The Animal Doctor

Holy Snakes: A Serpent Saga

DEAR DR. FOX: I want to encourage you to write a column about snakes. All they want is to be left alone! Also, while I completely agree with your statement that ownership of non-domesticated animals should be banned, I want to tell you the story of our little special-needs rescue rat snake. I hope you’ll see that exceptions must sometimes be made.

Orion is our fella’s name, and his mother was killed with a shovel. She gave birth anyway, as snakes do, and all of his siblings who survived were releasable. However, Orion suffered some sort of brain damage in the attack. His sensory perception seems to be lessened and he loses his balance if he turns too fast. In the wild, he’d starve to death if some predator bird didn’t snatch him up first.

Someone with compassion brought his mom to the rescue center, and they saved Orion and as many siblings as they could. The rescue is very focused on returning injured animals to the wild, especially snakes, but Orion was obviously not a candidate.

Long story short, we met this sweet, docile little guy and took the leap, adding him to our family of six other dog/cat rescues. Orion is safe in his terrarium and the balance problems bother him very infrequently. He can’t hunt very well, but if we help him a little, he can track a frozen mouse and eats fine. We keep him in a stress-free environment and consider that our main priority, as that is the best way to keep him healthy.

Right or wrong, he needed someone’s help, and I’m grateful to have the chance to provide it. He’s a 20-year commitment, but his life is worth the same as any other animal out there. We’d never buy another, and would only take on another rescue in the same circumstances.

Anyway, snakes help this planet immensely and people need to be reminded of that, by a respected voice like yours. Snakes will leave people alone and have no interest in hurting any human, ever. They’re just scared because we’re big. There is no animal that has suffered as much blind, ignorant mistreatment as snakes.

Thanks for listening and thanks for sticking up for snakes. I’m interested in your thoughts on Orion (although I’m committed to caring for him for his whole life, so please don’t talk me out of it). -- A.B. (address withheld)

DEAR A.B.: Some people will ridicule your snake-saving life commitment, while others, like me, see your compassionate response as quite normal.

Obviously, this neurologically impaired little snake could not be released into his natural habitat except as food for some predator. Since there was no evident suffering and you were available to provide food and a safe environment, euthanasia was not an option.

State authorities could come and confiscate Orion if it is illegal in your state to keep wild animals that are regarded as state property, and if you do not have a wildlife keeper’s or rehabilitator’s permit. So we will not publish your city and state of residence.

The uninformed and ecologically illiterate who organize rattlesnake roundups and kill any and all snakes on sight are an abomination -- one more venomous and depraved than the most poisonous of snakes. The public health role of snakes is but one of their gifts to us, and the balance of nature helps regulate rodent populations that can carry plague, hantavirus and other diseases.

We should have a healthy fear of snakes, and translate that into respectful avoidance. I abhor other snake traditions, such as pitting a mongoose against a relatively helpless snake, and of course India’s snake “charmers,” who make a living while depriving another living spirit of its intrinsic right to be free. Snakes do more good for us than we for them.

DEAR DR. FOX: My little poodle, age 15 years, has warts and seems to get more and more as time goes on.

Is this a sign of an illness and what could cause them? She has a heart murmur and sneezes a lot. Is this a symptom of her heart condition? -- T.G., Phoenix

DEAR T.G.: Warts are not uncommon in dogs young and old. They are caused usually by a papilloma virus, similar to those causing warts in humans, but not contagious to us. Their presence can indicate a weakened immune system, but they do tend to disappear eventually without treatment. They do not turn cancerous and are best left alone, unless they start to cause the dog discomfort, as on an eyelid or when one or more becomes itchy and ulcerated from secondary infection.

Some veterinarians remove them for purely aesthetic reasons in older dogs, often under general anesthesia, but I do not concur with such treatment, considering the costs and risks.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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