This dog’s real metier as a guardian, however, rested with his skill in dealing with snakes. His technique for killing snakes was masterful and varied, for he didn’t always adhere to the same strategy and tactics. For black snakes, garter snakes, etc., he would just pick them up wherever he could conveniently catch hold and snap their heads off in much the same manner as a teamster snaps or “cracks” his whip.
With a copperhead it was a different story. Rover entertained genuine respect for this treacherous and highly poisonous snake that, unlike the rattler gives no warning, but can leap forth and sink his poison with the best of them. Rover kept a lookout for these mean and vicious snakes in clover fields and in patches of wild strawberries where we picked many gallons every June.
Whenever he or any of the children (it was usually the dog) came upon a coiled copperhead, Rover’s standard plan of attack would be to draw a lead from the snake. By one heckling device or another he would make the copperhead spring out of his coil, then with lightning-like swiftness Rover would seize the snake and literally shake him to pieces.
It was a magnificent sight to see this great dog standing straight up on his hind legs with a copperhead in his mouth and turning his head from side to side with such snap and speed as to prevent the snake from doubling back and biting him. The snake had little time to bite, for the piece that flew off first and often landed at the feet of the onlookers, frequently turned out to be the snake’s head.
Rover didn’t always come off unscathed in his battles with copperheads. He was bitten a number of times. With the first couple of bites the swelling was so marked about his head and throat as to make swallowing even of warm sweet milk extremely difficult. But as time went on and he had been bitten several times, bites of copperheads affected him scarcely at all, so powerful was his acquired active immunity. This was just as Pasteur would have expected it to be.
As an index of Rover’s efficiency for finding and killing all manner of snakes, no member of our family ever was bitten by any kind of a snake in all of the years we were exposed to them.
—Herbert Lamont Pugh
Pugh was born in Batesville VA in 1895, and rose to become US Surgeon General from 1951 to 1955. This excerpt is from his autobiography “Navy Surgeon,” 1959, J.P. Lippincott Co.