Rattlesnake kills 2 dogs in Leeds; tips for pet owners, hikers

Elements of image from jbreeves/Getty Images; image composite St. George News

VIEWER ALERT: This report includes a photo that may not be appropriate for all readers. Discretion is advised.

CEDAR CITY — A little over a week ago, Chelsey Austin’s boyfriend came home just before lunch to find their miniature pit bull Leroy and miniature dachshund Dudley dead in their yard in Leeds. After determining the dogs died from snake bites, Austin said she wanted to make sure others are aware and take steps to prevent similar incidents, both for pets and people.

I never would’ve thought something like that would happen,” Austin said, “but after talking to people about my experience, a lot of other people have had experience with rattlesnakes right in town. I work in Cedar, and it happens right here in town.”

Chelsey Austin's boyfriend found their miniature pit bull Leroy and miniature dachshund Dudley dead in their yard in Leeds from rattlesnake bites. Leeds, Utah, June 7, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Chelsey Austin via Christian Warmsley, St. George News
Chelsey Austin’s boyfriend found their miniature pit bull Leroy and miniature dachshund Dudley dead in their yard in Leeds from rattlesnake bites. Leeds, Utah, June 7, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Chelsey Austin via Christian Warmsley, St. George News

On the morning of the incident, Austin said, both dogs had been put on long chains underneath a shade tree before she and her boyfriend left for work. When her boyfriend returned to meet with a repairman at about 11:30 a.m., he found the two dogs.

“They were laying next to each other under the tree on their sides,” Austin said.

The couple’s first reaction was that the animals had been shot by a shotgun, due to several small holes in the dachshund’s side. However, it was later determined by closer examination that the signs — including the dogs’ faces being swollen and indication of internal bleeding — pointed to the fact that the dogs had been bitten by a rattlesnake.

Additionally, Austin said when police were called to determine if a human was to blame for the incident, the officer interviewed a neighbor who said she heard the dogs barking a lot for a moment, which Austin said wouldn’t happen unless someone or something was in the yard.

“When she looked out to see right where the dogs were out — she’s got a view from her window — there was nobody there,” Austin said. “She wasn’t able to see low enough to the ground to see if there was a snake, but there was no human there. That gave us a big clue as well.”

Utah's Rattlesnake Avoidance uses snake skins for scent and a live rattlesnake in a plexi-glass cage with mesh windows for training, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah's Rattlesnake Avoidance, St. George News
Utah’s Rattlesnake Avoidance uses snake skins for scent and a live rattlesnake in a plexi-glass cage with mesh windows for training, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah’s Rattlesnake Avoidance, St. George News

Haley Bechard, who runs Utah’s Rattlesnake Avoidance in Sandy and says she loves reptiles as much as she loves dogs, told St. George News barking is a good indicator that a dog has located a snake.

Bechard has several years experience working with both reptiles and dogs, first as the head reptile keeper at Scales and Tails Utah and most recently with Utah’s Rattlesnake Avoidance, which offers dog training classes using live rattlesnakes and providing a safe and humane way to protect both dogs and snakes.

Bechard doesn’t currently offer classes in Southern Utah; however, she said, if enough people contact her expressing an interest, she would consider traveling down for a training session. In the meantime, she offered a few suggestions and tell-tale signs to pet owners when it comes to rattlesnake safety, especially for people taking their dogs with them on walks or hikes.

“If the dog is acting funny, try and find puncture wounds. Try and find swelling,” she said, “and then get them to the nearest animal hospital.”

In addition to hearing barking or yelping as indicators of a dog’s encounter with a rattlesnake, Bechard listed sudden lethargy in animals as a potential indicator. If the dog has disappeared for a few minutes while on a hike, Bechard said, it is a good idea to give them a once-over looking for any puncture wounds or swelling.

However, if a dog is going to be off the leash, the most important command for a dog to obey is the “leave it” command. Bechard said:

No matter what, that is your strongest suit. Your dog can never be off the leash without it. If your dog cannot ‘leave it’ and come back to you, your dog is at a danger for a lot of things.

It is also a good idea to be familiar with your surroundings and aware of rattlesnake behavior patterns, Bechard said, including a snake’s tendency to be out in the early morning or evening for hunting. Otherwise, rattlesnakes will  seek cooler areas, such as shaded areas or under rocks.

In 2013, St. George News reported on a “rattlesnake vaccine” available to pet owners; however, if you haven’t done that and your dog is bitten, Bechard said, try to keep the dog calm and the wound clean.

“If your dog is small enough, pick it up and carry it,” she said. “Or have it walk. Keep its heart rate as low as possible and keep it calm. Don’t try to do anything to the wound. Don’t cut it or try to suck anything out. Just keep it clean. Keep the dog calm and get it to a hospital.”

Staying safe in rattlesnake country

Austin said ever since the incident with her dogs, she and her boyfriend are taking steps to discourage more rattlesnakes from coming into the area, especially as she has three children.

While Division of Wildlife Resources experts have told her not to bother wasting money on rattlesnake repellent sprays, she has purchased rodent repellent as a way to minimize potential rattlesnake food supply in the area. She has also started working on clearing the brush around her property.

These actions are in line with the DWR rattlesnake safety tips. In addition to clearing brush, the DWR recommends clearing wood, rock or junk piles on your property. Other suggestions for keeping rattlesnakes out of your yard include:

  • In addition to rodents (which may be managed using rodent repellent), bird feeders attract rattlesnake prey
  • Pets kept outside need to stay hydrated; however, water attracts snakes (Austin said it was probably the water dish that attracted the snake that killed her dogs)
  • Avoid scaring away harmless snake species, such as gopher snakes; having other snake species on or near your yard may deter rattlesnakes from wandering through it

Rattlesnakes are fully protected by Utah law. It is illegal to kill or even harass one. If a rattlesnake is in your yard, try to remove it by spraying it out of the area with a garden hose, while staying at least 15 feet away. If the hose doesn’t work, do not try to remove it yourself. Contact animal control or the DWR office closest to you. In St. George, call 435-879-8694; in Cedar City, call 435-865-6100.

If you are hiking and encounter a rattlesnake, the DWR recommends the following:

  • Remain calm; do not panic
  • Stay at least 5 feet from the snake; give the rattlesnake plenty of space – rattlesnakes tend to avoid people and will usually only bite when threatened or provoked
  • Do not try to kill the snake – doing so is not only illegal but also greatly increases the chance the snake will bite you; most venomous bites happen when untrained people try to kill or harass a snake
  • Alert other people on the trail to the snake’s location; advise them to use caution and to respect the snake – keep children and pets away
SnakeBite911 app | Photo courtesy of Utah's Rattlesnake Avoidance Facebook page, St. George News
SnakeBite911 app | Photo courtesy of Utah’s Rattlesnake Avoidance Facebook page, St. George News

Snake bite? There’s an app for that

The mortality rate from rattlesnake bites for most people is very low, Bechard said. However, once bitten, a person should seek medical attention as soon as possible. If treatment is given within two hours of the bite, the probability of recovery is greater than 99 percent.

In order to assist hikers or people in rural areas, Bechard said a venom lab in Salt Lake City has developed an app called “SnakeBite911,” which offers snake education, first aid information and directions to medical assistance.

“When you get bit, you can locate where it was and take a picture of it,” Bechard said. “Every 15 minutes, your phone will send you a reminder to take another picture of it. It is important to see the progression of what is happening.”

SnakeBite911 is only currently available for iPhones, Bechard said, but developers are working on the Android version.


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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • Accountable June 21, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Here’s a thought. Don’t CHAIN your dogs so they can’t escape. Also, don’t leave your dogs CHAINED OUT in life-threatening HEAT. Too lazy to train your dogs to be able to be inside your house??

    • ladybugavenger June 21, 2016 at 5:33 pm

      It had to be said

      • Proud Rebel June 22, 2016 at 10:26 am

        If someone else had not already said it, I would!

  • Common Sense June 21, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    I am sorry for the loss of your dogs. It is the responsibility of the pet owner to ensure the pets safety at all times. Whether or not they were chained up the end result could have been the same. However, having outside animals does expose them to greater risks. So sad. At least there is some comfort knowing they were together and not alone.

  • Ron June 21, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    I am so sorry for the loss of your furry kids. I also am an owner of a Doxie and a Chihuahua, and they are so bonded, as I feel these two in the photo were. However, I have to agree with Accountable above and wonder, why on earth would you leave the dogs outside, chained up in this horrible heat we have been having for at least 2 days?? It’s not like it just got so hot in the last 24 hours and you weren’t expecting it. Laziness and/or irresponsible pet ownership is to blame. Chaining up a dog outside is plain irresponsible behavior on the part of the owners. Shame on you. I just hope you aren’t the type of parents that would leave your kids in the car on such a hot day while you shop. Small children and pets cannot advise you of their suffering if you are not willing to try to know them well. Please do yourself and other dogs a favor….don’t replace your dogs if you can’t take the time to train them to leave them in the home while you are gone.

  • mesaman June 21, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Better still, invest in a mongoose.

    • .... June 21, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      Really. ? rolls eyes pfffffffffft

  • Chuck June 21, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    Read the first sentence in the story Ron, A little over a week ago!!!!!! You can read, right?

    • Accountable June 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      Leaving your pets chained with “a bowl” of water ANYTIME during the summer is abusive/inhumane.

      I hope you can read and comprehend what we’re all saying Chuck. But, just in case you’re as thick as I believe you are: we have every justification for calling out these pet owners for their treatment of these two dogs. Period.

    • Ron June 22, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Chuck, I don’t care if it was last week, or two months ago, or yesterday. Lets chain you to a tree with a bowl of water for 8 hours. Or better yet, lets chain up one of your kids outdoors while you go to work. After all, it’s only for 8 hours, right??

  • Chuck June 21, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    It is not bad enough that these guys lost their best friends but you need to pass your illiterate judgement upon them? Shame on you!

    • Proud Rebel June 22, 2016 at 10:28 am

      Maybe we should offer them a fund raiser? Don’t you ever get a bit sick and tired of people who are too stupid to actually think about what they are doing?

    • Ron June 22, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      “illiterate judgement”????……you are talking about the shameful dog owners in this story, right??

    • Accountable June 22, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Judgment is spelled J U D G M E N T Chuck. It means the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. Before you pass judgment on other people’s illiteracy, be careful not to show yours.

  • Chuck June 21, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Same goes to you accountant!

  • ladybugavenger June 22, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Has anyone noticed that the report says the dogs are under a tree. There is no shade from a tree. Poor pooches. I know the sun could have shifted after they died. I’m just saying I don’t see shade. (Except for the shadow of the person taking photo)

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