I am convinced one of my dogs is part feline and has nine lives. After Saturday, she is on about No. 4.
I took the girls hiking Saturday and chose a Huntsville Land Trust Trail I’d never hiked. I didn’t think it was a tough trail, so I didn’t bring my hiking pole. It was a beautiful day, perfect weather and fantastic views. As we neared the end of the five mile loop, this pretty little thing was stretched out halfway across the trail. I’m told he was simply sunning himself, but I would’ve bought him a tanning bed package if it kept him in the wilderness.
I don’t usually leash the girls hiking because, surprisingly, it’s the one place they obey every command. Lucky is always in the lead, me in the middle, and Barkley bringing up the rear. I didn’t see the snake until I was nearly on top of it, maybe 2-3 feet feet away. Lucky was about five feet past it. He was stretched out about halfway across the trail, with his head and neck lifted slightly off the ground. I could see the rest of his body stretched out behind him. He was really long and pretty round in the middle. He blended perfectly and had he not been on the trail, I don’t think I would’ve seen him. He didn’t move much except for his head, as if he were surveying the threat. (Assure me, no threat, just fear.)
To say I panicked when I saw him would be the understatement of the year. My reaction included a mixture of crying, hyperventilating, screaming and lots of “Help me Jesuses.” I just started praying as hard as I could. I’m fairly certain had someone been filming, we would’ve won a million dollars. (Are they still making that show, by the way.) I started praying instantly. I use the term “pray” loosely. It was more a string of incoherent, loud cries for calm and for peace, for wisdom to know what to do, for strength to do it and for the slithery serpent to go back into the woods… far off the trail. I’m not sure I ever formed a full, proper, coherent sentence.
Since I was in a panic and making all sorts of noise, Lucky came running back to me… past the outstretched snake… for the second time. She headed toward me before I could stop her or yell “stay.” The snake didn’t strike her or coil up. I grabbed Lucky and immediately leashed her and Barkley. I backed up carefully (or as carefully as you can in a hysterical state) surveying the woods for extended family members. There was a terror of panic because of the snake in front of me and its size. But there was a second overwhelming fear of seeing another one behind me or next to me. I’ve truly never been that terrified. I used to think I hated ticks more than any other living creature. Turns out, I was wrong. Snakes for the win.
I didn’t know what to do next. Here I was, alone with my dogs and of course, no hiking pole and no gun. I wasn’t about to cross it, and I was far too terrified to leave the trail. I
prayed begged Jesus to make him go away. Slowly, the snake began to turn around. He slithered away, taking his merry time doing so. I took the photo above as he was on his way back into the woods. It’s zoomed in as far as my iPhone would zoom. In those few minutes, every thought imaginable crossed my mind. How far from the end of the trail was I? How far can he strike? Is it a rattlesnake or a Copperhead? Do I know how to tie a tourniquet? Can I carry my dog if one of them gets bit? How far is the emergency vet from here? Can I call 911 if it bites my dog? Why didn’t I bring my stick? Why didn’t I bring my pistol? What if there are more? What if there are thousands of baby snakes like that scene in Indiana Jones? What if I get trapped between two of them? Should I just chance it and leave the trail?
I know these stories have a way of becoming exaggerated, but I was so terrifyingly close to this snake. He could’ve easily reached me. (And I learned after this escapade, snakes can strike up to their own length. I sure wish I had known that earlier.) But Lucky, that blasted dog, traipsed right past the snake twice! She never reacted to the snake, only to me. I don’t even think she saw it. And if she did, she didn’t seem to know it was a living thing capable of killing her. Lucky is a chaser… squirrels, birds, rabbits, possums… who knows what she’d be like with a snake. I have no idea how or why that snake did not bite my dog. She was clearly in its personal space. Twice. But Lucky is fine, as am I. Praise Jesus for His protection and peace. A friend told me rattlesnakes give off a foul odor when properly fed, meaning not just out of hibernation. He said my dogs would’ve smelled the odor and reacted had it been mid-summer.
Friends have told me it’s about 30-40 days before snakes would normally be out, but the weather is so warm, their internal schedules are off. I’m told they will be bad this year because of the mild winter and they enjoy sunbathing on trails, more than likely what this one was trying to do. I’m also told that if there’s one more hard freeze (which is likely) before spring officially arrives, it could be really tough on the snakes that have already come out. (Bring on the cold!!!) I’ve shared this story with several hunters and outdoor friends. Most agreed he’d just come out of hibernation and was lethargic from lack of food. Most said a month from now, it may have very well struck my dog.
When I saw it, I was astounded by its size and instantly thought it was a Copperhead. I’d heard they were populous around here though I’d never seen one. When it turned to go back into the woods, its tail looked like it was a rattle. It was black and had defining ridges on it, but I never heard a rattle. Later, I was told they only rattle when they feel threatened or want you to know they are there. When I googled images later, he looked a lot like a Copperhead, but after showing the photo to my experienced friends, everyone agreed it was a Timber Rattler. (Oh heaven help me.) But I also learned Copperheads (and water moccasins) are highly aggressive but rattlesnakes are not. They rattle simply to let you know where they are so you can stay away. Moral of the story: if you’re going to hike, learn about snakes. I got schooled real quick. And another valuable lesson learned: I have a gun and a hiking stick for a reason. Do not hike without them. Next shopping trip will include buying a second magazine and a round of rat shot. The only good snake is a dead snake.
The funny thing to me is, I’ve grown up outdoors. I’ve hiked and camped with my family all my life. As a kid, we had a boat and spent many days on the lake around all sorts of creatures. In all my hiking, with and without the dogs, this is my first snake encounter. (And praying for it to be my only.) But my dad was probably truthful when he said, “Victoria, as much as you hike, you’ve probably walked right past Copperheads and rattle snakes just off the trails and never even noticed.” Gee, thanks for another fear dad. I think this is an “ignorance is bliss” sort of moment.
Oh, and diabetes and poisonous snakes don’t mix very well either. I was 71-108 the entire trail. About 45 minutes post snake encounter, I was 323. Thanks for that, snake. You are evil in more ways than one. And I don’t think God referring to satan in the Bible as a serpent is a coincidence. I’m just saying.
Lucky’s first three lives: She was first found at 5 weeks old in the middle of the field with six siblings. The vet said she wasn’t sure how they’d survived. As a puppy, she ate an entire bag of chocolate. I made her puke with peroxide, and she was fine. (Vet suggestion on the peroxide. I’ve used it more than once on her.) And as an adult, she eaten numerous things that should’ve killed her or at least ripped her stomach and/or asophogas. Metal, plastic, rope, rocks, safety pin, lancet, syringe (with the cap on), etc. In addition to nine lives, it seems she has an iron stomach. I guess I picked the right name in Lucky.
So now, we’re up to life No. 4, and I’m holding my breath. I love both my dogs equally, but I talk more about Lucky because she requires it. Barkley is well-behaved and well-mannered, nearly always following my commands. She is a superb dog. But Lucky? Lucky is the kind of dog legends are made of. I will tell stories about Lucky for the rest of my life… Like the time I came home and found a box of Tegaderm and lancets scattered across my living room. She’d eaten I don’t know how many lancets and had started in on the tape. But based on the scraps stuck to her snout, I think she’d given up. This dog… should win a medal or something.
As we say in Alabama, bless her heart.