Showdown with a Snake

copperhead snake

It was a Sunday evening, we had all had our dinner, the dogs had had their Race Day treats.  They went out on the porch to lounge in the cool evening air while Marie and I finished watching the NASCAR cup race at Richmond.

The dogs started barking.  It sounded like other dogs were barking too, so I assumed they were just conversing.  Dogs do that.  But then the intensity stepped up and I decided to go see what they were barking at.

The porch light was enough to see they had a snake “surrounded” out in the driveway.  It wasn’t very big, hard to say for sure because it was coiled up, but probably 12-18”.  Not that it makes any difference: if it’s a viper, the little snakes are just as venomous as the big ones.  More-so, really because they have not learned to meter out their venom by threat level like the bigger snakes will.  If it was non-venomous it won’t hurt them, but I’d rather they didn’t kill it.  I was barefooted and in my PJ’s; not proper snake wrangling attire in either case.

I went back in to get a flashlight.  In the added light I could tell from the porch it was a copperhead.  Until I came out the dogs were just playing chicken with it.  Once I was on scene Cochise went into “Protector Mode” and started attacking the snake; and taking hits from it.  Four… five… six, this is very bad!

I tried to reel Cochise (an 85 pound bull dog) in by his tether to get him out of harm’s way. I had him almost to the porch steps when he lunged back into the fray, zipping the vinyl coated steel cable through my hands and burning my palms.  I tried again.  The pain, and a little anger,  gave me extra strength and I succeeded.  Blondie came along willingly once Cochise was under control.  She was uninjured.  Cochise’s face and neck were bloody.  It took about 30 minutes for Cochise to start ballooning up.  This did not bode well.

I called our veterinarian’s emergency number right away, but that went to a clinic that is over an hour away from us and they would only say, “bring him in”.  I checked the internet and found several pages on dogs being bitten by snakes and what to do.  Copperhead bites are rarely fatal, especially in larger dogs. But they are painful and will need treatment to prevent permanent damage.

I called Jen, a friend of ours whom we work with at the animal shelter.  She said we should give him a large dose of Benadryl to help stem the swelling.  We had some on hand but not enough.  Marie took the truck into town to see what was still open that might have some more.  I urged that she take the flashlight and watch her step carefully on her way to the truck.  If that thing is still out there, it’s pissed off!  Her mission went well and she was back in record time, she said the traffic in Newport was very light at 9:30 PM.

Cochise was really, really good.  The web site I was looking at said that because of the pain and swelling many dogs will get aggressive if you try to mess with the injury.  He never did.  I used a cold, wet wash cloth to clean him up and remove the copious amounts of bloody slime that was running out of his mouth, I opened his mouth and dropped the Benadryl tablets down his throat, and he was a perfect lamb the whole time.

When he first came to us as a foster dog, Cochise came to regard his crate as His Room, a safe place, a sanctuary.  He has not used his crate in ages, but I thought it might be a consoling place to sleep – and would help keep the bloody slime out of the bedroom carpeting.  I padded the crate with several folded up blankets and a couple of old towels on top.  He accepted this accommodation… for a while.  Marie looked after him for the first shift, and when he became restless she let him out to rest in his usual snuggle-bed which was nearby.  Some carefully placed towels helped contain most of the mess.  I awoke at 3:00 and took over as monitor.

dog snake bittenHe was more alert this morning than he was last night.  He’s still drooling bloody slime, though not as much as last night.  But the swelling… he turned his head just as I snapped this photo (he says, “I hate that flashy thing, don’t point it at me.”) but the lower part of his face is 3 times as wide as it should be and the loose skin under is neck is 10 times its normal size.  I had to go to the shop and get a different collar, one that I could let WAY out just so it wouldn’t squeeze on his neck.  We took the precaution of removing his regular collar last night.

Our vet’s web site said they open at 7:00 – I planned to be there a few minutes before that so we could (hopefully) slide in before their first appointment.

I spread an old blanket over the passenger seat, console and floorboard of the truck and asked him if he’d like to go for a truck ride.  He lifted his head and said groggily, “Truck ride?  Yeah… I’d like a truck ride” (he LOVES truck rides!).  I had backed the truck up near the porch to greatly shorten the walk in case he was having trouble with that (at 85 pounds he’s too much to carry very far, especially if he’s not wanting to be carried) but he walked down the steps and climbed up into the truck without problem.  He didn’t want to remain sitting up and had a hard time finding a comfortable position, but once settled he rode well for the trip.

As planned, we got there a few minutes early… and I scared the living daylights out of the poor lil gal who was opening up when she raised the roll-up blinds on the big plate glass front window and I was standing there, anxiously peering in at her.  But she let us in anyway.  Unfortunately they don’t usually have anyone with medical skill come in until 8:30 or 9:00.  I didn’t know that until we got there.

Cochise bled all over their waiting room floor while we discussed the situation and she made some calls.  The veterinarian lives in Knoxville and was already preparing to leave anyway.  She called one of their vet-techs to see if she could come in early.  The tech said she’d try, but has kids she needs to get to school first.  They will need to admit him, sedate him and put him on an IV to get fluids into him as well as an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic. We took him into one of their kennel rooms.  Rather like a shower stall with hinged glass door.

I hated leaving him: we’re so rarely separated and he was already miserable.  But we need to do what needs to be done to try to prevent permanent damage.  I thought about staying in there with him until someone showed up to take care of him—so he wouldn’t feel I’d abandoned him — but Marie needs the truck to get to work.  Someone has to earn the money to pay for all this care.  I don’t even want to *think* about what it’s going to cost.  We’ll deal with that later.  Right now we need to get him better.

Blondie pines for her snake-bitten friendWhen I got home I found Blondie entrenched on the top step of the porch.  Marie said Blondie refused to budge from that spot once Cochise and I had left.  Now she came in, thoroughly sniffed the blanket I carried and was agitated that Cochise did not return with me.  When I’m in the house, Blondie normally comes and sits next to me.  This morning she’s staying as far away from me as she can and still see me.  She’s pining over Cochise’s absence, and is miffed at me.

I went out to the pens and fed Belle.  And I and put out more snake repellent: I’d done that around the workshop, now I added the pens and the parking area in front of the house.  This is where the snake showdown took place.  We live in a forest on a mountain side.  Snakes also live in the woods.  We see a few every year, but this summer we’ve had more encounters than ever before.  And fall is approaching; the time when those snakes will be looking for snug spots to winter.  I wonder if Tractor Supply sells this repellent stuff in 55 gallon drums.


Initially, the veterinary hospital said that Cochise would need to stay over at least one night.  But this evening when I called (again) for a status update they said that I could leave him overnight for observation and pick him up in the morning if I wanted to, or I could pick him up this evening.  I asked, “If I leave him overnight, will you continue his treatment?”  This met with some him-hawing that finally ended in the revelation that they will remove the IV, let the sedative wear off, put him in a kennel, turn the lights off and go home.  No one will stay to “observe” or deal with any problem that might come up at night.  I figure he would be more comfortable — and better “observed” — at home.

He has been drinking water, went out to relieve himself, and Marie made him some kibblemeal (like oatmeal but using ground up kibbles and chicken broth) which he wolfed down – with a lot of help from Marie and a big spoon: his tongue is still very sore and swollen and practically useless.

As for the cost: that ended up being much less heart-stopping than I feared it might.  It was actually pretty reasonable.

When Cochise got home, Blondie was over-joyed to see him.  The one minute video below is of her singing a welcome home to him.  And she is again my little golden shadow.

If it doesn’t play, [Watch it on YouTube]

4 thoughts on “Showdown with a Snake”

  1. That sounds like quite an ordeal Allan. I hope your dog recovers quickly and fully! A lack of venomous snakes is one of the advantages of living in the snow belt, I guess.

    1. Thank you Andrew. He is improving.
      What about the Arctic Anaconda? But, no, they’re not venomous, just capable of crushing the life out of a full grown moose. Or… maybe I dreamt that last night. 🙂

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