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Making friends with rattlesnakes?



Dog tales                           

Probably not a good idea. My Beautiful black Lab, Jordan, my service dog, thought that one looked like a dandy toy. As smart as she is, and was, even at 11 months old, she had absolutely no perspective, knowledge, or experience with this interesting coiling creature. It even had an inviting noise. A new friend. What fun!                                                                                                                                                

We live in the mountains at about 8500 ft. Most literature, as well as the Department of Wildlife (DOW), states that they don’t take to well to less oxygen. Jordan begs to disagree. Creatures will always go to a place with an abundant food source. Reptiles are cold-blooded animals and will always be dormant in lower temperatures.

So why at my home? We have an abundant food source for them. In addition to lots of bunny rabbits, we have these incredibly cute and tiny chipmunks, known as “Lesser Chipmunks”. We were the ones responsible for creating this abundant food source for the rattlesnakes. We were unintentionally supplying an abundant food source for the little chipmunks. We have an incredible array of astounding birds that we were feeding 50 lbs of sunflower seeds to every month. It was fun to watch the little critters skittering around catching all of the seed that got kicked out of the feeders.

They were so busy and well fed, that they just kept having more and more babies. So, Mother Nature took over our mountain. Everyone was taken care of and populations were thriving, as meant to be.

And the cold-blooded thing? No problems there. Contrary to what some people think about Colorado, being the cold capitol of the nation. Our spectacular skiing is what gives us that reputation, but it is really not true. We also have 300 plus days of sunshine a year. The sunshine combined with our dry climate, makes a zero degree-day feel like 40 degrees in a humid climate. The sunshine on a beautiful September day on a south-facing hillside in Colorado sunshine is quite the find for any creature. Then you have an endless banquet of tasty morsels to top it off.

The snake was right in front of our house. I heard it and immediately jumped 20 feet before it lunged. I handily escaped because I had prior knowledge and an understanding of what that sound meant, as well as speedy action. Jordan did not have that knowledge. Plus, she was still a puppy. Anything that invites a puppy to play is welcome. She saw it lunge after me, and that looked like fun. She actually followed and confronted him. Oops! I had a hard time getting her in the house, she wanted more.

Knowing that snakes existed on my mountain, it was my fault because I had not educated her. There was a show on “Animal Planet” called “Venom ER”. It showed all kinds of venomous bites and their outcomes. It was based in Southern California and was quite educational. Desert areas where nasty biting creatures are abundant hold “Aversion” classes for people with dogs. They teach how to educate your canine that if you smell “this”, you should not be amused. This is my beautiful girl at 10 months old, before the bite.

The reasons that we did not educate our young lady that summer were twofold. 1) We needed to capture a live snake, and 2) we needed to capture a live snake when we also had a large supply of ice. We live on top of a mountain an hour away from the nearest grocery store. We have a limited supply of electricity, having no power lines, so we only had a relatively small propane refrigerator. A live snake was easy. Ken used to capture them all the time when he was a kid.

To do the training, you need to have the snake, and then ice it down until it is motionless and dormant. Then you muzzle it with “Co band”. Then, allow it to warm and revive. Sound like fun?

Now you can “teach” your class and educate your canine, and probably your small children about why that smell and that sound are something to stay away from.

The moral of this story: Be aware of where you live and the dangers that exist. You may not find a trainer who can, or will do “aversion” training. But, educate your loved ones about the dangers and how to avoid them. For our canines, they should know the smell, and for all of us bi-peds, we should be aware of the sound so that we are aware of the danger. Summer is soon over but they have not found their winter hidey-holes yet.

If you do live in an area that does have rattlesnakes, there is a rattlesnake vaccine that you should give your dog. Not every vet carries it in our area because the cost of purchasing a whole case is generally not worth the expense for the few clients it would serve. It can be found though. The company that makes it is “Red Rocks Biologics”. Your dog will still have the effects of the venom if bitten, but with much less severity. Any desert areas will most likely have it readily available.

So how is my Jordan? It was a beautiful mid-September afternoon. She had a maniacal ride down the mountain to the emergency clinic She had bags of antibiotics, anti-venom, and steroids, oral morphine for pain, a night of intensive care, and a really long and uncomfortable week. So what is she left with? A nasty scar under her left eye, and a great deal of wisdom. Experience is the best, yet usually unexpected, teacher. I call these things “Object lessons” and can be invaluable to our dogs, your children, and us. She also now has the anti-bodies to rattlesnakes from both the bite, and the vaccine. She well understands to stay away, but if she were to stumble upon one, which is unlikely since she knows the smell, she has much better protection.

Do as I say, not as I did. And be aware and be careful. It is not advisable, but a big dog can survive bites in some areas of the county without anti-venom. There are many vatieties of venomous snakes, so know what your dealing with. Small dogs should make the ER asap. Actually, any size should have anti-venom post-haste. By the time we got to the hospital, Jordan's Lab face had transformed into something more like a Sharpei. The swelling moved down her body bit by bit for an entire week. She just moaned when sleeping for many days.

She still has a scar under her left eye. The magic of computer photo editing takes care of pictures, and I have no photo to prove it. Mom's vanity, I suppose.

For more info on dogs and

For info on avoiding them

This confirms the information that I have found about high

Maybe the world of animals will just go out of their way to get to us!

I can not confirm the type of rattler that the above picture is. I can't find a like picture anywhere. I have believed that it is a Prairie Rattler. But they don't look like this at all. The internet, as well as multiple publoications have failed me over the years. Does anyone know an expert out there? Please send a comment or email if anyone knows. I am baffled and seek to give accurate info. Thanks!

Tip of the dog’s Tale

My object lesson that I am happy to share: Pet health insurance s a really good investment. This trip; to the ER was certainly not expected. I am happy to report that we did have insurance for her. So, a $2000 evening of fun was covered 80/20 with only a $100 deductible. I wish I could get that kind of insurance.

Jordan actually had to have surgery on both knees. “Football” knee, or ACL ruptures, are, unfortunately common in sporting breeds. It is not a genetic or family problem. Also, it is 80% bilateral in canines. Oops! Six years old and probably $10,000 worth of vet bills. Insurance is a no brainer. She is well worth the money, but 80/20 is a whole lot easier. This time, do as I do!

It is highly likely that your pet (s) will have at least one major illness or injury in her lifetime. Maybe $500 a year is well worth the assurance that you can afford your friend's healthcare. This includes wellness checks, vaccinations, and for a little more, a yearly dental worth sometimes $500.

If anyone needs advise on pet behavior, please email or make a comment that can be shared with all. Many people have the same or similar problems that I would love to address.