It’s hard to type when adrenalin is flooding your system. Know what it’s even harder to do? Catch a rattlesnake. Yes, warm weather in my part of town means the rattlesnakes are out and about, looking for love and little furry things to eat. Ironically, my husband and I recently spent the better part of three weekends attaching “snake fencing” to the chain link that makes up the perimeter of what is effectively a huge dog run for Sierra in back of the house. We thought we’d done a decent job—that is, until this afternoon.
I’d just gotten ready to go down to the wolf pen to give the old lady wolf her afternoon snack of hot dogs. (Tea, the old lady wolf, is another story.) Normally Sierra would be giving me that “you know you want to share those” look. But I could only see the back half of her, as she had the front part of her body stuck outside the dog door. She was standing stock still. Normally that pose means she’s spied a lizard (and the lizard should probably get its affairs in order). Leaving her on lizard watch, I tossed a few pieces of hot dog into her dish and headed downstairs. When I returned, the hot dogs were still there. Okay, that was not normal. I could still see the back of her body stuck in the dog door. She was still standing right where I’d left her, frozen, focused on something—only now I could see what it was, and it bigger than a lizard. A lot bigger. The rattlesnake was slithering around just inside the fencing we’d put up. Apparently he knew a thing or two more about the ins and outs of snake fencing than we do. I grabbed the snake tongs and the bag-on-a-pole that we keep on hand for such occasions and, locking Sierra securely inside, headed out.
I’d tonged a rattlesnake once before back when Phantom, my last remaining wolf, was alive. It had been in the enclosure with him, he was freaking out, and I’d really had no choice. I figured I could do it again. But that one had been lying there, docile, facing away from me. This one was facing me, and if snakes had fingers, it was pretty clear which one was raised in my direction. Oookeee. I had to rethink this. I wasn’t really sure I could tong the snake around the neck without getting bit, plus the snake was so thick and heavy—roughly five to six feet long—that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to lift it with one arm and maneuver it safely into the bag I’d have to hold with the other arm.
I went back inside the house and called my husband at work, and asked him to get home as quickly as possible. I then called Hugo, our local snake wrangler and my personal hero. Hugo is a local teacher who loves snakes of all kinds. He’s been out to our house four times previously, three times to pick up a rattlesnake, and once for a Mojave Green, which is even more dangerous. Hugo’s great. If you can contain or capture a rattlesnake, Hugo will come and pick it up, take it home and make sure it’s hydrated, then release it in a largely unpopulated area roughly fifteen miles from our home. Someone told me he also feeds the snake a meal before he releases it, since the snake will need some time to adjust to its new environs, and being full is means it won’t have to eat for a while. Thoughtful guy, that Hugo.
I kept an eye on the snake from inside the kitchen door and counted the minutes until my husband would arrive. Each time the rattler started to leave the little area it was slithering around in, I’d go outside and aim a tong in its direction so it would slither back again. Each time I did that, Sierra would jump up on the dog door and whine frantically. I could just about see the thought bubble over her head: Are you insane? Get back in here! A very long twenty minutes later, my husband pulled up. He grabbed the tongs and bag and we walked outside together, having decided that I’d hold the bag while he tonged the snake and dropped it in. The thing was, by this time the snake was really nervous and more than a little agitated. That made two of us. I suggested we wait for Hugo. As we were discussing how long that might be, like a knight in shining armor—or a once-shiny pickup truck—Hugo drove up. He grabbed a few sizes of plastic buckets with spin-tight tops and his own snake hook, and strode confidently to the area the snake had claimed as his.
Sierra and I watched from inside as my husband stood outside watching Hugo do his thing. I can’t tell you the relief I felt as I saw Hugo expertly navigate the area around the snake, tong it, and drop it into the plastic bin. In fact, I was briefly calm enough to grab my iphone and take a brief video clip—through the window—of the capture. The two men looked down at the snake in the plastic bin and chatted for a bit, and I heard Hugo comment that it was one of the biggest rattlers he’s seen this year. Sierra and I looked at each other and wondered what they were thinking, standing so close to that thing. Finally the spin top was securely in place and Hugo left for his next call, a neighbor fifteen minutes up the road who has a gibbon compound, and apparently also has an unwelcome slithering visitor.
It’s not the first time Sierra has been exposed to a rattlesnake (see my previous blog), but hopefully it will be the last. The good news is that she seems to have a natural fear of them, as evidenced by her behavior today as well as the last time, when she heard the rattle from under some plywood and jumped back five feet. I don’t blame people who take their dogs to rattlesnake avoidance training. You can be as anti shock collar as you want, but when it comes to this particular life and death issue, I’m all for the avoidance training. In fact, I’m all for avoidance, period! I could happily go the rest of my life without seeing another rattlesnake up close and personal. It’s going to be a long summer.