By Audrey Fraizer
Hikes along the foothills and broader ridges of the Wasatch Mountains are a favorite spring opener for dogs and their two-legged buddies. Snow’s melted from the trails, making it easy to navigate under the welcoming sunshine. About the only negative is the greater likelihood of an encounter with a pair of unforgiving fangs.
The Great Basin Rattlesnake is something to avoid around here, particularly in late May through June when they’re hungry, irritable, and mating, according to Utah’s Reptile Rescue Service. Surprising them into action is never a good idea and I doubt snakes look at us as choice mating material.
During the past 25 years, I’ve crossed paths with at least a couple dozen of these snakes. A few gave the warning rattle shake while others were content to continue to slither across the path or remain coiled, head down in the shrubbery. One has yet to give chase and pass me. The largest Great Basin Rattlesnake interrupting my hike was four feet long. I didn’t stop to measure, and the length is likely growing longer in time similar to a fish story, but even two to three feet provides an impressive lunge and strike force.
The snake’s reflexive spring to action follows a perceived threat; snakes lack ears but pick up on vibrations as a warning signal. The venom from the snake’s bite can immediately kill small creatures. Larger creatures take some time to die and rattlesnakes have killed five people in Utah during the past century. Not a huge number but enough to keep me on my toes.
The same doesn’t hold true of dogs. Some 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in North America. Many die.
Dogs are curious and impulsive; when excited, they don’t look where they’re going or exercise caution. My friend Ellen’s dog Albee is a prime example. The Borzoi/Border Collie mix is an energetic hiking companion with the Border Collie’s intelligence dampened by the Borzoi’s influence (OK, out of fairness, there’s probably not a breed that can sense the danger).
Because of frequent encounters between Albee and startled rattlers, Ellen leashes Albee when hiking on rocky trails and through mountain shrubbery. Albee dislikes being leashed on a hike but that’s not his decision to make. Once bitten, antivenom injections for dogs can costs hundreds to thousands of dollars, and that doesn’t take into account expenses related to intravenous fluids, medicine, and surgery. The annual vaccine costs about $40, but it has received mixed reports. If a rattlesnake does bite, Ellen has been advised to call 9-1-1 and deliver Albee to a veterinarian emergency clinic pronto.
I don’t know if the dispatcher would give the same Protocol 2 Pre-Arrival Instructions but I do doubt paramedics would be sent to retrieve the stricken dog from a mountain. Maybe 9-1-1 would contact the vet, which in that case would mean running like you’re a snake or, at least, running like one is after you for other than its passing interests.