By Nicole Pajer
Like the majority of our dogs, Cali, the lovable chocolate Labrador owned by Connie and Mike Schmitt, loves playing outside in the backyard. This just happened to be the Schmitt family pup’s favorite pastime, until recently that is. In July of last year, a typical trip to the backyard brought Cali face-to-face with a venomous snake. It was an experience that would change both her life and the lives of her owners forever.
“Cali loves to frolic around our property and chase lizards and squirrels,” says her owner, Connie Schmitt, who spoke to Cesar’s Way about the day of her pup’s tragic accident. “One summer evening, she had been out with the boys and, when my husband got home, the kids left her outside to say ‘Hi’ to their dad. Fifteen minutes later, my husband looked out the window and saw her lying on the grass as if she had passed out.”
The Schmitts immediately rushed outside to find Cali immobilized. “She looked at us as if pleading with us to help her,” says Connie who adds that Cali was unable to get up and appeared paralyzed. Her owners knew something was wrong.
“We first thought that she may have gotten into a poisonous plant, but the thought of a snake bite hit us and we found the bite wound on her neck.” The family rushed Cali to the hospital, where their suspected diagnosis was confirmed by the vet. “The vet that treated her at the emergency clinic knew right away that it was a snake bite. It was determined that she had been bitten by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake,” explains Connie.
Upon her diagnosis, Cali’s veterinarian told her owners that she had a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. “As you can imagine, we broke down right then and there. Before we got her there, we just assumed that some antivenin fluids and some TLC would have her all better by the morning. We were not prepared to hear that she may not survive at all,” states Connie.
The dog was given two vials of antivenin, as well as some plasma, fluids, and additional medications. The Schmitts were sent home and told to wait for the outcome the next morning. Fortunately, the family got the call in the morning that Cali had pulled through. This was a victory for the Schmitts, but the first of many hurdles Cali would have to jump through in order to recover.
“Because the Veterinary Emergency Clinic only operates during non-business hours, we had to pick her up the following morning and take her to her regular vet. They were not equipped to treat snakebites there so we took her to the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, where the vets there later told us this was the worst snake bite case they've ever treated there.” Connie exclaims.
Upon receiving Cali, the Florida Small Animal Hospital vets immediately transferred her to their Intensive Care Unit, where she remained for a total of two weeks. During that time, she was given 24 vials of antivenin, had several blood transfusions, and underwent three surgeries (two of these were considered major). She was also given several epinephrine treatments due to allergic reactions that she developed to the antivenin. After a grueling treatment process, Cali was eventually released from the hospital and sent home with her family, who received a hospital bill of $20,000.
Connie and her family are grateful that their dog survived the ordeal. “We are thrilled to say that she has miraculously made a full recovery. It took her several months after she was released, but she is back to her old self and has recovered 100% and without permanent damage from the bite.”
In order to educate dog owners about the hazards of snakebites, Connie started a Facebook page called “Please Help Our Cali,” where the family posted updates on the status of their dog and took donations from fellow animals lovers. After Cali recovered, the family created an additional page called Help for Cali’s Pals to share the stories of animals in distress that had stories similar to Cali’s.
The Schmitts are in the process of starting a non-profit called “Cali’s Pal’s” and are currently fostering dogs in need. Connie also has plans to make Cali a therapy dog to help people in need. “Cali recently passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, and will be starting her own training next week as well. We hope to participate in community service events, like school reading programs, special needs kids' programs, Special Olympics, etc, once they're trained and become official therapy dogs,” she explains.
Venomous snakes span across the entire United States and, according to a recent report on PetMD, have been spotted in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii. Among the types of snakes with toxic bites commonly found are eastern coral snakes, dusky pygmy rattlesnakes, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins, also called cottonmouths.
While some veterinary offices offer rattlesnake vaccinations, your best line of defense in keeping your dog safe from snakebite is prevention. Cali’s vets advised Connie and her family to refrain from letting their dog roam around unsupervised and to watch where their dog was exploring, especially in areas where poisonous snakes are common.
“The vets also mentioned that some breeds, like labs, are very curious and seem to be attracted to anything that moves — lizards, squirrels, bugs, etc,” says Connie, who explains that she was told to keep an extra watchful eye on Cali, as she falls into this category. Connie adds that following Cali’s injury, many owners of dogs who had suffered snakebites contacted her through the Facebook page. “We have heard from several other cases of snakebites and one was in their fenced-in yard, so even fences can't completely keep snakes away. You just can't be too careful, especially in areas where the snake population is high.”
If you suspect that your dog has been bitten by a snake — whether you know if it’s poisonous or not — you should immediately take her into a veterinary clinic. In the event that your vet is unavailable, head to the nearest emergency clinic. The quicker your dog gets treated, the better its chances of survival.