Nature in the Backyard: Cat Meets Black Rat Snake

Missy the Siamese/Himalayan cat on a leash

I was walking our alpha female cat Missy on a leash when she spotted something strange in the pinestraw bordering our back yard.

I realize that many people would wonder why I would walk a cat on a leash. Missy had never, in her three years of life, been outside until I started walking her, in late August 2008 (3 weeks ago). Our three cats have always been indoor cats, for a good reason. Our cats don’t go out due to the pack of coyotes that patrol our neighborhood; these coyotes have reduced the outside cat population greatly in the last few years.

Scooter, our Siamese cat who died in 2005 at age 23, apparently knew how to deal with coyotes because he went out daily until he was forced into retirement for fighting. But Scooter was street smart and woods wise.

We don’t want our three cats to learn about coyotes the hard way, so we’ve kept them inside. But Missy has been so restless this summer that we decided to give her some new adventures, hoping that she might quit misbehaving (peeing in sinks, knocking the other cats around, etc).

On September 6 Missy and I were strolling on the edge of the back yard when she spotted the black rat snake. Missy didn’t look at it very long because she didn’t know what it was, and it wasn’t moving. I decided to start her education on large snakes. So I picked her up, tucked her under my arm, and walked over to the snake for a close inspection.

Black Rat Snake

Before I go any further, let me offer some advice. Don’t do this!!! The six-foot snake stayed still for about 20 seconds. Then, it decided to move on. Missy’s eyes bugged out and then she freaked.

If you’ve never had a cat that you are holding freak out, you are fortunate or smarter than I was.

Our cats have claws — when they are frightened, they use their claws to accelerate away from the cause of the fright as quickly as possible. Since she was under my arm, I was the launching pad for Missy’s sprint to safety, and her claws used my arm and hand, instead of the ground, to push off.

Needless to say, my right hand was scratched badly. Missy ran to the end of the leash and climbed about three feet into the air when the leash halted her sprint. She was running back to our house. I ran after her to try to get her under control. She hit the end of the leash several times before I was able to catch up to her. I grabbed her behind her shoulders with both hands, held her out at arms length to avoid the windmilling legs with claws out, and got her back in the house.

I returned with the camera to take photos of the snake. I’m assuming its the same black rat snake that has been around our home since 2005 – how do you tell one six-foot black rat snake from another? Since snakes that large are relatively rare in neighborhoods, I think it’s the same snake.

I met this snake for the first time in 2005, soon after Scooter died. It was having lunch at the expense of a nest of cardinals in a rose bush behind our house. You can see photos at this link: large black rat snake visits.

In April of 2007, it visited again. A week later, I discovered where it lives: snake condo.

This snake started hanging around our home soon after Scooter, our beloved Siamese cat, was no longer around to claim our yard as his territory. I hope it stays around because it is safe here.

An intriguing question: Does Missy’s reaction mean that cats have an innate fear of snakes? (Do people?) Please leave your opinion as a comment.