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SNAKE AND DOG DILEMMA
International dog show judge shares useful and preventative information about poisonous snakes and his German Shepherd dogs being bitten by a rattlesnake.
Our two dogs were “assisting” me pick grapes by nudging and shining clusters with their moist noses, as if to show me where the ripe ones were. Suddenly Felicia bared her teeth and was off like a bolt of lightning, Justice in hot pursuit of whatever she was after—another dang rabbit, I presumed.
But almost simultaneously, several things blurred together: Felicia spun in her tracks about 60 feet away, having apparently overrun her prey; a buzz sounded, she lunged, and I yelled, “No!” as loudly as I could. Rattlesnake!
Too late. Both dogs were struck. I will cover that in Part Two, Snakebite Treatments For Dogs, but first, some useful and preventative information about snakes.
America’s poisonous snakes include the coral snake and pit vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths). Coral snakes, found mostly in coastal areas from the Carolinas to Mexico, are colorful, banded, small snakes with powerful venom. Similar non-venomous snakes can be distinguished by remembering rhymes: “Red and black, toss it back; red and yellow hurt a fellow.”
When red and yellow touch each other, beware. One reason is that, despite the greater power of the venom, the coral snake injects it by chomping on its victims with a chewing motion over a period of time.
Dogs and other animals almost always shake the snake loose immediately after being bitten, and very little of the poison gets into the system. There are many beneficial snakes of similar color, but the red is separated from the yellow by black or brown. Be nice to these; they’ll help keep vermin down.
Pit vipers get this appellation from a sensory depression below the eyes toward the nostrils but don’t try to get close enough to see it on a live specimen! Instead, rely on these other signs: a more wedge-shaped or triangular head than other snakes have, and a habit of shaking the tail when alarmed. Sometimes they don’t do this, and sometimes harmless garter snakes, hog-nosed snakes, and rat snakes (often called chicken snakes) will bluff you by vibrating the dry leaves with this action.
While the following doesn’t appear in any of the field guides I have, my own experience indicates that rattlesnakes are far more likely to form a tight coil in strike readiness, while other, harmless, species will try to escape or remain fairly extended.
Cottonmouths are so called because of a frequent habit of rearing a defiant head, showing a wide-open, white interior mouth lined with teeth. They are often called “moccasins,” though this term should not be used as it confuses them with non-poisonous snakes whose waters they may share. Adult cottonmouths are 2 to 4 ft long, are bold while other water snakes flee, and are found in ditches, creeks, rivers, etc. of southern lowlands and the Ozarks. Their color is gray, with a hint of green or brown.
Copperheads are the more dry land, with brown or coppery-colored skin. They are smaller, growing up to three feet, generally, and inhabit most of the eastern U.S. from Texas and Kansas to Massachusetts and Georgia.
The most varied of the pit viper subfamily are the rattlesnakes. The giant three-to-six-foot Diamondback of the southwest and of the Mississippi-to-Carolinas coastal regions. Timber rattlers are found in the Midwest, Mid-south, and Mid-Atlantic with a subspecies, the Canebrake Rattlesnake, further south. The Canebrake has a reddish brown stripe along its spine, extending from its neck along for a third to half of its length. Both subspecies have dark spotted-to-banded markings, and the Timber is sometimes seen in a “black” phase, its markings hard to see in the shade.
The characteristic buzz is caused by the dry rattle segments raised and vibrated by an alarmed rattlesnake. Sometimes no warning is given or heard as in this case. But my hollering must have registered on my dogs, for they stayed back. Maybe they listened better to the snake, come to think of it.
I secured my dogs, then ran for the bank blade or bush hook, a long-handled, heavy, broad-bladed tool used in the country for cutting through honeysuckles and small trees or big branches.
Returning to find the rattler again coiled to strike and buzzing with that unmistakable sound which raises the hair on your neck if you’ve ever heard it before, I brought the blade down and sliced the snake into several segments.
I laid out the pieces, about three feet of them, then skinned the two biggest portions. Three days later I fried the marinated tenderloin strips and revengefully ate the delicious result. The dinner gave me three literary ideas: I would write something for dog people because snake encounters are more common and dog owners need to be aware and informed!
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