Ricky Harpole column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lady the hound, Harpole both moccasin bite survivors

I’m proud to report we’ve survived another holiday weekend at Moccasin Bend. The casualty was “Lady” who had her first face-to-fang meeting with a moccasin.

Judging from the spread between the puncture marks it was a big ‘un. I am assuming it was a moccasin because we were on the Old Loop of the Coldwater, and it’s just about heaven for a cottonmouth. The spread was 1 and 1/2’’ from point to point. A snake that size carries an ounce or better, fully loaded.

Poor old Lady looked like she got the whole magazine. She is an average-sized hound mix weighing about 60 pounds. She looked like she had grown a Mastiff-sized head. She just stood there drooling and wagging her tail while the women and grandchildren wailed and moaned and discussed funeral preparations.

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Trying to be practical, I ran down the list of do’s and don’ts regarding snake bite.

Do: Exert yourself as little as possible to reduce circulation. For the love of mike, she’s a lazy hound and except for her tail, she hardly moves anyway. We made her lie down, which was the easy part but the tail kept wagging so we put a brick behind her and tied it to her tail.

Don’t drink whiskey: Whiskey thins the blood and spreads the poison faster. So I drank the whiskey. (Well, I wasn’t bit, was I?)

Do or Don’t: A tourniquet can be applied if the bite is on a limb but it must be loosened from time to time to allow some circulation. That is tricky and best left to paramedics. Do not make an incision and try to suck out the poison even if it is the best coondog in three states.

The old timers would make the x-shaped cuts at the punctures and apply raw liver to the draw the poison, but with a hound bit on the nose you can’t use either one. You can’t put a tourniquet on a nose and the raw liver wouldn’t last long that close to her mouth (Nor would any fingers in the general area).

If she had the good grace to be bitten on the leg we could put an ice pack on it, or were it the active tail we could amputate, but amputating her head seemed a little extreme.

I gave her two Benadryl tablets while I drank the rest of the whiskey and tried to remember all I knew about snake bites.

I was bitten by a big moccasin while putting her back in the cage after milking venom. She was a large and robust specimen who was capable of mayhem fatalis but I had removed most of her bullets. Notwithstanding her depletion of ammunition I raced the swelling to the nearest hospital. I recommend you or your dog do the same.

When collecting venom you must leave a small amount in the glands or the snake cannot digest its food and will starve. At the time moccasin venom was at a premium price in some research companies, up to $800 per ounce if harvested under pristine conditions.

So a source of capital like that couldn’t be allowed to starve. It wouldn’t be good for the bank account, plus it’s too spooky to have to go catch a replacement in the swamp.

Also there was Crawford’s adventure. Actually, there were three adventures but only the third one counts. He showed up at a bonfire/barbecue/outdoor shindig with a timber rattler about 3 1/2 foot long and after being properly lubricated with a case or two of the adult beverage of the evening, proceeded to handle it in a most familiar way.

The reptile in question patiently allowed itself to be wrapped and petted and dangled and otherwise degraded for the amusement and amazement of the crowd for about ten minutes whereupon he promptly nailed his aggressor good and proper on the meaty part of his left forearm.

Everybody freaked out but Crawford put us at ease. He’d been bitten twice before by rattlers and bigger ones, too. Never even went to the doctor. Didn’t even swell up much. This’n wasn’t even enough snake to worry about.


In about 20 minutes the venom took a’holt and he was proud to go to the nearest hospital (with the snake still alive) and seek treatment. Now why, we all wanted to know, did that third bite have such a drastic effect (his arm was bigger than both his legs at one point) and the previous attacks practically nil?

The first snake had been found in a rat den in a barn and had bitten and swallowed several rats, depleting its ammunition supply.

The second snake struck him on the back of the hand upward of the first and second knuckle in the bony part of the hand, thus stopping up the needles and injecting little or no venom.

How about that, two for two?

I have often heard the third time is the charm.

Number three was loaded and delivered the payload and almost got the arm as well as the life. Most of the bites I’ve seen or heard about came from not minding your own business or ignorant experimentation.

Oh, and as for Lady, dogs have a partial immunity to the toxins found in rattlesnakes, moccasins and copperheads. I’m confident that the dose would have been fatal if delivered in the upper extremities of a human, but the natural immune system of her species is what saved her.

The swelling was almost gone by noon the next day, but she was left with the most hellish wrinkles from the aftermath of the swelling which also seem to be diminishing. By sundown Monday, Lady crawled out from under all those flowers the grandkids had chunked her with, shook herself off like a hound ought to, wagged that brick off her tail and headed back to the swamp, presumably to find a more comfortable snake to sleep on.

All’s well that ends well,