This snake was short on charm

"What's the weirdest animal you've ever had on your exam table?"

Career Day at the local high school is an opportunity for students to find out more regarding specific career interests. It also can spawn many provocative questions.

Naturally, the weirdest animals I see are those standing across from me on the other side of the exam table, but I rarely get them up on the table, especially when it comes to taking their temperatures.

This species seldom bites, but it can be noisy and raise a big stink if things don't go well.

Over the years, I've practiced less and less exotic-animal medicine.

First, I've become more than busy with the domestics. Second, I feel reluctant to encourage the captivity of wildlife by providing services such as de-scenting skunks or vaccinating raccoons. Finally, it has become a specialty field for which licenses and permits often are required.

Possibly the cutest animal I ever had on the table was a pet prairie dog. He was so relaxed that he would lie calm and still in virtually any position I placed him while watching me with bright, round, expressive eyes.

I've taken blood samples from two peregrine falcons, touched the soft, velvety skin folds of a flying squirrel and had the good fortune to hold a baby beaver literally in the palm of my hand.

A partially anesthetized bobcat once went berserk in my exam room, jumping up on the drug counter and sending everything on it crashing in all directions.

We frequently radiograph a large turtle that periodically becomes egg bound; i.e., she fills up with eggs but has trouble depositing them.

Bear cubs, lizards and a variety of wild birds all have graced the surface of my exam table.

Shortly after opening my hospital in 1980, I received a call from another veterinary clinic. They knew I was interested in reptiles and asked if they could refer a client with a sick snake to me.

I said yes.

Anticipating a small boa or similar nonvenomous snake, I received my referral to discover my patient was a medium-size diamondback rattlesnake. As a kid and later in Texas, I had handled a few poisonous snakes, but I could not put my assistant Chuck into jeopardy.

The owners of the rattlesnake were four hippie-type individuals who reminded me of a scaled-down version of the Manson family. I explained to them that I would examine and treat their "pet" only if one of them was willing to hold and restrain it.

The alpha male of the group (I'll call him Charlie for convenience) agreed and with very trembling hands secured a safe grip behind the animal's head.

Actually, all danger was minimal because the snake was so dehydrated and lethargic that its speed was vastly compromised. It barely could muster a buzz from its rattle.

I treated the snake with antibiotics, steroids for shock and several injections of electrolyte fluid under its skin for the dehydration.

Chuck and I were happy to see the whole crew off. I never heard back whether the patient lived or died.

And, of course, I never got paid.

Dr. Jack Thornton is a semiretired veterinarian. Reach him in care of

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