Here’s how it goes:
That’s Boo, our new-ish 5-month-old Catahoula. As you could gather from the photo, she is not a shy being. She doesn’t know much yet, but everything is her business. In her canine way, she shoots first and asks questions later.
That’s the Brazos River, blustering along after about two weeks worth of constant rain, running at a depth of about 41 feet instead of the usual 11. In our part of the state, the Brazos is heavily wooded, and populated by all manner of critters. When floodwater covers up miles of animal habitat, those animals move up the riverbanks. As the river rises, the critters rise with it. Among these are many varieties of snakes.
We had been gradually allowing Boo to spend more of her time unsupervised – along with her older dog uncle, Bosco – in the fenced-in back yard. She has discovered squirrels, and began sneaking through the bushes trying to catch one.
It was Wednesday evening and time for her last meal of the day. I went out to bring her in, and my daughter told me she couldn’t be found. My wife and son joined us outside combing the yards, calling her. Ten minutes went by, and no luck. We all were getting worried. I grabbed a flashlight and started crawling under the house, the only place we hadn’t yet looked.
Boo was there in a corner, shaking slightly and holding up a swollen paw, looking somewhat in shock.
She’d been snake-bitten, but of course the snake was nowhere to be found. Probably it happened in some bushes along the yard’s periphery, and she ran under the house where she felt safest.
Our veterinarian provides emergency care, but he was somewhere in the outback de-horning cattle. His assistant recommended giving Boo 50 mg. of Benedryl and calling the only area emergency animal care center, in Sugar Land. People at the center told us to bring the dog in right away.
I wasn’t happy with their methods. Instead of consulting with us while looking over the dog, and then agreeing on a treatment, they whisked her away and apparently diagnosed her in a back room somewhere, then came out and tried to push $1,900 in tests and procedures on us, including administering antivenin. I’d read that antivenin isn’t usually needed for a copperhead or water moccasin bite – one of which is almost certain to have delivered the bite in this case. I’d also read that antivenin causes a violent allergic reaction in something like 10% of dogs. The clinic vet and I didn’t get along. She wanted to keep Boo overnight and give a series of three blood tests, plus the antivenin. We settled on them giving us an antibiotic and some pain medication, and we took her home. She marked “AMA” on our invoice – “against medical advice.”
Our regular vet told me the next morning that the blood tests the Sugar Land clinic had insisted on served no purpose given the circumstances. He confirmed what I’d read about antivenin, and said about the only time it’s needed in this part of Texas is in a case where a large rattlesnake bites a dog in the chest. He also told me we were correct to bring our beast home. Most young, healthy dogs such as Boo would recover unscathed from a copperhead bite without any treatment at all, he added – although it would surely be a painful recovery. In Boo’s case, her left front paw seemed hugely swollen Wednesday night – all the way to her elbow. The next morning at our vet’s, the swelling had gone down on its own to about half of what it had been. He gave her a $20 penicillin and steroid shot, and three or four hours later it was hard to see any swelling at all.
There’s still a nasty wound just above her paw pad, and we have to watch her closely to make sure it doesn’t become infected, but I think in another three or four days the whole episode will be just a distant memory.
Not too distant in the dog’s memory, though, I hope, as given the fact we live in the woods along a major river in the Deep South, it’s a certainty this won’t be the only snake that crosses her path.