Critter Jitters

A black racer snake drapes across a Firecracker bush.
A black racer snake drapes across a Firecracker bush.

I have respect for all creatures, –well maybe not fire ants and mosquitos — but everything else. Respect is the key word that should apply to all wild animals for you and your pet’s safety.

Here in Florida we have gators and not just the kind going to school in Gainesville. I am fascinated by gators. Like our pelicans they have a prehistoric quality to them. Despite what one might deduce from the news we do not have to dodge them to get to the mailbox. One person I know is convinced that we closed schools for a gator once, not sure where this came from but, no.

Generally when we see gators where they shouldn’t be, backyard pools, garages, etc., it is when it is particularly dry, during wildfires or the construction of a new development or shopping center.

There’s lots of water in Florida. I live on a slip of land between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. There are retention ponds everywhere throughout the state and it amazes newcomers when they see alligators basking on the banks of these retention ponds. It’s simple, if you keep your distance they won’t bother you. Never allow your dog to walk near or in a retention pond or a lake, personally I would not allow my dog in any water that isn’t safe for people to swim in.

I love where I live because of the wildlife. We have little lizards, anolis, darting all over the place and if you are really lucky you will see one of the native variety which are bright green. We also have an incredible number of bird species from Osprey and Bald Eagles to owls and white egrets gracefully walking across the front yard. Oh and there are the Roseate Spoonbills. But I digress.

In the shrubs are snakes, some venomous, many not, but all quite capable of biting and all bites should get medical attention. Because of this we “shake” our plants before putting our hands inside to weed or trim. Put yourself in the snake’s place, you’re curled up nice and cool out of the hot sun and this hand comes at you. I would defend myself wouldn’t you? Give them a warning and they will probably move to another less crowded spot.

It is important to keep our pets away from wildlife, and not just in Florida. Dogs are nosey and it’s those noses that get them into trouble. Snake bites can be deadly to dogs. Even if you can describe the snake that bit him, finding antivenom quickly isn’t all that easy and if you do it will be costly. Much easier to be aware of where that cute little nose is and guide it out of possible danger.

We have firecracker bushes, dense flowering shrubs, in our front yard. These bushes attract butterflies, bees, small birds, and snakes. While Kodi seems to prefer snapping at things that can sting him, he will ignore the butterflies. Recently my husband saw a black racer perched halfway up one of our firecracker bushes so he gently directed Kodi, who was totally oblivious about the snake’s presence, away.

We also have a box turtle that hangs around the house. I may have to name her. It is not uncommon for me to find her paddling around the pool which, since she is not a water turtle is not a good idea so I get her out and put her in the bushes. Box turtles and gopher tortoises are quite common in Florida.

turtle by pool

After pulling this box turtle out of our pool she headed right back. Turtles and tortoises can look like playthings to dogs and should be protected from them.

Our resident backyard turtle. Back where he belongs -- for the time being.
Our resident backyard turtle. Back where she belongs — for the time being.

When I was working at the humane society we had gopher tortoises in one section of the exercise yard where the bigger dogs are walked. Some of the dogs looked upon the tortoises as “toys” and wanted to pick them up and “play” with them. The tortoises were not amused. Part of my training was to tell new volunteers to keep the dogs away from the tortoises. In this case it’s for the tortoise’s well-being. Humane treatment also applies between species when we are with our dogs. Gopher tortoises are protected in Florida so they can’t be moved from their location and it’s against the law to mess with them. No the dog won’t be fined, the owner might be.

If your dog does have an encountered with a wild animal or snake, get him to a veterinarian immediately with the best description of the snake as you can get. You don’t have to be fond of snakes to learn what snakes live in your area.

Has your pet had an encounter with a wild animal or reptile? What did you do? Let me know on my Facebook page:

Photos are welcome as long as neither animal, or yourself, was put in danger while you were taking the photo.


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