Snake keeping, including venomous snake keeping, is a popular hobby in Florida. Many people who keep snakes are well educated and law abiding. Others are shady or outright criminals. As an officer, you may encounter emergencies caused by pet snakes, pet snakes at the scene of an investigation, or pet snakes as the object of an investigation.
In order to legally keep venomous snakes an individual must be licensed and inspected for safety by Fish and Wildlife officers, but due to more relaxed laws in neighboring states it is not difficult to obtain venomous snakes illegally. When you enter a business or a residence that contains snakes, it is a good idea to ascertain whether or not the snakes are venomous and that they are caged securely. If you are in doubt, you may wish to call a local snake expert for help making a positive identification. Central Florida’s four native venomous snakes (cottonmouth, diamondback, pygmy rattlesnake and coral snake) are easy to learn how to identify, but there are some commonly kept exotic venomous snakes which are very difficult to identify. Some of these may look like harmless snakes to anyone who is not an expert.
A few species of snakes (and quite a few large lizards) may latch onto their owners and refuse to let go. A few drops or a light spray of alcohol in the mouth (the reptile's mouth, not the owner's) can encourage release. Either hard liquor or rubbing alcohol will do. You can use a stiff sheet of paper or plastic, a spatula, a credit card or any hard smooth object on both the upper and lower jaw to slip between teeth and skin, pushing from front to back. If the snake is also coiled tightly around some part of the owner's body, find the tail and begin unwinding. If the snake is coiled tightly around the victim, unwind the body and secure the body in a sack or in a firm grasp before trying to release the mouth.
Gain safe control, not revenge: Attempting to hurt or kill the animal while it is biting places the victim at further risk. Constrictors expect their prey to struggle and bite back, and instinctively respond to pain by tightening their grip. Snakes bite and constrict harder after severe trauma, and can continue doing so for many minutes after being mortally wounded. Tactics that can cause worse injury to the victim include trying to hurt or kill the snake, trying to pull it off without interposing something between its teeth and the victim's flesh, or trying to unwind it head first. Ducking the animal under water is not usually effective.
Exotic venomous snake bite: In the case that an owner is bitten by an exotic (not native) venomous snake, call the Florida Poison Control Center (800) 282-3171 and the Florida Antivenin Bank at (305) 596-8576 immediately, and arrange emergency transport to the nearest hospital. If the bite is known to be from a species that can cause life threatening symptoms, consider pressure immobilization (PI) To achieve PI, wrap the bitten limb firmly with a compression bandage in the same manner as you would a sprain, splint to immobilize and keep the limb lower than the heart.
This pressure immobilization technique will delay the onset of possibly fatal systemic effects. You may want to look for antivenom and written snake bite protocol which may be stored on premises. This pressure immobilization technique which is recommended by snake bite researcher Steve Grenard will delay the onset of possibly fatal systemic effects, though it may increase local damage in the case of a bite from a species that causes local necrosis. Most elapids and some pit vipers can cause serious systemic effects such as respiratory paralysis. Most pit vipers and some elapids can cause serious local effects. You should look for antivenom and written snake bite protocol which may be stored on the premises.
In the case of exotic snakebite, it is critical to identify the snake that caused the bite. If the victim is not conscious, get a local snake expert on the premises as soon as possible to help make this determination and to safely contain any remaining venomous snakes.
Anaphylactic (allergic) shock: Snake keepers who are bitten should be considered a high risk for anaphylactic shock. Some keepers may have an epi-pen or other means of self administering epinephrine, since they know that they are at risk for developing an allergy to venom. Consider taking emergency first aid measures appropriate to anaphlyaxis for an unconscious snake keeper in the same way you would treat an anaphylactic episode brought on by an allergy to bee sting. It can be difficult to determine whether a snake keeper is unconscious from the effects of envenomation or anaphlyaxis. Dr. Bryan Fry's excellent article on the subject of snake bite, venom allergy and anaphylaxis can be found at the Southeastern Hot Herpetological Society site.
Snakes on an investigation scene should be identified and secured.
If a snake or lizard has hold of a victim, gain safe control, not revenge.
Alcohol in the animal's mouth may cause it to release.
Push a spatula, credit card or other firm object into the mouth to engage the teeth.
Unwind constricting snakes starting at the tail.
Remove and secure a constricting snake's body before releasing its jaws.
In case of exotic snake bite, consider anaphylaxis and look for antivenom.
In an exotic bite (but not a native bite), identifying the snake is critical.