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Columns : In My Sights

Stings, Stabs, and Bites

Beware encounters with dangerous flora and fauna.

September 16, 2010  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


Nearly every crime fighter knows the annoying nature of critters that sting or bite. Fortunately, this is usually a distracting but not life threatening event. My old stomping grounds of Arizona, like so many other states, provides a wide and exciting range of fauna who apply tooth or stinger from time to time to someone on a call.

I have so many friends who have been bitten by black widow spiders, stung by scorpions, and given a bite needing stitches by an angry canine that it makes me wonder, now why did these guys have to make it onto the ark? Seriously, Noah, you just didn't have a vote or what?

Take scorpions. We used to average about one cadet per academy class getting stung by these little nasty arachnids. The cadets said it was like a horrible burning as we rushed them to the hospital, worrying the whole time they might be allergic to the toxin. The doctors said it was just like a bad wasp sting, but on further questioning it seemed the doctors had never actually been stung by one, so their opinion seemed a little jaded and understated.

Reptiles bring their own special brand of excitement to the law enforcement community. Nothing focuses the mind during an Arizona search warrant like one of your cohorts discovering the suspect's idea of a home security system is a diamondback rattlesnake in a dresser drawer. Once that has happened, your team becomes extremely attentive to the task at hand.

One day when I was assigned at the academy, our librarian suddenly came tearing into my office screaming that a Gila monster had just run into the library. I assured her these reclusive lizards, while venomous, were very shy and would never approach a human, much less a building.

I therefore confidently walked into the library and knelt at the last known location of what I was sure to be a chuckwalla, Arizona's harmless cousin of an iguana. As luck would have it, I found myself nose-to-nose with a Gila monster.

After the confused creature had been properly relocated into the great Sonoran Desert, I called Poison Control just in case one of our cadets should have a similar encounter without the ability to seemingly levitate about five feet in the air. (The sounds that I emitted are not relevant to this story and have been properly edited by the censors.)

The experts at Poison Control assured me no one in Arizona had ever died of the venom of the Gila, but its toxin was on par with the good ol' diamondback. Great.

Arizona has a long list of resident colorful creepy crawlies, and being a crime fighter means going into the darkness to find the prowler, the robber, the burglar, or just the strange sound Mrs. Jenkins keeps hearing whenever her loneliness creates a reason for the nice officer to come talk to her. Interestingly, amid the desert landscape there, the flora has a way of grabbing your attention as well.

The jumping cholla is a cactus that officers can find attached to their boots or clothes or skin. The plant's porcupine-like barbs are easily broken off and often hitch a ride on unsuspecting passersby until they're pulled out at debriefing after an exciting graveyard shift.

And this is just one of the many crazy ways nature's creatures defend themselves and smack us while we are in pursuit of the most dangerous critter of all, bad guys.

Yeah, yeah, I know all of you face something that bites or stings or stabs where you patrol and that's the point. Don't mess with Mother Nature, always respect all things that crawl, walk, or just grow and, in the name of Steve Irwin, swear to never take these plants and animals casually.

Over the years, many Southern officers and deputies have told me I really needed to wrestle an alligator, and I quickly assured them I did not and to come back and talk to me when they've gone nose to nose with a Gila monster!

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Tags: Animals Gone Wild, Police Humor, Warrant Service


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