I Was Bitten

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So There I Was...

At a facility that shall remain nameless. There was a building dedicated to reptiles that I happen to be in charge of at the time. It housed giant snakes, tortoises, lizards and all kinds of creepy crawly critters. The larger snakes were all kept in enclosures called vision cages that were quite short but very deep and wide with sliding glass doors on the front that locked like the expensive jewelry cases in department stores. For the third morning in a row, someone had forgotten to lock the top cage that housed a 12 foot Burmese python. These snakes, although non-venomous, grow to be some of the biggest in the world and can be deadly. They strike quickly and will constrict around their victim's torso. With every breath taken, their grip tightens, all the while their powerful jaws are locked on to their prey. Pythons don't have fangs, but hundreds of tiny shark-like teeth that are serrated and shaped like fishhooks making for one nasty bite. 

When we walked into the room that morning and saw the lock undone once again we noticed the door had also been cracked open and the snake inside was gone. After a quick glance around the room we found our missing resident snuggly tucked inside the wooden pallet that three of the vision cages rested on. I reached in and tried to pull him out. No luck. He was too big and definitely not wanting to move from his cozy hiding place. One of the other member's of our team tried but to no avail. We collectively decided that we were going to have to take apart all three of the cages which meant having to relocate the other giant snakes they housed as well as deconstructing the complicated wiring for heating and electrical that was attached to each habitat. We all agreed that the loose snake would be safe in his current location until later that afternoon when we would have more time. The room was sealed so there was no where for him to go. We would simply put a sign on the door warning other people that he was loose but not to worry because we were to handle the situation shortly.

Around lunchtime that day I had about 15 minutes to kill before I had to get back to work so I decided to check on the status of our reptile debacle. I walked in and saw he hadn't moved an inch. Then suddenly it dawned on me. I had a plan. A lightbulb moment. I had the most fantastical plan to draw the snake out from under the cages without having to dismantle the entire room. It was totally and completely foolproof. What could go wrong?

Here was the plan: Grab a live rat from the other room where they were kept and bred. Not kill it because the snake didn't need to eat, he had just eaten and was probably not hungry yet, so no need for an unnecessary death I thought. I would simply use him as bait, the snake would slowly come out of his hiding spot to investigate said rat, while I would be simultaneously pulling it back further away from the caging. Once the snake was out far enough I would grab it behind the head, and pull him out, lifting him back into his cage saving everyone time, energy and a lot of hassle. I was going to be a hero to my peers. They would be lifting me into the air on their shoulders and cheering my name. I saw the whole thing play out beautifully in my head.  

Unfortunately this is not what happened. Not even close. I grabbed the rat, and decided it wasn't smart to hold him in my hand (obviously, that seemed like the fastest way to get bit! I wasn't an idiot after all). So I was attempting to use a snake hook ( a common tool for handling snakes of all sizes) to hold him in one spot without trying to hurt the little guy. Well he apparently sensed he was in for some trouble because he was not cooperating even a little bit. In fact, he kept running back to me, and I kept having to reset him in place with one hand while trying to find the right positioning with the snake hook with the other hand. For the umpteenth time I was kneeling down and had the rat in my hand ready to reset him, but this time was different. There was a crack in the air and out of nowhere I felt a searing and immediate pain. In an instant I had this giant snake biting me with all 12 feet of him wrapped around both of my legs. His top jaws were in my hand, and his bottom jaws firmly planted in the rat I was still holding. The rat was also biting me (I can't blame him) and I realized I was hogtied and entangled in this giant snake. Three out of four limbs were incapacitated and I was being bitten by two animals at once. Blood. Was. Everywhere. 

I screamed. My brain was not working to compute what I was seeing fast enough to make sense of any of it. I started waving the snake hook around, hitting the wall with it and yelling for help furiously. After a moment of panic I took a deep breath and realized no one was coming to help me, but I was going to be OK, and I wasn't dying. I was lucky that he was around my legs and not around my stomach or chest. Although my feet were quickly loosing feeling, I was not in immediate danger. My first order of business was peeling the rat out of the clenched jaws of the snake. It was gruesome and I felt horrible for the little guy, but I had to stop his frenzied counter assault to my hand. I pried him out and tossed him to the other side of the room. Next problem. Getting the snakes jaws open so he would let go of my hand. Waiting for him to let go on his own was going to take too long. He had tasted actual rat, our blood was mixed, he was not going to let go any time soon. I tried forcing his mouth open with my one free hand. It didn't work. I looked around the room and remembered that we had kept a bottle of ammonia spray on the other side of the room. In an emergency we had been told if you spray it into the mouth of a snake that won't let go, it will cause them to open their mouth. While not great for them, it is not harmful to their health and OK to use in an emergency. I felt this warranted it's use without question. I saw the spray hanging off the side of the shelf. It was probably only 10 feet away but I was still hogtied with my right arm tight to my ankles. With my one free arm I army crawled across the floor, leaving a trail of blood behind me. It was arduous and painful to lug not just myself but an extra 60 pounds of snake across the room. After what felt like forever, I made it and grabbed the bottle spraying it directly into the corner of it's mouth. Almost immediately he let go of my hand and I grabbed him behind the head with both hands. At this point my feet were numb and cold. 

I started unraveling him from my body, and had gotten at least one of the three coils undone when a co-worker finally came along. She was one of the smallest girls there, maybe 90 pounds on a good day. I saw her as she entered the room, her eyes as big as saucers trying to piece together what she was witnessing. There was blood splattered across the fronts of almost all of the cages from me throwing the rat across the room. There was blood smeared on the floor from me crawling over to the spray, and there I was in the corner, wrestling a snake off of my body, still half coiled around my legs. She stood there speechless. Finally she stammered, "Oh my GOD! What do I do?!" "Help me get him off of me!" I replied breathlessly. She ran over. Once my legs were free and the blood started to flow freely back into my lower extremities, the lightheadedness hit me and I felt faint. Although she had taken control of the snake, she couldn't lift him by herself to put him back in the cage where he belonged. She called out for help buckling under the weight of the massive animal. I pulled from whatever adrenaline I had left and took the entire snake in my arms and heaved him back into his habitat by myself before collapsing on the floor.

"Lock the door. Please." I told her as she secured the door and phoned for help as I crumbled to the floor once again. A few other coworkers showed up and assisted me to the hospital to get me checked out. My hand looked pretty nasty and I was sure I was going to need at least a few rounds of antibiotics, and probably a tetanus shot. At the hospital they did just that and took X-rays to make sure none of the tiny sharklike teeth came out in my hand as they often do with python bites. I did have one in my finger which worked itself out a few days later, and I was put on a massive course of drugs to combat the inescapable infection I had to inevitably fight off from my multiple bites. 

Once I was cleaned and bandaged up I had to face the music and go back and explain myself to the powers that be on how exactly I had gotten myself into such a predicament. Sitting down with my boss I explained that in theory, my plan was sound, although the execution may have needed some tweaking. But, I reminded her, technically it did work and I was able to retrieve the snake without having to take apart all of the caging and did still save everyone a lot of time and effort, minus the hospital trip. 

My story became legendary. The following year I heard it had morphed into the snake biting me in the head and wrapping around my neck as I narrowly escaped with my life. As with all good stories, it had more than a couple lessons to be learned from, some might be more obvious than others. I will admit I have definitely learned my lesson, and don't mess with wild animals alone anymore. I had nerve damage to my hand from the incident for almost 10 years following and have just recently started to get full feeling back. To my knowledge the snake is still alive and has only bit a few people since then but nothing quite like what happened that day. Our story has gone down as one of the most infamous snakes bites at that facility to date. 

So kids. Make good choices out there. Respect wildlife, and don't hold rats in your hand to lure out giant pythons.

You're welcome.

For other stories, tips and tricks on training please visit our website at www.dogtrainingredefined.com or email Andrea at Andrea@theanimaldept.com

Andrea Robinson