The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

What a disaster

Price was bitten by a rattlesnake in 2005 and came amazingly close to death. Considering how gravely ill he was, it's still hard to believe that he survived . This is a re-print of an article I wrote, about the experience, for American Border Collie Magazine.

I said “What are you doing in there? Come out here” to my good dog Price after he ducked into the dog house inside his kennel. The second thing I do each morning after feeding the cat and before feeding my horse and the sheep is let my dogs out to run while I clean their kennels and change the water. All the dogs romp and play on the hill and never return to their kennels on their own. It’s funny because when I remember back to Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 7:45AM I recall having a brief, uneasy feeling after watching him do that. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I knew something was wrong.

There were no immediate outward signs of calamity, just the uncharacteristic return to his kennel. He came right to my feet when I called him out and I gave him a quick look for signs of trouble. There were none and I went back to work. Price ducked back into his dog house. I thought, “What is wrong with him?” I called him to me again and this time saw a Dime-sized blood spot on his nose and another on his right front foot. I looked in his mouth and all over his body but couldn’t find the source. This time I knew something was wrong and started to worry but I said hopefully “you’re all right” and went back to work. I thought maybe he’d bit his tongue or poked himself in the brush on the hill behind my house. Price went back to his dog house. The instant I saw the swelling I knew he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake. His nose had begun to fill by the time I called him to me for the third time. I pushed lightly on the swelling and a clear fluid ran out. It wasn’t until later that I was able to see two prominent fang marks about an inch apart on the side of his nose. It was a big snake.

Rocked by toe-curling dread, I started running. I kenneled the other dogs and ran toward the house calling Price with me. He loped easily beside me. I grabbed my cell phone and the truck keys and flew down the driveway. Like all good owners of too many animals, my veterinarians’ telephone numbers are stored on my cell phone. I called my small animal vet, Dr. Deborah Hofler, as I realized that her office would just be open by the time I got there about 8 miles away. Timing is everything and we had some luck. Dr. Hofler was not in yet when I got there, but Vicki Songer, her warm, affable receptionist, had already alerted her by phone and put a call into the technician. I was instructed to flush the wound with the garden hose and given a bag of ice to hold against the swelling. The water removes any venom from the skin surface which might be absorbed and the ice, with hope, would slow its spread. It was an agonizing wait for the vet but I ran water and held ice and talked to my beautiful, courageous border collie trying to convince us both that everything was going to be ok. Once there the technician quickly started an intravenous line but explained that he would not administer anti-venom without the vet present in case Price had an anaphylactic, or allergic, reaction to it. More agony. I was agitated at best but for once I kept quiet. Dr. Hofler got there about 8:30AM and administered a vial of anti-venom, which is the first of many misconceptions about this biological product.

Anti-venom is actually Antivenin and it’s not a single injection that provides the antidote to snake bite venom. It is a reconstituted serum consisting of antibodies made by horses after exposure to 4 common Crotaline, (copperhead & rattlesnake), venoms. It is administered slowly through an intravenous line over a half hour or more and it’s expensive. The cost is $100 to $400 per vial depending on who knows what, but I experienced the $400 variety. The bad news is that a large dog with a severe bite can require several vials and will likely always be sensitive to equine products making future snake bite treatment and snake bite vaccination problematic. The other bad news is that there is a narrow window in which antivenin must be used. After about 4 hours post-bite antivenin is of minimal use. A newer, more purified antivenin of sheep origin, (how ironic is that?), has recently been marketed as “Cro-Fab” and is upwards of $700 per vial. I was told that “Cro-Fab” is the equivalent of 5 vials of equine antivenin. Before it was all over Price would receive 5 vials of the horse variety and 1 of “Cro-Fab”.

I stayed with my dog while the serum was administered then left him in the watchful care of Dr. Hofler. She was of the opinion that he might be able to go home as early as that afternoon. How serious a snake bit is depends on, among other things, the species of snake, size of the dog and amount of venom injected. Surprisingly some snake bites are “dry” and no venom is injected. Some are mild with only local pain and swelling. As in Price’s case, some are severe and a small percentage of those are fatal. I left somewhat relieved and absolutely determined that he would be all right. I had no earthly idea what lay in store for us.

The rattlesnake bite is generally “hemotoxic”, which means that venom disrupts the integrity of the blood vessels. Swelling can be dramatic and in some cases as much as 1/3 of blood circulation can be lost into the tissues within a matter of hours. Facial bites can be lethal if swelling blocks the throat or impairs the ability to breathe. Venom further disrupts blood clotting which leads to uncontrolled bleeding. This massive blood loss induces shock and when I went back to the vet’s office around 5 O’clock it was clear to me that Price would not be coming home. His body temperature was over 105 degrees, his breathing labored and his big ol’ heart was racing. Clearly, he was in a great deal of pain. The decision was made for me to take him to urgent care where he could be watched around the clock by staff and veterinarians at Emergency Veterinary Service in Escondido, CA. Enter Dr. Karen Seibold and staff. Over the next 5 days they worked to save his life.

Price received the second of 5 vials of equine antivenin immediately after being received into the hospital. His body temperature, respiration and heart rate would improve after each vial was given but would eventually spike again as his body tried unsuccessfully to fight the effects of the venom. He became almost unrecognizable as vast amounts of blood filled his neck and front legs. The bruising ran from his nose to his testicles and the inside of his hugely swollen mouth was the color of beets. By this time I had begun receiving concerned calls from around the world as word spread about my dog. I can’t thank those caring individuals enough and I’m not able to express what those calls meant to me. Dr. Seibold had printed pictures of grazing sheep off her computer and taped them up inside Price’s kennel. She said it was to cheer him up, but I knew better. I was visiting the hospital twice daily and it was either Friday or Saturday when I started to accept that he wasn’t going to make it. I kept waiting for him to turn the corner, but he just never did. Dr. Seibold told me that she had seen 4 cases like mine this year and all of them had lived. I clung to that. She explained that Price was bitten by a Southern Pacific rattlesnake. I hadn’t seen the snake but she knew that because they are the only ones in our area that get big enough to make a dog that sick. I will always be grateful for what she did next. She made a loving, gracious and generous decision to donate her last remaining vial of “Cro-Fab” to Price. She had been given the sheep-based antivenin by the manufacturer for tests in her hospital. She thought she had 1 vial left. I wanted to grab her and hug her but I just cried and said thank you. That was the last antivenin administered to my dog.

Price’s recovery had begun. He was beginning to eat small bits of food and lick ice cubes. I went to the grocery store and bought him just about everything I thought might tempt him. I would sit on the floor in an examination room and slide little balls of chopped chicken, baby food and ground lamb across the roof of his mouth trying to stimulate his appetite. It worked and he started to perk up. The day before I picked him up I helped him out to a little grass area beside the hospital where he had his first “outside” pee in 5 days. That must have felt so good after being in a stainless steel box for days. Then he dropped his head and rubbed it side to side on the grass before rolling onto his back and kicking his feet in the air. He was OK.

Dear friends had invited me to their beautiful ranch in Alturas, CA. I wanted to train my dog at altitude in preparation for 4 of the biggest dog trials of the season. Amazingly Price got stronger every day I worked him there and I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. This was my test to see whether he was recovered enough to run on the big, demanding courses and wild range sheep coming up. Beginning just 6 weeks after the snake bite Price ran at The Soldier Hollow Classic in Heber, Utah, The Meeker Sheepdog Classic in Colorado, The USBCHA National Finals in Sturgis, South Dakota and the 5 States Western Regional Championships in Bonanza, Oregon. He was successful at all but one of those trials.

It was unbearably hot during our first of 2 runs at Soldier Hollow over Labor Day weekend. I retired voluntarily shortly after the run began after realizing we had not drawn the sheep to win with on that day. It was too soon to ask so much. I wasn’t sure whether his stamina had completely returned and wanted to save my dog. The following week I stood on the Meeker course with tears in my eyes watching my beautiful dog bring those 5 waspy ewes to my feet from over 500 yards away. He made the final round and finished 6th out of 111 dogs. At the end of September Price made the semi-final and final round at the United States Border Collie Handler’s Association National Finals. He showed his power and grit over 3 tough days of competition and came 6th again out of 150 of North America’s best. In October he made a mistake in Bonanza, Oregon that cost us in the double lift final of the Western Regional Championship where he finished 6th again. I wasn’t disappointed . I completed the course and walked away thinking, “Oh well, at least my dog’s alive.”

This quote from Jock Wilson in Lanark, Scotland at the 1967 Scottish National Sheepdog Championship, sums up my relationship with Price; “What you are witnessing when you see a splendid performance is the magic of the right person with the right dog.” We’re right for each other and I appreciate my dog more now. The years we’ve spent training each other and all the miles we’ve traveled together mean more to me. I don’t get impatient when he gives me an extra step after the down whistle, harasses the cat or gleefully flanks around my horse. I correct him, but I’m patient now. We don’t always achieve that splendid performance, but it’s OK. My dog’s alive.

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