View Full Version : Long and sad story from a friend of mine.

Fire Ball
11-24-2009, 07:25 AM
Ronnie is a sweet old guy from the other side of the big pond who also shares a fondness for all things 4 legged, especially the Border Collies. He writes stories about dogs and sends them out to his friends. This is a story about another friend and his dog from earlier this fall. I know all the parties involved and it was truley a sad day. I don't think Ronnie will mind me passing it on.

Elegy For Buster

By Ronnie Bray


Not having slept too well I rose early, dressed, collected every needful thing, and set off with the dogs at 5.15 am to get to the dog park, even though little more than a faint glow played along the high ridges of the Superstition Mountains to the east. Summer was getting ready to make way for autumn, but had not yet moved out of the way, although sunrise came later nowadays than it had in the June to August period.

Later sunup generally meant that the morning regulars arrived at the park with their charges a little later. It was just before 5.25 am when Frankie, Belle, and I rolled our rig to a stop adjacent to the double gated entrance to Quail Runís Bark Place, a three acre enclosure where dogs run free.

It was still dark, and the lamp standards dotted around inside the park were such that they dispelled little of the gloom that precedes Arizona dawns. So, apart from making it possible to see where the light poles were situated, little else was visible.

Belle had her toilette to attend to when we got inside the gates, and went about it in her normal businesslike and leisurely way, so that Frankie and I stood back from the grass and waited for Belle a little way off so that she did not feel she was being watched, for that could upset her innate dignity and her acquired sense of delicacy.

As my eyes got more used to the darkness I could see my friend, Mike Thompson and his dogs standing a little way into the grassy area with his water bucket and canine triad, so after Belle indicated that she was ready to make her entrance onto the green and I had dutifully disposed of her deposit, we trooped down to talk with Mike.

Mike is a pleasant, likeable, serious, and good-natured young man, but as we neared him on this morning he did not seem his normal self, and the reason became plain as he unfolded the story of Buster.

A mutual friend, Sam, was in the park well before us. Samís three dogs are Buster, a Labrador mix, Frodo, an Alsatian with an unusual personality, and a wee dish mop of a dog called Nico, that clung close by Sam, but was friendly enough when approached, and willingly offered his unkempt black coat to all that offered to scratch and stroke his dishevelled self.

"Weíve had a drama this morning," Mike said. His face and tone suggested it was a serious matter.

"What happened, Mike?"

"Samís dog, Buster got bitten by a rattler!"

"Has he taken it to the Ö "

"He set off for the twenty-four hour emergency veterinarian about five minutes ago."

"Where was the snake?"

"By the wall at the bottom of the park."

"Have you seen it?"

"No. Itís too dark just yet to go looking for a rattlesnake."

He was right. We made the kind of men noises that men make when they know they ought to do something about a bad situation but havenít quite got it all figured out.

As we stood noising, we heard the gate clang, and in romped a large bloodhound who exults in the name "Heywood." His owner, John, was not far behind, so Mike and I waited in the darkness almost silent apart from occasional short sentences that we took turns to deliver, and to agree with.

"Thatís sad."


"I hope Buster will be okay."

"Yeah. Iíve heard tell that a rattlerís venom isnít powerful enough to kill a dog."

"Thatís good."

"Yeah, he should be fine."

"Yeah. I hope he is."

"Me too."

Then John was close enough to greet. Haywood had already danced past us, his jowls and ears swinging floppily on his way to inspect trees and lampposts at the top of the park. John listened to the news with customary interest and then suggested that we contain our inquisitive friends inside the fenced timid area.

We agreed to search the timid enclosure first, to make sure that nothing more hazardous than an un-retrieved doggie-pie lurked within its shadowy confines to attack our dogs. We each found a stick of sorts, and after declaring the small corral "free from serpents," like three bold Musketeers we set off in differing states of nervous tension to locate a non-dog animal in the lower reaches of the dog park.

In less than ten minutes the sun broke over the craggy crests of the Superstition Mountains and lit every nook and cranny that was as dark as night when Buster was bitten by the Rattler. With the growing light our courage was multiplied, and we strode as bravely as men unafraid of things visible are wont to do.

We came across the snake lying coiled against the east wall not doing anything except lying there. Its body was gathered into elongated coils, and its head lay on top of its coils, its small bright eyes looking directly at us.

It was a beautiful young diamondback rattlesnake. Yet although it looked relaxed and contented it was afraid of us. A Rattler is only dangerous when creatures, including man, get too close for its comfort, or when it is frightened by a sudden intrusion of something that they do not recognise and hence perceive as dangerous. Sloth and speed are the enemies of the curious or ignorant in encounters with rattlesnakes. The sloth of the unwary in failing to remove himself from danger, and the speed at which Diamondbacks strike, which from start to finish, takes only half a second and covers no more than a few inches. From its first intention to strike, through the seamless action of attack, bite, and its return to the Ďreadyí position, the snake uses less than half a heartbeat.

Western Diamondbacks are the most likely to bite. The strike speed is around ten miles an hour by the time the fangs sink in and deliver their deadly venom. The rattlesnake then goes into standby mode, rebuilding the energy he spent on the strike, and soon is ready to deliver more of the same to anyone or anything that, to the snake, looks deserving.

Buster had first been attracted to the serpent by its scent and went to investigate its source. Busterís night vision was excellent, but his judgement was flawed, so when he saw the serpent he stuck his nose in the serpentís direction to make a simple judgement as to its nature, whether it had any enduring interest for him.

Alarmed, the serpent struck and sliced his long fangs into Busterís nose and discharged its poison into his flesh. Buster yowled, and ran to Sam. The characteristic puncture wounds told Sam what had happened. Sam carried Buster to his rig and drove off at full speed to the canine emergency clinic. There was no time to lose.

At first sight the snake looked asleep. Closer inspection showed that its eyelids were slightly parted, giving it full view of the intrepid trio. Its tongue flicked in and out of its mouth just far enough for it to taste us.

John and I were ready to despatch the little creature with our ersatz knobkerries, but Mike is not into killing things, and so he prevailed. We were now faced with a live seizure and release into the wild.

Although I have never harvested snakes before, I had seen Steve Irwin do things with snakes, and so felt prepared by Television to spread my horizons and, if necessary, become a non-communicating member of a Pentecostal snake handling cult.

That thought went on hold as the need for action shook me from reverie. Mike had wandered off and came back with a large plastic bag such as is used for post-puppy-poop-pick-ups of prodigious proportions Ė and a traffic cone.

Our modus operandus unwound itself magically from our two-second survey of the situation. Apart from the plastic serpent pick-up bag and the cone, presumably to prevent traffic bearing down on the dangerous situation, we had garnered a poop scoop and a poop-pusher, so Ö our genius took over.

Mike held the big open end of the cone a few inches from the snake, and pulled the bag over the small end on account of the two inch hole that could let the slitherer through, which would leave us as we were before we began removing the dangerous desert denizen.

With the cone in place, I held the long-handled scoop parallel to the wall, just touching the pretty beastie, and used the pusher from the south end of the pass thus created to nudge the shy but lethal serpent northwards. The Diamondback was extremely obliging, for with a few warning shakes of its rattle it uncoiled itself as if it knew where every little bit of its tangled body was, and how to proceed with untying the knot, and then headed without pause for the safe darkness of the coneís large mouth.

I watched it go almost to the small end, but instead of funnelling its way into the plastic bag it curled up a couple of inches from the bottom and resumed inactivity. With another bag put in place to cover the big open end, Mike and I purposed to drive into the desert to the north and west of the dog park.

By this time, the sun was up and the park was filling up with dogs and the people they bring with them. Word of Busterís mishap spread like wildfire as the news buzzed from one person to the next. Mike and I were stopped several times on our way up to the exit by those curious to learn whether the story they had been told was true. Dutifully we removed the upper bag and let them peek inside, where they saw the beautiful Diamondback Rattlesnake.

I must say that I was rather taken aback by the reaction of the curious when their eyes came upon the creature snuggled down inside the cone. Although they were quite safe as long as they did not try to stroke the snake, each experienced a shock that made them recoil and express disgust, fear, and terror to the extent that they hurried away making noises normally heard in a nursery at nasty medicine time!

The snake was beautiful, its pattern colourful and detailed, and it was, at the moment, quite placid. What was an inspiring sight to Mike and I was the cause of alarum to others. It was not hard to find sympathy for a creature that despite its charm inspired such dread in mortals. Perhaps it was to prevent their mortality from being tried too severely that fundamental instincts took over and made them move away at what they hoped was faster than the speed achieved by snakes.

With The Snake safely ensconced in the cone, we drove off the road and into the desert, heading westwards where, Mike counselled, there was a canal, and snakes like to be close to moisture. The ground looked as if it might get too tricky to drive across, so I parked the rig and we got out and walked westwards to find a suitable release site. I called David Attenborough to ask if he wanted to film the return to the wild of a voracious killer and split the original repeat fees, but he seemed to think it was a joke and hung up after saying something in Anglo-Saxon that I did not recognise.

After walking a quarter of a mile we came across a dead saguaro cactus whose upper limbs and trunk had fallen and the insides eaten away by the armies of insectivorś that inhabit the desert.

It looked like a good place for a rattler to make its home, so we slipped off the top bag and laid the cone on the ground close to where one of the dead limbs lay hollowed out like an ancient wooden fall pipe. The snake headed directly for it, and, without pause, slid inside the bore and disappeared deep into the darkness without looking back.

I felt good about our venture, but Mike felt better. His philosophy of not killing dangerous creatures when there are Ďwin-winí alternatives, makes the world a safer place for everyone and every other creature.

We had not been back from our task more than a minute when Sam came back into the park. When asked how Buster was doing, he replied stoically, "Buster didnít make it. His heart couldnít take it. He was nine years old and the venom stopped his heart."

Since then, the majority of dog owners that are regulars in the park have taken their dogs for snake avoidance training, in the hope that if any of their charges smell snakes they will immediately return to their owners for safety.

Memories of the unfortunate incident linger in our minds and haunt our memories, so that even as we walk the pleasant turf of the dog park we are aware that death could be as close to us as a handís breadth or half a heartbeat, and that our next journey could be diverted from our anticipated heading for home into our unexpected heading to heaven.

Busterís departure was premature, but in my quiet moments I see Buster sitting just inside the Eternal Gates, peering this way and that, his tail in perpetual motion as he waits for his family, as all that love dogs in mortality and desire to love dogs in the Happy Place where the lost are found, the disconnect that Death brings is terminated with an embrace, and wipes the tears from the eyes of dogs and their human parents.


Copyright © 2009 - Ronnie Bray