My Black Lab Chloe-girl was an old dog. Pushing 17, her hearing was near gone and her vision not what it used to be. I used to walk her twice a day and go easy on her while she doddered along beside me. But she was still the good-natured, happy dog I raised from a pup and I stuck by her always.
Across from the Hernando Beach Yacht Club sits the 11,206-acre Weeki Wachee Preserve, a spectacular Florida wildlife sanctuary. On a warm summer afternoon, I grabbed Chloe and my walking stick and entered the preserve for a late afternoon stroll through the jungle to Linda Pedersen Park.
I’d crossed one of the Minnow Creek tributaries when I looked back to see if the dog was keeping up. Uh-oh! The hair on the back of my neck creeped up when I saw what was happening.
A Cottonmouth, a big one, was poised to strike Chloe and she was unaware of the danger. She had probably disturbed the snake and now the Cottonmouth, close to her right shoulder with its head cocked back, was ready to strike. You could see the inside of its creamy white mouth.
I had no desire to mess with a Cottonmouth but this was my little girl we’re talking about and a strike was imminent. I ran toward Chloe to get between her and the snake and the closer I came the worse it looked. The Cottonmouth really was big, maybe three or four feet in length and thick as my forearm. It looked mean and venomous.
The only weapon I had was my walking stick, a Blackthorn Shillelagh, and I lunged to get it between the dog and the snake. I was lucky. The snake struck and got a mouthful of Blackthorn. But it wouldn’t let go and I could feel its weight and strength on the end of the stick—a nasty, mean critter if ever there was one.
I twisted the stick and the snake shook loose but now, free and angry, it came for me. Lunging at the snake had left me sprawled on the ground without leverage and I watched frozen as the snake slithered to a foot in front of my face. With a hiss, its cotton mouth opened as I squirmed in fear defenseless.
But then I heard a growl, a vicious snarling growl.
The snake heard it too and its attention shifted. When I turned to look, there was Chloe. But it wasn’t my sweet little girl anymore. It was a different dog, far different and much bigger, what with the fur on her back and shoulders standing rigid and her fangs bared for attack.
She was magnificent! Still, this snake was deadly poisonous and no good could come from Chloe attacking. But just as I was trying to decide what to do, the snake struck first.
Chloe was bit on the neck and the snake was hanging on. But the dog didn’t care. She bit the snake, jerked it off her neck, and tried to shake it to death. When she smashed it to the ground I could see the puncture marks in the snake’s body as it tried to escape.
Chloe was on it in a flash and the snake, losing steam, turned to face Chloe. But the dog, moving fast now, feinted left and right to avoid the snake’s jaws. Then she bit the snake again and tossed it in the air. The snake hit the ground with a thud and Chloe pressed the attack.
But enough was enough so I poked Chloe with the shillelagh to let the snake go. She was in a froth of rage and beyond control but I poked her again and yelled “Stop”— and this time her lifelong training took hold and she ceased the attack.
The snake made it into Minnow Creek and raced away downstream. It was hurt but I’m sure it lived.
Chloe, panting and exhausted now that the fight was over, looked up at me as if to say “Did I do OK?”. Then she licked my hand, sighed, and collapsed at my feet.
Frantically, my fingers probed for the snake bite in her neck. Vague notions of sucking out the venom crossed my mind but I knew the best way to save Chloe was to carry her back to my car and get her to the emergency vet. But Chloe was 85 pounds and the car more than a mile away. My fingers probed her neck fur but couldn’t find the puncture marks. There was plenty of snake venom but her neck fur is thick and, even though I parted it again and again, the bite eluded me.
And then the dog did a strange thing, strange for a dying dog. She woke up and started biting an itch on her hindquarters.
What was this? Could it be? Labradors are known for thick fur, a top layer of robust shiny fur with a dense second coat underneath. Could it be that the snake’s fangs hadn’t penetrated Chloe’s fur? I looked again and still couldn’t find the bite. That was when Chloe, rested now, looked up at me as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about?”.
She nuzzled against my leg, licked my hand, then turned to head back to the car. When we got home, I gave her a double helping of dog treats under the Queen Palm out back. A subsequent check could find no snake bite so the snake, tough as it was, had never gotten past Chloe’s thick Labrador fur.
Chloe, always gentle, always good natured, passed away in her sleep six months later. Loyal and faithful to the end, she was one tough Black Labrador.