Our dog died from a snake bite the Saturday before last.
Our house backs onto the old Bulli mine area with areas of open ground and bush with tracks through it, that for over ten years I have run my dogs, certainly with problems related to ticks, although I have found that problem can be reduced by keeping clear of water courses, but without seeing any snakes let alone having problems with them. I have always figured that if I as a comparatively large stumbling mammal make enough noise will keep away - and it seemed to work. Beyond this approach, I remained very ignorant about snakes.
We are very sad that our dog has died and invariably blame ourselves on two counts: failure to take preventive action and failure to recognize the clear symptoms of snake bite to take appropriate action to save him. Theodore was about eighteen months old and very active. He was different from our other dogs in having a hound as distinct from a sheep dog breeding. I have two other kelpie dogs.
There is a sunny embankment, which an established track up it that is used as well by motor bikes, trail bikes and horses. I have been running up it for years with my dogs. It is a area of low scrub with plent of leaves and bark, perhaps the ideal place for a snake to build its nest and do a bit of sun bathing.
In retrospect you see all the warning signs that somehow failed to notice at the time. Theodore unlike usual was not the first up the hill. So I am at the top, recovering my wind with the other dogs, and then Theodore comes with the snake coiled in his mouth like a garden house. The stomach, I was three to four metres away, looked yellow. Theodore put the snake down when I told him too. I watched the snake, which was coloured a walnut brown and at least five to six feet , very slowly moved away, diving through a puddle of water and into the grass.
We did not recognize all the symptoms when with 10 to 15 minutes later Theodore was back in our yard repeatedly vomiting green bile and frothing at the mouth. He also sought to burrow under bushes and went under the house.
In our ignorance we did nothing. The snake bite was not obvious. I did not know what a snake bite looked like. We waited three hours before we took him to the vet, by which time he bent up when he tried to walk and his gums were swollen and purple. Theodore died on the way. I was conscious of his rapid heart beat and he struggled in my arms before he died.
I was shocked to be told that Theodore was dead when he arrived. The vet examined him and found three distinct gashes in a back paw in a light plug configuration. In my state of shock and inarticulateness, I had trouble describing the snake that I had seen, to the extent that the vet cast doubt on my story.
I was completely muddled. I could not make the connections, as obvious as they were to anyone with any experience or knowledge. I had a theory that Theodore must have eaten something. When I was told on Monday that the vets thought that it could have been a snake bite, the scales fell from my eyes. And on Tuesday, we were informed that it was a tiger snake.
No doubt a tale of stupidity told by an idiot. Some of us are ignorant of the dangers of the natural environment, and when something happens we do not observe it systematically.
None of this detracts from the grief and remorse we experience. To have saved Theodore we would have had to recognize the symptoms and to find the snake bite. In our environment that should have been common sense. So too it would have been better to avoid the problem, which means been alert to the danger.
You might perhaps treat this as a case study of people who live in an environment without understanding it, and then only learn after the event and live with recrimination. The other recourse of ignorance is simply to destroy the eco-system.
Contributed by Ian Westbrook, October 2000.