Friday, 1 June 2018



(Diamondback rattlesnake)

Fear is a weird thing. Seeing a rattle snake is all I need to make me scream.

I admit prejudice against them. I’m not afraid of tarantulas, black widow spiders, coyotes, Gila monsters, or scorpions, but rattle snakes? They terrify me. One bite could cost me a limb or kill my dogs.

Rattle snakes are slow and sneaky. They can look like a rock or shrub and blend into the environment. They also like to sun themselves in the middle of trails. I walked over a rattle snake once before I knew it was there. Luckily, I wasn’t hiking with my dogs that day. Sometimes, snakes curl into a circle, rattle their tails and hiss a warning before they strike with their poisoned fangs.

My two rescued Rhodesian ridgeback African lion hounds are curious. It’s instinctual for them to go after moving animals. That’s fine if the animal is a rabbit, a quail, or a lizard because they’re nonvenomous and too fast for my dogs to catch.  Hence, the importance of snake aversion training.

I paid $180 for two hours of a snake handler’s time. The aversion training was divided into four stages that involved a small snake, a snake skin on the ground, and a sound recording of a rattler before the big gun was added: a full-sized bitch of a hissing pissy snake.  The purpose of the different stages was to associate snake odor, movement, and sound with a painful shock.

I tried not to panic while observing the handler work, but it was difficult to watch my dogs receive electrical shocks and not cry. I forgive him for scaring us, but maybe one day, the training would save their lives.

The handler attached a shock collar on one dog at a time and started the first stage. He released a small snake onto my back porch. Then I released Mako. She’s a sweet three-year-old monkey of a girl. She saw the snake, became curious, and approached the target. Before she was allowed to touch it, one zap to the collar was all she needed to jump back, hide behind me and shake. The following three stages reinforced the association: snake is pain. 
(Mako, inspecting snake.) 

Even though the biggest rattlesnake was muzzled with surgical tape and had a hood over its head so it couldn’t see, the last stage scared the snot out of me. The handler allowed me to observe the horrid snake before he placed it in the rocky lot across from our house. It couldn’t hurt me or my dogs, but I jumped and screamed like a hysterical diva the moment I walked past it and heard it hiss. My brain realized my fear wasn’t real, but I was jittery for a couple of minutes until my body returned to normal.

Mykiah is my older dog. She is stronger and more protective. It took three zaps at all four stages before she learned to back the heck away from anything to do with a rattler.

I didn’t need to be zapped by a shock collar to be afraid of the nasty buggers. Part of my heritage is that I was raised in the Mojave Desert. It's a beautiful and glorious place to live as long as you stay away from rattle snakes.

The fear response is almost entirely automatic: We don't consciously trigger it or even know what's going on until it has run its course. Medically speaking, fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus. This can be a scary movie, a near miss on the freeway, a ride on a twisty roller coaster, or the raised fist of an abusive partner. Fear causes chemicals to be released from our cells that in turn, cause the heart to race, lungs to breathe deeper, and gives our muscles instant energy to run out of danger or fight.

Fear can play tricks with our memory and perception of reality. It can either weaken or strengthen the creation of long-term memories.  Fear can interrupt the processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read body language cues, and act morally. Fear often impacts how we think and make decisions. It can leave us susceptible to intense emotions and reacting without reason.

Long term fear can induce a heightened state of anxiety and can lead to fatigue, chronic depression, accelerated ageing, chronic illnesses, and premature death. To someone who lives in chronic fear or abuse, the world can be a tough place to live.

If you are in an abusive, controlling, toxic or hurtful relationship, please seek help. Please get out. Abusive relationships destroy and kill. 

Memories associated with emotions are powerful. I will never allow anyone to abuse me again and I don’t think Mako or Mykiah will approach a snake without fear and recalling the pain from their shock collars.

For more stories on living with PTSD:        
(Training tape with mouth taped shut.)
True Crime Memoir – Survivor: As Long As I Breathe
is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a religious cult based on misogyny,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.


Joyce A Lefler is a true crime survivor and the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.

Connect with her:
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