We were just about 200 feet away from finishing our hike when I stopped us under a small tree for a quick break. I kneeled down on one knee and looked for something in my backpack. Xena was on my right enjoying the little break. All of sudden, there was a loud hiss. My body went into fight or flight mode instantly even before I saw my threat. It is amazing what your body does automatically to protect you. It probably took about 3 seconds at the most but all happened in slow motion.
As soon as I heard the noise, my eyes spotted a slithering snake about 2 feet away on my left. I didn’t see its head or the tail, only the body with dark markings. My eyes only saw the snake. They blurred out everything else around it so I can study my threat clearly. Some noise slipped out of my mouth but I can’t remember what it was now. It was a combination of “Oh My God!” and a scream. I grabbed Xena’s collar (she was on a leash already) and the open backpack and moved backwards quickly remaining in a squatted position without leaving my eyes off the snake the entire time. The rattles joined the hissing. The noises were as loud as the firetruck’s sirens in my head. The snake coiled up while its eyes stuck on me. Right before I lost my balance and fell backwards, I saw its head lifting and getting into a strike position.
Dogs are about 20 times more likely to be bitten by venomous snakes than people and are about 25 times more likely to die if bitten.
I knew I was at a safe distance then the panic settled in. I feared that I was surrounded by snakes. I screamed and sat up. Of course, there were no other snakes. In fact, there was no one else in that section of the trail at that moment. I took a deep breathe and calmed myself down. I turned to look at Xena for the first time. I wasn’t holding on to her anymore, I must’ve let go when I fell backwards because she was on my left side now. She was intently looking at me. “Stay”, I whispered. She sat down next to me, still looking at me intently. “Good girl.. stay..” I took couple more deep breathes then got up.
Given any option at all, a rattlesnake would much rather leave you alone. Most rattlesnakes only insist on a few feet of personal space, and if you give them an escape route they’ll generally take it.
I was a bit shaken afterwards but Xena on the other hand, had no idea what happened. She showed no interest in the noises or the smell of the snake. I was thankful for that and that we were safe. Ironically, while I was hiking, I looked out for snakes. I thought the place would be a snake country during the snake season with so many rocks to hide under. Lesson learned: Never let your guard down until you are officially done with hiking.
Given how many dogs react to the presence of any snake, your furry pal faces a much higher risk of snakebite than you do. Ask your vet about vaccinations against rattlesnake venom, which seem to reduce the risk of most snakebites considerably. Many trainers offer rattlesnake aversion training, which is likely to be an even better bet for most pooches.
I will post pictures and details of the Rocky Peak trail soon. Stay safe out there! 🙂