“When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
The above is a saying in the newspaper business pointing out that it’s the unusual occurrences that make news, not the regular ones.
OK, so what about “dog bites snake,” “snake bites dog” — or both?
That’s what happened at Tom McDaniel’s place the other day. McDaniel, 85, and his wife Judy live in a clearing deep in the woods off Upper Glading Road in Amite County.
Their 3-year-old pet Sadie, a black half-Labrador half-pit bulldog, is in dog heaven on the place, always looking for new adventures.
“She’s got a ‘snake bark’ that I know. It’s either a snake or a turtle. I heard her barking,” McDaniel said of the recent incident.
McDaniel walked around the back of the house and saw Sadie barking at a copperhead snake half-hidden in the leaves.
He went to the house and got his old .410 single-barrel shotgun, returned and shot the snake in the back.
“As soon as I shoot the snake she grabs it, threw it up in the air. I said, I better get away from here, she’ll throw that snake on me. First thing, she went to the grass and started rubbing her eye, trying to get the sting out of it.”
McDaniel pried the shell from his gun — the eject doesn’t work — reloaded and fired a fatal shot at the snake. Copperheads are venomous but rarely exceed three feet in length. This one was fully grown.
“Five minutes after she got bit, Judy gave her some benadryl,” McDaniel said.
They loaded up the patient and headed to Camellia City Animal Hospital in McComb.
“We got her down there 30 minutes after she got bit,” said McDaniel, who brought along a cell-prone photo of the snake to confirm it was venomous.
Dr. Rachel Bateman administered a steroid and antibiotic and gave Sadie a week’s worth of pain pills. Antivenin, used to treat serious snakebites, was not a realistic option at $600 a vial.
“She’s 60 pounds. They said it would take two, and the closest one is Hattiesburg,” McDaniel said.
Sadie recovered quickly and now sports a small scar above her left eye.
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Anyone who lives in the country with outdoor pets has probably had similar experiences. Dogs often get bitten in the neck or head and typically lie up in the dirt for a couple of days to recover if left to their own devices.
Sadie had been bitten before under the neck by a chicken snake, which is nonvenomous. Such incidents don’t seem to deter her.
“She’ll go around and look everywhere, and if there’s a turtle or anything smaller than her, it’s doomed,” McDaniel said.
“I never saw a dog that would peel a turtle out of its shell.”
And that’s not all.
“She’s caught two small pigs, caught them across the back,” McDaniel said.
She captured two baby armadillos, dragging them out of a hole, but won’t mess with grown ones.
“She catches baby squirrels and flying squirrels. That’s a fast dog.”
Sadie also eats persimmons that fall off the tree in front of the house.
“She’ll eat persimmons all day long,” McDaniel said.
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McDaniel was born and raised in McComb and worked as a construction inspector in Jackson for both the city and the state.
He retired and moved back here in 2002 to care for his mother, Celia “Mac” McDaniel, who died in 2004 at age 97. He married Judy and they moved into a rustic cabin on their deep-woods property.
They’ve had several encounters with snakes, such as a cottonmouth a previous dog caught at the nearby pond.
McDaniel was working on tearing down a shed one day when he saw Sadie sniffing around a box. He flipped it over and a big rat snake fell out.
“We used to have a lot of small copperheads around here. She wiped them out,” he said.
McDaniel said he’s not quite so bold himself when it comes to snakes.
“I guess if I got bit by a grass snake I’d die from a heart attack,” he said.
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But McDaniel is an adventurous sort. As a boy he went on camping trips with the Boy Scouts and the church Royal Ambassadors, rolling up in a quilt or blanket at night and sleeping under a tree.
“I wouldn’t do that now,” he said.
In school he was too small for football so he ran track. Later in life he completed eight marathons starting at age 44.
He bicycled twice across the state from Alabama to Vicksburg. When he was 40 he could bench-press 350 pounds. He pitched soft-pitch softball till he wore out his shoulder. After he retired he made an 8,100-mile Goldwing motorcycle trip around the country.
The McDaniels’ clearing is dotted with ornamental plants. Under a big tree stands an eight-foot-tall black plywood cut-out of Bigfoot with a menacing red eye. McDaniel got the design from the late Glenn Green and cut it out with a jigsaw.
Recently McDaniel’s game camera caught a full-size bobcat at the entrance to his driveway. That’s one critter Sadie hasn’t messed with and probably won’t.
“She’d get whipped,” McDaniel said.