A swollen Bella, shortly after being bit by a rattlesnake
Author: Lara Kirkner, The Sheet
Fire isn’t the only hazard of a dry winter
As they made their way down the Sawmill Trail near Independence, Calif. last Saturday morning, May 12, Mammoth local Brian Jaegers and his dog Bella had no idea that they would soon be embroiled in a near-death experience.
Jaegers was headed back to his car after camping Friday night. It was around 11 a.m. and already quite warm.
“It was probably in the 80s,” Jaegers estimated.
Bella, a five-year-old Vizsla, was checking things out on the trail in her usual curious manner. Suddenly she dove into a bush, obviously having seen something move.
“I could tell by the way she reacted that she had been bit [by something],” Jaegers described. “She lunged backward like something had come after her. She would have kept going if it had been a squirrel.”
Jaegers went to the bush and pulled its foliage apart. Inside the shrubbery were two rattlesnakes. As he looked at Bella he could clearly see that she had been struck.
The wound began to bleed, and in what seemed like less than a minute or two her front legs gave out. Jaegers tried to squeeze what venom he could out of the bite mark, but he knew he had to get Bella to a vet.
Approximately two miles from his car, Jaegers picked up his now limp dog and carried her in his arms for the first mile. Quickly becoming exhausted by the heavy pack on his back and the muscular, 65-pound dog in his arms, Jaegers decided to ditch his pack and slung Bella over his shoulders for the second mile.
By the time he reached his vehicle Bella’s leg was extremely swollen and she was losing consciousness. Frightened but undeterred, Jaegers put her in the car and rushed her to Bishop Veterinary Hospital.
Once there, Bella was put on an IV with anti-venom and kept overnight. She’s expected to make a full recovery, which Jaegers and his wife, Rachele partially credit to the rattlesnake vaccine they’ve been giving Bella for years.
“She would probably have been a goner without it,” Brian said. Bella had just received her annual vaccination the week prior to the incident.
The fact that Jaegers got her to the vet in just two hours also helped save her life.
“The vet said that you need to get them in for the anti-venom within six hours of being bitten,” Jaegers said. “He also told me that I could have given her an antihistamine such as Benadryl.”
Snakes are an issues further north as well, as Mono County District 2 Supervisor Hap Hazard attested to during his Board report at Tuesday’s Board meeting. Residents of Swall Meadows and Paradise are seeing an early turnout of rattlesnakes. There is such an alarm that Swall Meadows has already coordinated a dog aversion class for its community, according to Hazard.
“There was such an interest in the class that it is full and the community can’t take anyone from outside,” Hazard explained. He is hoping that the County might be able to help coordinate another class to be held in the late summer or early fall, but pointed out in a follow up phone call that the idea would need to jump through the government hoops (such as checking on liability) before there could be a community discussion.
An Eastern Sierra native, Jaegers grew up in Bishop. He agreed that he’s seeing more snakes out earlier.
“The vet said that McGee Creek is even worse than Sawmill Trail,” Jaegers warned.
He’s definitely interested in an aversion class for Bella, since, being a curious breed, “she probably didn’t learn her lesson,” he said.
He also plans to continue to vaccinate Bella and to make better terrain choices now that he is aware that the snakes are out in force.
According to Mono County Public Health Officer, Dr. Richard Johnson, there have been no human fatalities from rattlesnake bites reported in Mono County in his tenure.
“In my 16 years here, there has only been one report of a bite in June Lake,” Johnson said. “Someone was climbing on some rocks and reached his hand up and was bit. But that’s the only report I’ve heard in Mono County.”
Johnson pointed to the high elevation as the reason for the almost non-existent history of bites.
“Because of our elevation there are no rattlesnakes in Mammoth and the places where people tend to like to hike,” he said.
While he could not confirm an abundance of snakes in the McGee Creek area, he did say there are definitely rattlesnakes in Bishop, the Gorge, etc.
If a human were to be bit by a rattlesnake, Johnson said the individual should try to get to an emergency room within an hour.
“If you are in a far out place [i.e. the backcountry], don’t try to run because you will get your heart rate up,” Johnson said. That will increase circulation and spread the venom further throughout your body.
“Get help getting out,” he said. “It warrants a 911 call.”