"BART:" Occupation - Ranch dog
AGE: 3yrs. - Wt. 110 lbs.
COLOR: Black
BREED: Rot., Shep., Lab. Mix

I was rounding up some tools from within my work shed, when I heard Bart sound off in a combination of guttural growl and bark coming from up our driveway, about twenty feet away from our front porch. I instinctively new that what he was barking about was his discovery of a snake, because I'd frequently heard the same type of bark before, during last year's spring and summer months. Bart's "snake bark" is quite different from his "stink bug" or "tarantula bark," in that it depicts a much more excitable and nervous tone, so I wasn't at all surprise to see him bouncing nervously about, while throwing up mounds of dust and dirt, as he flirted with a three foot gopher snake.

So far this spring, we've seen a total of eight snakes around our house, with one being discovered during it's search for dove eggs on the floor of the loft that the birds are caged in. Oh, and in case you're wondering, all of the snakes that we've spotted so far, have all been gopher snakes, which remain relatively harmless, unless they feel threatened or are mishandled. They're some of the "good snakes."

Bart's reaction to most snakes is relatively the same. When he's confronted by a rattlesnake, however, his behavior and attitude both take on a whole new meaning. When a rattlesnake instinctively sounds it's alarm and it's rattles sing out their deadly warning, Bart's bark becomes much more excitable and his nervousness is elevated to a new height. Even though he's had his anti venom shots, he still knows better than to test his luck, so despite all of his antics, he still tries to remain at a respectful distance from this coiling and prospectively deadly menace that's managed to slither it's way onto his turf.

After living out in an undeveloped area for as long as we have and being surrounded by Joshua trees and low rolling brush covered hills, seasoned veteran's such as my wife and I, have gotten accustomed to being a little more wary to what's going on around us, especially during the early spring and warm summer months. As I mentioned earlier, while Bart may have one type of bark for snakes, his bark for smaller and lesser adversarial animals such as tarantula's and stink bugs is strikingly different. While hunched over, with large black nose only inches away from these types of interesting and pesky little creatures, Bart is always anxious to demonstrate his impatience and authority over them, by first warning them with a deep long growl, followed up with an ear shattering "WOOF!"

There's only been one time when Bart's over zealous alarm system gave us genuine concern. It happened during the early morning hours of a cold winter night, when my wife and I were suddenly awakened by a frantic type of bark coming from our front porch. By the sound of Bart's report and his nervously pacing back and forth across the wooden deck, I could tell that he was extremely agitated.

After quickly making my way to the front door, I turned on the outside light to see Bart moving aggressively about, with head down and the hair on his back raised high. His deep and rapid breathing was accompanied by a mixture of snorting and growling and after watching him move agitatedly about for just a few seconds, I quickly recognized that his tense and tightly packaged one hundred and ten pound body was instinctively ready to do battle.

Through Bart's flashing eyes and ridged jaws, I felt that he was trying to both warn and tell me to "Just stay inside dad, I'll deal with this in my own way!" Soon after the porch light came on, however, the threat that earlier seemed to overwhelm him suddenly vanished into the darkness allowing Bart to slowly calm down. To reward our brave and loyal protector for his attempt to valiantly defend us, we allowed him to come into the house to finish his winter's night sleep on the living room couch. Good dog Bart! (just watch those teeth of yours and remember the one who feeds you.)

Animals of all types, seem to have their individual ways of trying to communicate with us and sometimes by being a little more attentive to their messages, I believe that we can actually prevent harm or even death from coming to all kinds of unsuspecting victims. For example, whenever we're working outside and hear a desert jay begin to frantically squawk, we can be sure that there is a snake about that's become a threat to the jay's nest eggs. Along with the jays, other birds will also chip in to try and drive the snake away from their nests, but by far, the repetitious and frantic call of the desert jay is the loudest of bird type alarms and it will always let us know if there is rattlesnake close by that may pose a threat to either one of us or to our dogs. A "cost free" natural alarm system. How great is that!?

What's in a "WOOF" and can jays talk too? Lots, and you bet they can! But, the question that should remain for many of us to ask of ourselves is, are we truly wise and patient enough to pay attention to certain types of animal behavior that have been designed by God to protect both, the animals and us too?

An interesting question for many of us happy wanderers to think about. What about it Bart, what do you think? "Come on boy, let's take a walk and talk it over."