Spring and fall are the most active seasons for the dog park - the weather is beautiful if you can bear the pollen! It's important to keep in mind that other species also enjoy these seasons, like snakes. Spring and fall are breeding seasons for snakes, which means they're going to be out and about more often than in other seasons. In general, most snakes are not dangerous to either you or your dog. While there are a few venomous snake species in our area, there are DOZENS more non-venomous (read: harmless) species which can sometimes look like their venomous relatives.
It goes without saying that everyone's first priority is the health and safety of our dogs at the dog park. As we are well into the spring season in Columbia, here are a few tips and recommendations for you and your dog if you happen to come across a snake at the dog park:
DO NOT TRY TO REMOVE OR KILL A SNAKE. If a snake is in the park, leave it alone. Attempting to kill a snake greatly increases the chances of being bitten - after all, they don't want to bite - they're acting in self-defense!
People generally observe snakes in these open park-type areas when they are:
On the move. If you see a snake moving, that's great! It'll likely be out of the park in no time. Even if your intention is to just nudge a snake to move it on its way, please remember that a snake can consider this an attack, venomous or no.
Sunning itself. Snakes are cold-blooded, and use the sun to warm their bodies for more energy. If you see a snake at the park on a cool morning and its not moving, it may be 'waking up' so to speak! After a while it may move off on its own.
If your dog is playing near the snake or has taken notice of it, it may be best to leash your dog and/or leave the park altogether until the snake passes. After all, your dog's first reaction may be to walk right up to it!
Venomous Snake ID can be tough.
Below are four different species of snake commonly found in the Columbia area, all of which have similar markings, and only one is venomous! Some non-venomous snakes actually will mimic venomous snake behaviors as a way to defend itself. If you see a snake and are doubtful at all as to whether it's venomous, its best to play it safe and avoid any potential incidents.
Left: Northern Water Snake - non-venomous. Center-left: Juvenile Rat Snake- non-venomous. Center-right: Milk Snake - non-venomous. Right: Copperhead - venomous.
Killing a snake can actually result in more snakes. Snakes are very territorial, and once one is removed from its range, another inevitably takes its place and can cause more issues than before the first snake was ever killed. Some snakes home range can take up 40-70 acres, which in our case can include much of Earlewood Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Remember, snakes are hugely important to communities by keeping rodent populations in check. If you live in Earlewood and don't want mice, rats or moles, snakes can help with that. ;)
Snakes don't like tidiness.
Snakes have a few favorite places to be: They love hiding under things that heat up (empty doggie pools, piles of wood/leaves), burrows (empty stump holes, tree cavities) and hiding in long grass. If the park does its best to minimize these snake hot-spots, chances are they'll stay away on their own. This means picking up fallen tree limbs soon after they drop, hanging the pools and red dog separators after use - basically removing anything a snake could use to hide under, as soon as you see it. The dog park board is in regular contact with the city to ensure the grass is kept as short as possible - but its up to everyone at the park to make sure we don't accidentally create unwanted snake habitat.
We're not the only dog park with snakes from time to time either! Check out this PSA about non-venomous snakes at a Missouri Dog Park from the truly AWESOME Eli the Nature Guy: