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Utah wildlife officials warn of higher presence of rattlesnakes this summer

Jun 8, 2018, 2:04 PM | Updated: Jun 9, 2018, 12:56 am

SANDY, Utah – Wildlife officials are cautioning that rattlesnakes will be a more visible presence this summer, and experts warn that can present an added danger to pets.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists say drought conditions have thinned the rodent population, forcing rattlers to “roam” more and increasing the likelihood people and their pets will encounter them.

“You’re mainly going to see them whenever your dog wants to be outside, so you’ve got to think about that whenever you’re taking them out,” said Haley Bechard of Utah Rattlesnake Avoidance.

Bechard, a licensed rattlesnake handler, said she turned her love of snakes and dogs into a program designed to protect both.

“We create a safe environment to help (dogs) know that small is bad,” Bechard said.

Bechard’s classes employ a dog collar that sends an impulse to the dog when it gets too close or takes too much interest in a rattlesnake encased in a see-through container.

“It’s supposed to make them feel uncomfortable to the situation, so we’re going to add that negative connotation to the rattlesnake,” Bechard said.

Dogs of several breeds went through the training at DogTown Kennels in Sandy Thursday.

The negative reinforcement seemed to work quickly on Janelle Tardif’s Doberman, Cao, who has tended to be the curious type when out on hikes through the mountains and deserts.

“Prior to the course, had he seen a snake, I definitely think he would have tried to go with him and make friends,” Tardif laughed.

Tardif, who moved from Maine four years ago, has always been unnerved by snakes despite her deep appreciation for the outdoors.

“Suddenly there was this rattlesnake threat!” Tardif said. “I found that I’d be walking on the trail and suddenly I couldn’t walk anymore because I was so afraid of seeing a rattlesnake.”

She said the training helped to impart a healthy amount of that fear into Cao.

“It was really quick, effective,” Tardif smiled. “This has comforted me greatly.”

DWR officials recommend people leash their dogs when out in the wild.

As for the people themselves, they recommend remaining calm when encountering rattlesnakes, maintaining a distance of at least 5 feet, and warning others in the area of the rattler’s presence.

They remind people it is illegal to kill rattlesnakes, and attempting to do so also increases the probability of a bite.

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Utah wildlife officials warn of higher presence of rattlesnakes this summer