t know she’d been bitten, we were driving back to town by chance, fortunately. She seemed fine when she jumped in the truck, but twenty minutes later, when we got home, her face was twice its normal size, so we raced her to the vet. A lot of steroids overnight and she survived, but it took a while for her nerves to settle down, poor thing.

  9. tinfoil hattie

    Whew! My nerves are jangling just reading these stories! I have neve sen a poisonous snake in the wild, though I’ve always lived in copperhead country. Country life is pretty harrowing, from the sound of it.

    A propos of nothing at all, I recently acquired a Jawbone “Up”‘ device that works much like Twisty’s Fitbit from several posts ago. I am LOVING it, though I am much chagrined about how few steps I move on a daily basis. I bet dodging rattlers keeps one’s number of daily steps quite high!

  10. Wolfhound

    Might I suggest leash walking, at least until the aversion training is complete, to alleviate the cabin fever? Or you could share the drugs and alcohol with the dogs & knock ‘em out. We’d also welcome you in Vermont, where there are no poisonous snakes and probably more feminists.

  11. awhirlinlondon

    Rootless – giant snort of horrified laughter.

    Due to the fact that I’ve only lived in tiny apartments for the last some years, my current delightful dog is a small attack poodle, as was his predecessor, who I was lucky enough to have for 17 years. The great horror in the countryside outside of Seattle, where I lived for a long while, was the thought of eagles taking him for an hors d;oeuvre and swooping in. (They do that, you know.) Horror.

    Was recently working at an AFB in Florida for a few weeks and the talk there was alligators. Or possibly crocodiles. Or possibly both. Think I prefer the wildlife of downtown Chicago. The unarmed ones, anyway.

  12. Friend of Snakes

    We’d also welcome you in Vermont, where there are no poisonous snakes and probably more feminists.

    Au contraire, Wolfhound, timber rattlesnakes, Crotalus horridus, are still hanging on in their rocky redoubts in western Vermont, despite the centuries of attempts by humans to wipe them from the face of the earth. May they thrive forever! Despite the scary-sounding specific name, these, like most venomous snakes, are timid creatures that would prefer to conserve their venom to use for catching their food, not giant humans (or dogs).

    By the way, right now is the time of year when those Vermont rattlers are venturing forth from their dens to bask on south-facing outcrops and prepare to disperse for the summer. I found a few enlightened popular news articles about them online. Here’s a good one from a couple of years ago with lots of photos:
    http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110619/GREEN01/106190306/For-rattlesnakes-Vermont-we-re-danger

    Points of order:

    1.)There are no poisonous snakes. Anywhere. We’re talking here about venomous, not poisonous, creatures. For poison, think toxic mushrooms or cyanide and such items, often ingested or absorbed by victims; for venom, the various compounds produced by snakes and bees and platypus, usually injected into prey – or tormentors.
    2.)More feminists in Vermont? Than where? Rhode Island?

  13. c2t2

    I think Wolfhound’s onto something. Share the drugs with ALL your critters. With everyone flopped on the floor staring at the pretty colors in the air, then no worries about stir-crazy pooches and no horses gettin into trouble. Even the cat can join in. Fun for the whole family!

  14. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Friend of Snakes, je t’aime. But wait, platypussae are venomous? Next you’ll be telling me koalas are breeding in the sewers!

    I can verify anecdotally that the adult Western diamondbacks, at least, seem reluctant to envenomate Labrador retrievers. Franny has been within striking distance of at least 3 rattlers that I am aware of, and each time the snake has had the politesse not to kill her. Of course, each time my panic escalates, this time to the point that I actually blogged about it. Yipes.

    RE the vaccine: I’ve collected contradictory intelligence on this. One vet said don’t bother, another wanted to sell me the shots and was all for it. My sibling Tidy, who has a snake phobia that makes my own PTS(nake)D look like a fetish, tried it with her golden, but he had a reaction and couldn’t finish the series.

    Wolfhound, I would survive exactly 4 minutes of a Vermont winter. But thanks all the same.

  15. Hattie

    But… if you had common sense, you wouldn’t be you, and we would not be entertained.

  16. Friend of Snakes

    But wait, platypussae are venomous? Next you’ll be telling me koalas are breeding in the sewers!

    I paused momentarily while composing that short list of venom-producing critters before settling on a mammalian example. My first choice was actually one or another of the little shrews, but I feared a feminist slap-down on that one. Haven’t you noticed, some commenters seem so tetchy these days? Especially when spurred on by intentionally provocative articles in certain blogs. Well anyway, since Dreadful Acres abuts Savage Death Island, what better choice than a species like the platypus, of which only the male produces the venom?

  17. julybirthday

    Hey there! My dad had his gooftastic chocolate lab “snake trained” with the shock collar, and it worked like a charm. She was so freaked about the first shock that they had a hard time getting her to go back for the obligatory second look at the snake to help drive home the message. And she lived snakebite-free for the rest of her days.

  18. quixote

    Yup. platypuses are venomous. Somehow I assumed it had to do with their bite. Now, looking it up on Wikipedia, I find out it’s ankle spurs! And the venom is enough to take down a dog. That’s in an animal the size of a teacup poodle. Australia is an interesting country.

  19. Tehomet

    Kali on a kale cupcake! That’s bloody terrifying.

  20. awhirlinlondon

    Dear Friend of Snakes – I met a Black Mamba summer before last. Was in S. Africa. It was nestled in the branches of a tree just above my doorway. I didn’t notice it – who looks up? – but other, more intelligent people did – they explained that when the birds go silent, it’s wise to look up. (Note to self.) It was wonderful to see how the sighting was managed – a fellow showed up, climbed up a ladder, then the tree, with a long forked thing and a canvas bag. He didn’t end up using the forked thing (last resort, he said) – instead, very slowly put his hand behind the Mamba’s head on its neck and held it (around the jaw, I think?) – Mamba was not thrilled at that point – and then put Mamba in the bag & tied the bag up tight. Mamba was then driven a few miles away and released.

    Spoke to Mr Wrangler, who was most certainly a friend of snakes, and he explained (as I’m sure you know) that although the BM is the fastest snake running & that without anti-venom, the bite is almost invariably lethal – and that cornered, it’s massively aggressive – like almost all snakes, it has no desire to meddle with humans. Would far rather get away from them. Asked him if he had the anti-venom. He said no. Man loved his snakes. And educating people about them.

  21. Ellen

    New reader, you’re fab! Found you via FB link (although I’m an ancient CoTH denizen myself).

  22. maeralin

    We have all kinds of snaky monsters here in the Boston Mountains, and an acre and a half fenced in. When my beagle wanted out and then wanted back in, I didn’t think anything of it. Maybe twenty minutes later I realized he was standing there staring at me and shivering. I looked up, and his muzzle had swollen up so badly that he looked like Snoopy.

    We shelled out the bux for the antivenin treatment without batting an eyelash, and he made it through okay after a touch-and-go twenty-four hours. The vet found the fang marks, sized them and declared that the perp was probably a copperhead. Unlike rattlesnakes, he sez, they don’t announce their presence, just curl up (in leaves, I guess, which our backyard is full of, and which match their coloring) and hope they’re ignored. When they decide that they’re not being ignored, they don’t hesitate. Max probably had no idea the snake was even there.

  23. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Here at my house, we teach the doctrine of “Skunk bring bath with peroxide and Dawn. And shampooing of carpet with nasty, non-dog-smelling stuff.” So grateful the worst varmint problem here is stanky but not deadly.

  24. Veganrampage

    Rattlesnakes are called, and I shit you not, “The Gentleman Snake.” They rattle, therefore warning the potential threat before they strike. I am not making this up. I doubt they rattle when after prey items.

    Maybe you could get a rattle and rattle it in front of the dogs and at the same time scream at the top of your lungs. Repeat this 10 times a day for a month. You will be on your way to the nut house in no time at all.

    I’ll meet you there.

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