When Sully was around 6 months old, we both were becoming a bit stir crazy. Spring was in the air after an especially cold winter(for Florida). It was Friday, the sun was shining, and I decided that we should take advantage of the huge nature preserve around the corner from our house.
It wasn’t the first time that we had taken the dogs there. It is a gorgeous park. One of the first times we went, we had just gone on the trail when I happened to look up to see a whitetail buck 10 yards away from me. He still had the fuzz on his antlers and was stunning. It was doubly amazing because the little lady happened to be right next to me and was able to see this majestic being in his natural habitat. It was a truly magical moment.
So with that experience in mind, I was excited to get back into those woods that afternoon. K2 couldn’t get off work fast enough! It had been raining regularly for about a week, so I knew the bugs were going to be an issue. I got the Skin-so-soft ready for the dogs, had bug spray for us, loaded up the water bottles and bowls into my backpack. We were ready to rock!
K2 got home, changed, and we were off. One of my favorite things about the nature preserve is it’s layout. Roads run deep into the park like a network of arteries, delivering visitors into the heart of the ecosystem. Depending on your preference, you are able to really get into the natural world and leave society and technology behind–if you haven’t guessed already, I am a hippy at heart.
We found a nice, out of the way, parking lot that backed up right to a trail. After braving the grossness that is the bug spray application process, we set off. I led the way with Boo and Sully on leash, the little lady behind me and to my right with K2 bringing up the rear. I remember how peaceful and happy the forest made me. It was still but the stillness seemed alive. The leaves made a gentle rustling sound as soft breezes lazily made their way through the trees. I was in my glory, soaking it all in, and being grateful for the opportunity to enjoy such a scene with my family. Just then, a quick movement to my right and on the ground caught my eye. It was 2 steps in front of the little lady, and before I could react, Sully had come from my left, across me, in front of Boo, and pounced on whatever it was.
In the next instant I caught a glimpse of my worst fear. In the chaos and speed of the situation, my brain had defaulted to “it was probably a lizard” but the tell-tale pattern of a snake shattered that fantasy like a hurricane force wind against a house of cards.
I had grown up in the woods. We regularly went camping, our family even owned a small cabin in the West Virginia mountains, where my brother and I would spend entire days in the woods. We would hunt geckos and newts, pretend we were mighty explorers that discovered lost empires of gold, and we learned much about the dangers that nature can present. A rule of thumb for those woods was simple. Use your ears! Most, if not all, dangers in those mountains came with a warning signal, as long as you respected the threat, all would be good.
This is a rule that I take very seriously when in the woods. I rely heavily on my ears to navigate the forest. Little did I know, that in Florida, exists a small(6-8in) rattlesnake, whose rattle is so tiny, that it makes no noise!
As I glimpsed the pattern of a snake, in a flurry I had K2 take the dogs and the little lady about 20 ft away. All that was going through my head was that I needed to figure out what kind of snake this was, if it was poisonous, and if it was, I needed to kill it and get Sully to a vet(I’ve since found out that killing/bringing the snake is unnecessary for treatment). Fortunately, I thought at the time, the snake was trapped under a rotted log.
I was already sweating as the adrenaline surged through my body. There happened to be a column of sunlight that was aimed directly at the space around the log. I was already hot, sticky, and the bug spray was doing little to fend off the relentless attack from the insect world. None of that mattered in the moment. I used a stick to maneuver the snake into a position where I could see it. When I started to inventory the appearance, my eyes followed his body back to the tail, the small rattle may as well have been a battering ram to the middle of my forehead. Right at this time, K2 yells to tell me that Sully’s front leg was swelling, his breathing was becoming labored, and he wanted to lay down.
I knew then that we were in trouble, Sully needed immediate, emergency vet care. I plunged a sharp stick through the snakes head, put him in a plastic bag and yelled at K2 to get back to the car with Boo and the little lady.
Sully just sat there looking at me, tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth, imploring me to fix whatever was wrong with him. I couldn’t get him to walk, he just didn’t have the strength as the poison began to take its hold on his body. Even on a straight line through the bush, the car was still 100 yds away. I made the only decision I could in the moment. I grabbed my 90lb boy under his chest and back legs, then began to sprint as fast as my feet would carry me.
In reality, I imagine that the sprint only lasted a few minutes, but in my mind, it took 10 years. Every stick breaking on my shins, every sticker that pierced my skin leaving its defenses lodged there , and the sound of every step echoing from the trees seemed to linger for hours as I blasted through the underbrush.
When I emerged, bloodied, I must have looked like a wildman. I threw the plastic bag in the back of the car, got in the front seat, with Sully on my lap, and was on the phone with our vet before my butt hit the seat.
They informed me that he needed to have an antivenom administered as soon as humanely possible, but they did not keep it in stock. Thankfully, a clinic 5 minutes from where we live did. I called them, told them I was coming, and to have a spot ready.
My boy was fading, I could feel his exhaustion in my chest as he continued to breath laboriously in my lap. Within 10 minutes we were there, I didn’t wait for the car to stop moving, the door was open and I was out, Sully in my arms before it was in park. I burst into the office, informed the receptionist of who I was–in a voice much louder than I should have used– and asked her, not as nicely as I should have, where to take him.
The vet’s office is a blur in my memory. The vet telling me that he needed anti-venom, but due to the cost, he needed to know how we were going to pay for it before it was administered. We didn’t have pet insurance then, didn’t have 800 dollars lying around, and my word that we would find a way wasn’t good enough. My brain was in complete overdrive, I was running through lists of people in my mind that would help us. Just then, I realized that my mom had Care Credit, I was dialing the number before that thought had completely registered in my head. She, being an amazing mom and person, agreed to help right away.
My guy’s leg was already swollen to 5x it’s normal size. After getting the anti-venom, some pain meds, and some fluids, the vet informed me that all he needed now was to be monitored. He wanted to keep him at the office overnight, I was not having any of that. I told him to tell me what to watch for, and I would do it from home. No force on earth or in heaven was going to tear my dog away from me. I guess he could see how galvanized I was in that position because the vet consented without an argument.
On the way home, high as a kite on pain meds, my boy decided that my lap was as good a place as any to relieve himself of the two bags of fluid they had given him! I couldn’t have cared less.
Over the next few days, I watched my boy like a hawk as he slowly recovered, which he did, fully, in a week. The situation in the woods began to make much more sense to me when I realized that, if not for Sully, the little lady would have planted a foot within a few inches of the snake. I’m confident that he did what he did to protect her.
We haven’t been back in those woods since, but that day is burned into my memory and will accompany me to my grave. Thank goodness for the Palm Harbor Animal Clinic and their wonderful team that saved my boy! My boy has not learned his lesson, though, he still continues to chases lizards in our backyard, it is his favorite thing to do!