The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

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Lalo with a ball
The unsuspecting victim moments before the strike.

Rattlesnake in a bucket
A bucket o’ rattlesnake—Western Diamondback variety

Rattlesnake summer

—Ty Belknap
I should have been at the office working on this Signpost, but instead I was sitting in the parking lot of VCA Animal Hospital, working on a six-pack. Inside, my dog Lalo was on an antivenin drip, working on a $2,000 doctor bill. It would have been cheaper if the snake had bitten me.

I nearly stepped on it during a noontime walk. As the rattlesnake coiled to strike at me, Lalo came bounding back up the trail, got nailed on the front leg, and ran home like the devil was on his tail. He never saw the snake until it was too late. I probably should have killed it for identification, but I knew what kind of snake it was—a Western Diamondback. I’d seen plenty this summer.

A lot of people never see rattlers, but they’re out there. I walked around my land for fifteen years and never saw a snake. Some say that they’re out in force this summer because the monsoons have driven them out of their dens. A guy in the VCA waiting room told me that a golfer at Twin Warriors ended up in intensive care last month after a snake bit him while he was searching in the rough for his ball. I heard that a Placitas resident was bitten while hiking on the La Luz Trail.

Nationwide, only four people per thousand suffer snakebites each year—most of them are drunk males displaying their snake-handling skills. Of those, only one per thousand are fatal. The statistics are probably worse for dogs. I’m no drunken showoff snake-handler, but it doesn’t help that snakes start moving at happy hour. I don’t believe in killing them (now, I’m not sure), but sometimes there isn’t time to call a professional handler when dogs and family need the snake to go away.

Our initial snake encounter of the summer took place during the first big thunderstorm in June. It was coiled like a rug just outside a hallway window, trying to avoid the hail. I caught it with a rake and five-gallon bucket and found it a new home across the raging Las Huertas Creek. The snake was pretty docile—almost like it had been through the whole bucket routine before. It occurred to me that my dead-end neighborhood on the edge of the open space might seem like a good point for drop-off of a captured snake. My friend who lives at the end of Camino de la Rosa Castilla suspects that a lot of rattlers end up at his house for this very reason. It’s getting hard to find a place around here where nobody lives.

In August, we shared a riverside camp with a rare pink rattlesnake unique to the Grand Canyon. Flash flood on one side and cliff on the other made relocation of this snake impossible. At least we all knew where each other were. Nobody wanted to kill it, even though a bite at the bottom of the canyon would have required a rescue-helicopter ride.

A week after the river trip, I nearly ran over a rattler with my bicycle. Then our friends’ collie was bitten on the snout, went into a coma, and after a week (and $6,000) in the hospital, she was still desperately ill. They told us that even though the efficacy of rattlesnake vaccine was controversial, their veterinarian was coming to vaccinate their other dogs. I told them to send her to my house, too, figuring the price was a fraction of the cost and suffering inflicted by a snakebite.

Shortly thereafter, another snake came to visit my house. We we sitting on the portal at dusk watching a storm blow in from the west. For once, we had Lalo on a leash, because he was making too much noise attacking rocks in the arroyo. A familiar rattle sounded from ten feet away when we stood up, the three-footer barely visible in the failing light. After hustling the dogs into the pen, I caught the snake and put the bucket in the truck until the next day—keeping in mind the statistics about snake handling.

That snake was really mad. It was still rattling the next morning when we took it down the road for relocation. It stayed coiled for five minutes after it got out of the bucket, and then relaxed. I walked toward the snake and it coiled again when it sensed my footsteps from ten feet away. Then other senses make it turn to face me.

You can’t help but admire such an amazing creature, but they sure can be troublesome. Four dogs within a mile of my house have been bitten during the last year, one fatally.

We’re moving into their habitat and stepping on them. There’s no sense trying to kill them all or hating them for being rattlesnakes. It would be like the War on Terrorism, only terrorists don’t scare me half as much.

Lalo survived his bite and came home from the hospital the next day against the stern advice of his doctor, who conceded that the vaccination probably made his symptoms less severe, but there is no way to know how much venom is injected or how a victim will react. Lalo’s flesh is only slightly necrotic around the bite, while some dogs swell up like a balloon and their skin peels off. Sometimes they’re sick for weeks or die horrible deaths. I’m trying to feel lucky.

Is there such a thing as a lucky snakebite?



 

 

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