Rattler sightings on the rise in Barranca Mesa area

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By Jennifer Garcia

LOS ALAMOS - There are many things one can look forward to in the summer: Cookouts, ice-cold lemonade on a hot day and the Los Alamos Summer Concert Series, to name a few.

Another item can be added to the list for residents in Los Alamos this year: snake sightings.

Brett and Beth Kniss know all too well what can happen when a family pet encounters a snake. The couple’s Dachshund fell victim to snake bites twice. The incidents happened within days of each other, while the Dachshund was in his own backyard.

The first incident happened on July 12 and the second happened about a couple of weeks later. The dog was taken immediately to the Los Alamos Animal Clinic where anti-venom was administered on both occasions. Because of the immediate medical attention, the dog made a full recovery.

In a letter to the Monitor calling for greater attention to the issue, the Knisses wrote, “The symptoms were immediately visible (swelling and incoherence), and we rushed him into the Animal Clinic of Los Alamos, where he received professional care within an hour of his injury. He was his old self in a few short days after the anti-venom was administered.” According to the couple, the clinic has treated five dogs with rattlesnake bites this summer.

The couple contacted animal control, who put them in touch with a local snake expert, CJ Carman. Carman has been handling snakes since he was 7-years-old and says he was trained by a couple of people who were nationally recognized. He also volunteers at the Wildlife Center in addition to making house calls when a snake is sighted in someone’s yard. “I work with a team to ensure the safe capture and release of snakes,” Carman said.

Carman said there’s been an uptick in snake sightings in people’s yards because of the increased amount of rain in Los Alamos this summer. “The increase in rain led to a boom in the rodent population, and so it’s led to an increase in snake sightings,” he explained, because snakes eat rodents.

Since May, Carman has captured and relocated a total of 137 snakes. Of them, 62 have been rattlesnakes, including 59 found at various homes on Barranca Mesa. “That’s almost three times as much as last year,” Carman said. “I found three (rattlesnakes) on Barranca Mesa last year,” he commented. “In the past, calls have been for bull and garter snakes. There were very few calls for rattlers, but (this year) there’s been more frequency in calls for rattlers.”

Though snakes are helpful in the sense that they are natural predators and keep mice at bay, Carman said the best defense against snakes is to keep a clean yard. “Wood piles, bricks, pellets and sheet metal are all things where rodents and snakes hide. If your yard is open, they’re less likely to cross,” he explained. He also said that keeping bird feeders away from the house is a good idea because rodents are attracted to birdseed.

The Knisses have some advice for pet owners, as well. “Discuss having your dog inoculated with rattlesnake vaccine with your vet. Information about vaccination is online, and while results are not guaranteed, it is a precaution available at a reasonable cost. The cost of treatment post-bite is a factor of 30-40 times higher than the price of the vaccination. While treatment will still be necessary if the inoculated dog is bitten, its chances of surviving are improved,

Carman said if a snake is spotted, the person should immediately call animal control, the police department or him directly. “Leave it alone and call. If you can identify it, great. Keep an eye on it from a distance, don’t just go into your home and close the door and draw the shades after you see it,” he warned. Watching the snake is crucial in its capture. “A lot of the time, people will go into their homes and not look out again, so by the time we get there, the snake is gone,” he said.

If you need to have it removed, call animal control, the police department, or Carman at 920-5653. Never attempt to remove a snake yourself.