When I was about 9 years old, I walked down to the Crosby Nature Preserve with four or five other boys to look for snakes. Like many kids, I was fascinated by animals. I found myself daydreaming in school about birds, and remember begging my parents to get one, of course, in addition to a dog, a cat, a ferret, and heaven knows what else. Young people seem to have a natural affinity for animals, and I was no exception.

As we approached the water, one boy snatched a small garter snake from the shoreline before we walked out onto the dock.

What happened next has haunted me for decades.

Holding the snake by the tail, he began snapping his wrist as you would snap somebody in the butt with a towel in the locker room. I stood there in horror, silently begging the boy to stop, too timid to speak up. It wasn’t long before blood started oozing from the snake’s head, which thrilled the boys to no end. If you’ve ever been a young boy, you know that the last thing in the world you want is for people to see you cry, especially other boys.

But I couldn’t hold them back. The tears flowed as I looked away and stood back, too afraid to speak up.

The boy callously tossed the dying snake into the lake after his fun was over, as someone might flip a twig into the water without a second thought. On we went.

I cried inside the whole way home.

I don’t know when I vowed to never stay silent in the face of animal abuse. But that day remains etched in my memory, a prime reminder that we will regret our silence one day. And sometimes it will haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Speak up.

Nick Coughlin

Nick Coughlin is the founder and publisher of Compassionate Man. He lives in South Minneapolis with his two dogs, Onyx and Boli. You can reach him by emailing nick@compassionateman.com


  • Finding my voice is something I’ve always struggled with. I tend to observe, listen, but not speak up for fear of what? I’m not sure. Of not being heard? Of critique or ridicule? Possibly. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. It is inspiring on many levels.

    • Thank you, Juli! I’ve seen you speak your mind…in your own kind, thoughtful way. We all have our own styles 🙂 I’m glad this post resonated with you.

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