Support Snake

“Buzz used to run over any snake he saw on the road,” Shirley Gladstone remarked about her husband, Buzz. “Then he would back up and run over it again to be sure it was really dead. He thought snakes were bad and he was doing a good thing.”


Shirley and Buzz are full-time RVers volunteering at White Tank Mountain Regional Park west of Phoenix for the second year. When they arrived last season, Buzz refused to go near the snake exhibit. He hated and feared snakes. Generally, it disturbs me to hear that someone purposefully kills a snake or any animal. But after Buzz explained his fear of snakes, I understood.


When Buzz served in Vietnam, he and his buddy at one point were in a position where they were unable to move. While in that position, a venomous snake bit Buzz’s buddy on the leg, resulting in a wound that required the leg to be amputated. “The snake crawled right over me first!” says Buzz, recalling the incident. Consequently, when Buzz arrived at White Tank and was faced with a wall of glass-fronted cages filled mostly with snakes, his past experience re-emerged and his PTSD re-surfaced.

But now Buzz looks forward to helping the staff feed the snakes, and he will even hold one of  the critters himself. When we bring our snakes to White Tank to interact with visitors, we hand a snake over to Buzz and he either sits with the snake in his lap or wanders the Nature Center displaying the animal to visitors as well. He has even allowed a snake to crawl up the sleeve of his sweatshirt and warm itself.

So how did Buzz become converted?


“It was because of you,” he said, pointing in my direction. “I saw you holding a snake and caring for it gently, and I figured if a girl could do that, so could I!”

“Snakes became more real to him as he watched others care for them and he observed the work you both do with them,” says Shirley. “He got closer to the snake windows and listened to what you and the staff told visitors. Then he started educating visitors, too.” And finally, he reached out to touch one of our snakes, eventually agreeing to hold it.

Buzz educating visitors with our king snake

Buzz feeding our snake, Beau

Coping Skills

“He learned how to calm himself before working with snakes,” says Shirley. “Using breath control and warming his hands, he was able to start helping staff with feeding time.”

“My job is to open the habitat door while someone feeds the snakes,” says Buzz. “I was told to focus my mind. My only job was to watch the snake while it was being fed.”

Together, Shirley and Buzz began watching videos about snakes, learning more about them, and eventually they became more acclimated to them. “He’s now putting the skills he learned in handling snakes to work,” says Shirley. “He’s transferring those skills to handling his PTSD.”

Buzz holding Beau

Handling PTSD

Crowds and noise are confusing and stressful for him, Shirley says. One day when confronted with such a situation, Buzz knew what to do. “He started doing the breath control,” says Shirley, “and he warmed his hands and then focused his mind on the exit.”

“It helps me to realize that even rattlesnakes have a purpose,” says Buzz. “All animals have a purpose.”

“He figured out he doesn’t need to fear them,” says Shirley. “He needs to respect them.”

“They have helped me a lot,” says Buzz. “I don’t get anxious anymore about them.”

Shirley added, “Education is the key!”

Buzz has been involved helping veterans and others as he volunteered with “Celebrate Recovery,” a support group to help with addictions and other traumas. “It’s helped me when I help others,” he says. “It helps me to talk about it.”

6 thoughts on “Support Snake”

    • Yep! One of the hidden benefits courtesy of a misunderstood creature! We are constantly amazed at what we continue to learn! Thanks for your comments!

  1. You folks make such a difference in people’s lives, including ours, and the people you influence with your love of nature go on to affect so many more in an exponential manner! Kudos to you for all you have done for people.

    • Thanks, Carol!! Every time we think we’ve seen all angles, another one pops up! It’s been great seeing the evolution from snake hater/fearer to a lover!


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