Rio Communities snake bite leads to lesson about anti-venom in county

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It was an ordinary evening walk on the east mesa for Rio Communities residents Sue Davis and Rob Wallace.

They were out enjoying the cooler evening temperatures with their dogs, Shiloh and Boomer, and the neighbor’s dog. Usually, they take their walks in the morning, but they had been in Albuquerque all day.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Rio Communities residents Sue Davis and her dog, Shiloh, left, and Rob Wallace with his dog, Boomer, usually take walks on the east llano in the early morning. But last month, they took an evening walk and had a terrible encounter with a rattlesnake.

Davis was in the lead, enjoying the quiet, when she thought she heard a rattlesnake. She called back to Wallace.

“Not two minutes later, we came across a coiled snake on the left-hand side of that north/south fence line on the road we walk on,” Wallace said.

He yelled to the dogs to get moving, but Shiloh circled back around the snake, then yelped.

He had been bitten by the snake.

“I still didn’t know what was going on,” Davis said. “I thought one of the bigger dogs had run him over.”

But Wallace saw the rattlesnake strike the Sheltie on the foreleg. When he picked the dog up, Shiloh cried in pain.

“Then, real quick, we had to decide what to do,” Wallace said.

It was already getting dark, so Wallace ran back the mile or so to get a truck.

At the house, he called the Valencia Animal Hospital.

“I got their after-hours number, for what I found out was Pet ER,” he said.

He drove back to get Davis and Shiloh, then high-tailed it to the Pet ER in Los Lunas.

“She was a basket case,” Wallace said.

Davis had just lost her other Sheltie to cancer last month.

“She was only 4,” Davis said. “She had cancer of the iris last year, and had her eye removed. Then she developed a lump on her forehead a few months ago.”

Both of her dogs were rescues. The female Sheltie was abandoned in Bosque Farms, and had been shot at five times, Davis said. When she took her to the vet, they found five pellets in different parts of the dog’s body.

Shiloh was found through Petco in Albuquerque after his original owner had to give him up.

Davis said she was determined not to lose Shiloh.

The bite tore a gash in Shiloh’s front leg. He was listless. They didn’t know what to expect as the venom permeated his system.

“I thought he was going to die in my arms, actually,” she said.

“The size of the pet matters, and one of the critical things, of course, is the time elapsed from the time the animal is bit, to the time you get the anti-venom in him — it’s critical,” Wallace said. “That’s why we were shocked (when we were told), ‘We don’t have any anti-venom here, you’ll have to go to Albuquerque.’”

They were given a couple of phone numbers, one of which was for VCA — Veterinary Care Animal Hospital — on Montgomery in Albuquerque.

At VCA, Shiloh was given one anti-venom shot, but his leg continued to swell, and the vet suggested they give him another. Each shot was $500, but that didn’t matter to Davis.

“There was just no way I could lose this dog,” she said.

Shiloh spent two days in intensive care. The total veterinary bill was $2,200.

The Pet ER doesn’t stock anti-venom for a number of reasons, said William Thompson, a veterinarian at the Los Lunas Animal Clinic. One is cost.

“Even for a small dog, treatment is about $800 to $1,000,” Thompson said.

Anti-venom also is in short supply. Every January it becomes available, but runs out quickly. Its shelf-life is one or two years, and when you get it — it’s the luck of the draw, the vet said.

Treatment with antibiotics and pain medicine alone, without anti-venom, has been very successful, or just as successful as with the anti-venom, Thompson said.

“For all those reasons, it doesn’t make sense for us to keep it,” he said. “We don’t do the volume that Albuquerque does. In terms of a rattlesnake bite, it’s only another 20 minutes to Albuquerque. It’s not that critical.”

He suggests people who live where there might be snakes get their dogs vaccinated. Rattlesnake vaccine costs about $30-$40.

Shiloh is home now, and looks healthy.

“You just don’t know how good I feel that he’s doing really well,” Davis said.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.