The Dog Collar Incident

My family moved to an 80-acre farm when I was about 7 years old. My parents raised catfish as a side gig.

Living on a fish farm gave me an opportunity to become a bounty hunter. My Dad paid me 25¢ for every cottonmouth water moccasin I killed. Cottonmouths are big black snakes that eat just about anything, including our fish and their eggs. And they’re venomous. Not getting “snake-bit” was a continual priority everywhere on our property. My Mom even found a snake one time under her bed. It wasn’t a venomous one, but still…

I never snake-hunted without a partner, my dog, a black and white Catahoula. My weapon was a Crosman pump-up air rifle. Its main feature was: it took a long time to load. You have to pull a pellet out of a container in your pocket, chamber it, and then pump the forestock 8 or 10 times to compress the air. But it could kill a snake just fine if you were a good shot.

The normal process was, my dog and I would patrol the dikes. He’d walk between me, in the mown short grass, and the shore, where the grass would be knee-high in places. The snakes hid out in the high grass. When my dog sniffed one out, he’d point. Then he would work methodically to uncoil the snake and flush him either into the water or onto the short grass where I could shoot him. 

Soon as I shot, my dog would grab the snake and start shaking him. The combination of getting shot in the head and then violently shaken was usually enough to kill a snake. I’d make sure my shirt collar was buttoned tight so I couldn’t get a popped-off snake’s head inside my shirt with me, and I’d reload my gun so I could shoot him again in case he was still alive when my dog let him go.

One thing about cottonmouths that’s sort of important to know is when they get scared, they’ll chase you. This, as you might imagine, is moderately to severely terrifying. Especially when your gun takes 20 seconds to reload.

Usually we’d never get to the part with the chasing, but one day we messed up and one of the 4-foot-long big-daddy ones ended up chasing after me. (Snakes get bigger when they chase you, I don’t care what Special Relativity says.)

I could outrun a snake in the open, but when there aren’t many options on where to go, it turns into a problem. My dog, though, flanked the snake and picked a fight with him, allowing me to get someplace safe. The snake ended up biting him in the face. He swelled up so bad that I thought for sure he was going to die. But he was fine the next morning after a long night’s sleep in the house where we could look after him.

My dog had saved my life, and I wanted to show my gratitude. I decided the right gift would be a nice leather dog collar, with his name engraved on a little riveted-on brass plate. I ordered one through the Mail, where you write somebody a letter in an envelope with a check or money order, and then you wait 4 to 6 weeks for your thing.

One day when I got home from school, my Mom handed me the envelope with that collar in it. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to put it on him. I had this vision of an Olympic medal ceremony, his face bowed in solemn deference to the honor of having saved an actual life. 

But what happened was, I reached around his neck with the collar, and he growled at me. I backed off. I let him smell it, hoping that would help. When I tried reaching around his neck a second time, he snapped at me. He just wasn’t having this whole awards ceremony thing. 

It hurt my feelings, of course. He was rejecting not just my generous gift, but my whole idea of showing him how much I loved him. I had paid my own money and waited 4 to 6 weeks and everything.

I learned an important lesson that day.

I learned that when you reward someone, how much the recipient likes the reward is the recipient’s choice, not yours.





2 responses to “The Dog Collar Incident”

  1. Jared Still Avatar
    Jared Still

    I am guessing that Einstein never had any snake encounters.

  2. ross Avatar

    “One thing about cottonmouths that’s sort of important to know is when they get scared, they’ll chase you. This, as you might imagine, is moderately to severely terrifying. Especially when your gun takes 20 seconds to reload.”

    Jaysus, Cary, bury the lede, why don’t you?

    Great story; of course you being you (and your followers being…followers of you) i was imagining performance tuning analogs in parallel with reading this great little story.

    More like this one, please!

    All the best…

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