Cats Earn Keep

This post has nothing to do with building our house, other than we can’t wait to get it done.

Warning: Graphic story about a snake in our house.

We generally stumble out of bed not long after sunrise. With sunrise comes the squawks of wild parrots, the squeals of our local eagle family, and our watchdog announcing goings on in the neighborhood. Traffic picks up and our approximately thirty chickens start proclaiming their hunger. And of course, there is the incessant urging of our house cats Harry and Bob Bob for us to get out of bed and devote all our attention to preparing their morning feast. There is no sleeping in.

Yesterday was no different. I was making my rounds turning off the outside security lights, and Cynthia was at the back door throwing corn to the chickens. We heard a loud bang; it sounded like something hitting the stove in the kitchen. I went to check it out and saw cat Harry crouched, intensely focused on something by the stove. Did a big toad get in the house? Had the cats cornered a bat or a bird?

No, it was a snake coiled by the stove. Cynthia’s next move would have been to go to this exact spot and start my oatmeal. This was not just a garter snake, but a Fer de Lance, the most dangerous snake in Panama. The cats had cornered it, and the snake had struck Bob Bob in the head. In his retreat, Bob Bob had hit the stainless steel side of the stove.

Okay. Snakes are good. They are an important part of life. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than half my life, mostly for health reasons, and I have come to not want to kill critters as they are not part of the food chain for me. However, a Fer de Lance in the kitchen has to be dealt with. No, really, we couldn’t just let it go about its merry way. I’m not qualified to go in there and safely capture the snake and then relocate it to a more appropriate home. Sorry, I’m just not willing to take the chance. This is a very, very aggressive snake and it will attack even if unprovoked. A Panamanian friend told us about his pregnant aunt who was bitten by a Fer de Lance while walking down a path. Both she and the unborn baby died. And here is another Fer de Lance story.

I’ve seen this snake in action before. Cynthia and I were in the mountains near a small pueblo. There were no other vehicles in the area. A man came running toward us yelling for help. Seems that another man was bitten on the hand and they needed help getting to the health clinic in town. You simply can’t call for an ambulance in this part of the country. We loaded the injured man into the back seat of the car and I made the ten or more minute drive in about two, blowing my horn all the way, passing other cars when I probably shouldn’t have. By the time we got to the clinic, the man was completely drenched in sweat, convulsing, and was vomiting in the back seat of our car. He spent nearly two weeks in the hospital but survived. We visited him at his home soon after he was released from the hospital, and because he had been out of work, we brought him a few bags of groceries. He extended his still injured hand to shake mine to thank me for helping to save his life. I shook his hand very gently. He was truly appreciative.

Okay. Clear head here, Fred. I called Cynthia and, from a safe distance, had her hold a flashlight beam on the snake. I told her to track it if it moved. I went to the bedroom and got dressed, boots and all. Then I went outside and got gloves, a machete, and a long handled shovel. I gave more thought to trying to capture it alive, but no, my life was in real danger and this was not the time to be kind.

Cynthia loves snakes and cried when our gardener at another rental house killed a coral snake at our back door. She was angry with him for days. But this time she said that I came first. Be careful. Strike it sure and true. And I did.

I shoveled it into a plastic bag, and while Cynthia searched for Bob Bob, I took the snake across the street to have neighbor Ramiro identify it. He didn’t answer my yelling at his gate, so I called him on his cell phone. He was on a bus on his way to Panama City so I walked back home. But he called another neighbor, Tomas, who showed at our door not a minute later. He was armed with boots, a big stick and a machete, ready to help us. Really, there is no 911 number to call and there is no animal rescue service to respond. Our neighborhood network is strong and Cynthia and I value it dearly. One night at 3:00, a neighbor called me for help. His girlfriend was having an asthma attack. Having the only full-time car in the neighborhood makes me Ambulancia de Fred, and I was happy to sit with him while his girlfriend was treated at the clinic for three hours.

Tomas identified the snake, and Cynthia had found Bob Bob. The cat seemed fine but shaken, more puzzled from the variation from the hazard-free ten-and-a-half years of life he has lived as an indoor cat. Another neighbor, a veterinarian, had already left his house and I was unable to reach him on his cell phone. I ultimately went to work, and Cynthia kept an eye on Bob Bob. Throughout the day he was lethargic and subdued, not eating or drinking. His face began to swell after a few hours. His eyes were swollen shut but he had no difficulty breathing.

Our veterinarian neighbor returned home about 6:30, now twelve hours after the bite. Bob Bob was now grossly swollen so I interrupted our neighbor’s dinner. He assessed Bob, inspected the snake and verified that it was a Fer De Lance, and thought that some anti-venom was in order. He usually carries anti-venom with him, but had injected a bitten horse some hours earlier. So we drove into town and got some anti-venom ($40) from the local snake guy. We returned home and injected Bob. Even under the influence of the venom, Bob was very strong and it took both Cynthia and me to hold him still enough for the three injections.

Bob Bob has been crowding me all night, sleeping on my pillow by our heads. Normally I wouldn’t allow it. Out of the room, damn cat. But tonight, well, he has earned his keep. It is now 4:00 a.m., I can’t sleep, and just now I am beginning to shake. This was one close call, and I am very thankful that Bob Bob took the hit for Cynthia. Like my favorite news reporter line, “It could have been worse.”

Normally I walk around the house in the dark. Sure, there may be ants, maybe a cat-killed bat on the floor, but I enjoy the dark. But no more. Now it is the flashlight beam working left, right, and straight ahead.

Yesterday was not a day I want to repeat.

Here’s a photo of the snake. If you want to see it, you will have to click on it to make it larger; I made it initially small for those of you who want to skip the visuals.

The floor tiles are twelve inches square. So that makes that snake, what, eighteen inches or so?

I think I’ll try for another couple hours of sleep before the parrots, eagles, chickens and cats announce the dawn of another sure to be interesting day in Panama.

It is morning: Bob Bob has just had some food at his dish and is on his way to the cat box. He is less swollen and appears to be on his way to a full recovery.

It is now late afternoon. Most of the swelling has gone. He has spent the day glued to Cynthia. Harry is still skiddish about going into the kitchen. So am I!

That’s all for now.