Sam, Sam, The Happy Hound, was still very young and very much in doubt when I saw the opportunity to have a little fun with him. I had found him in the woods just six months before and Sam was still fragile, and still very skinny. I was trying to get him to play, trying to get him to be more assertive, and trying to get him not to be afraid of everyone and everything on earth. An armadillo had strayed into the yard, and I wanted to see how Sam would react. Armadillos have armor, and you would think that it would be mutt proof to some degree, wouldn’t you? Well, the plan was to get Sam to see the armadillo, and see if he would run from it, try to play with it, or bark at it. Sam wasn’t much for any of that but running away from everything. Starved, beaten, and left for dead, Sam has seen more hell than most humans. I was hoping the encounter with the armadillo wouldn’t put him into a coma. Bert, who was eighteen months older stayed close to Sam, and played the part of older brother perfectly. Bert is part husky and part chow, and all male dog. Yet when he found Sam, who is part black lab and part Greyhound, Bert slipped into the role of protector without a seam. I edged over to keep Bert from going after the armadillo and placed a hand on Sam’s head as to guide his line of sight.
Sam’s ears went up, and I stepped back to watch his reaction. I hoped he wouldn’t hide under the deck, or try to knock the door down trying to get away or… Before I could think about it, Sam launched. Greys have been known to hammer down at forty-five miles an hour, but whatever speed Sam was traveling was well past what I thought he could, or would, do. Before the armadillo, Bert, or myself, could react, Sam, at speed, grabbed the armadillo by the head, shook it hard for five seconds, dropped it and then loped his way back to where we were all standing with our mouths hanging open. Patches, the cat who had lived in peace all her life with dogs, looked at me as if to say, “I’m going to need a handgun, you know”
I gave Patches to my mother shortly after that because when a dog is a “shaker” death comes quick to small mammals. Bert had never killed anything out here before, but that was about to change. The two of them, without cell phones, blackberries, hand signals or so much as verbal communication, began to rid this part of the world of all things small and furry, or armor plated. Sam’s pure speed and Bert brawn made for a death sentence with eight legs. Sam would head towards the fence, to cut the prey off from escape, and that would herd the hapless armadillo, or possum, or raccoon, into Bert. I watched them do this one day and I was stunned how well it worked. If they ever decided I wasn’t going to be the top dog anymore there wouldn’t be much I could do about it. Bert and Sam were a lethal team.
The full moon gets to them sometimes, and I think it was back in 2004 or 2005, we had so much rain the backyard flooded. To have both a flood and a full moon excited them. I had resigned myself to a night of Bert being wet and muddy, and Sam being hyper when the bottom fell out of hell. Sam doesn’t bark much still, yet there he was, right under my bedroom window it seemed, hound yelping away at something. Bert has a hammer for a voice. When Bert wants to be heard you are going to hear him. Bert was barking, snarling, and it seemed like they were trying to kill twelve banshees and three flying monkeys all at once. Fearing the worst, whatever that might have been, I grabbed a flashlight and went out to look.
Considering the fracas was going on right outside my window, I didn’t bother to put on any shoes, which in retrospect was, well, stupid. It got stupider when I discovered what the fuss was all about. An armadillo had gotten itself trapped between the gate to the backyard, and the field fence wire I had put over the gate to keep Sam from slipping through the gaps in the steel gate. The dogs were trying to disassemble the gate, the fence, and the armadillo, but they were not acting in unison, were busy barking, and all of this was going on at three in the morning. The poor armadillo, when the dogs would pull on the wire covering the gate, could actually climb higher and higher. But Bert, when he gets his game face on, is a fury. Bert was going to pull the heavens themselves down to get to that armadillo, or he was going to hurt himself trying. I had to get Bert out of there.
Okay, so this is what I was doing; I had my right hand inside Bert’s collar, pulling him away from the gate while he stood on his hind legs trying to break loose. In my left hand I had one of those super big flashlights like the Coast Guard uses. The house was to my left and for some reason I looked down. There was a Cottonmouth. It was a smallish critter, only a foot long or so. Now, I’m going to say a few things about the Cottonmouth you haven’t heard before. They really are not that bad. Yes, they do have ill tempers, and yes, I do believe they are aggressive, but mostly they are mythical creatures in they are not any more apt to try to kill you than they have to be.
So, with a mad dog in one hand, an oversized flashlight in the other, and with the thought that Sam or Bert might see the snake and attack, or worse, the snake would slither over to one of the dogs and attack, I did the only thing I could think of at the time, and used the only weapon I had available to me at the time. I took the heel of my right foot and tried to pop the snake in the head with it, planning to draw my leg back as fast as I could.