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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.”
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.”
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
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.
- Utah Division of Wildlife Resources rattlesnake safety tips
- Wild Aware Utah snakes web page
- Utah’s Rattlesnake Avoidance website
Email: [email protected]
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.