An Altoona dog owner says his puppy saved his and his mom's lives after an encounter with a rattlesnake Tuesday afternoon.
The dog's owner, Shawn Reeseman, 23, said he, his mom, Sandra Crider, and her boyfriend, were walking Smokey, a 7-month-old German shepherd, on a leash at the bottom of the Allegheny Portage Railroad Trace Trail when a timber rattlesnake jumped up and bit the pup's snout.
Reeseman said the pup is a hero, because the snake could have bit him or his mom.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Shawn Reeseman of Altoona sits with his 7-month-old German shepherd, Smokey, who was bitten in the face by a yellow phase timber rattlesnake Tuesday on a trail at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site.
"He saved one of our lives," Reeseman said. "If it wouldn't have went after him, I really do think it would have got me or my mom."
He said the 3- to 3.5-foot-long snake with a circumference two times larger than a half dollar was about 3 feet away from him at one point.
After killing and taking the snake with them, the family rushed the dog to two local veterinarians, but was unable to afford care for the pup. The trip was his first beyond the backyard.
The antivenom costs $700 a dose and the closest vet carrying it is Metzger Animal Hospital in State College. Crider said they were told from various sources it could cost anywhere from $1,200 to $5,000 to treat their dog.
The family took the advice of Dr. Mark Koshko, a Metzger veterinarian, over the phone and is giving the pup Benadryl.
"Just using the actual Benadryl can save the animal," said Koshko, who did not physically examine or treat Smokey.
The family plans to take Smokey to a veterinarian in?Altoona today.
The snake could have struck with a dry or a wet bite, Koshko said. A wet bite is more dangerous because it means the snake injected venom into the animal.
Either way, the bite would cause swelling, he said.
Since Smokey has lived through the night, Koshko said his chances for survival are better. He couldn't say for sure, though, because he did not examine the dog and didn't know if it was a wet or dry bite.
"Surviving the first 24 hours is huge," he said.
Koshko said his hospital has already administered three antivenom doses to dogs this year for wet bites. He said the hospital sees five to six bites on average annually.
He advises pet owners to seek medical attention immediately after a snake bite. He said the antivenom should be given as soon as possible, and it has the best chance of helping the animal within two hours of the bite.
"I have given the antivenom up to six hours after a bite and they have reacted well and improved quickly," he said.
As for the snake, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site national resource management specialist Kathy Penrod said the Allegheny Mountains are a habitat for the poisonous Timber Rattlesnake and copperhead.
A 2006 animal survey found eight snakes at the historic site, but none were poisonous, she said.
"I would turn around and give it room," she said of what someone should do if they happen upon a snake, which are not aggressive unless they feel threatened.
If someone is bitten, they should seek immediate medical attention, Penrod said.
Reeseman said the ordeal has him shook up.
"He's still doing pretty good," he said of Smokey. "He's up moving around."
Crider said the pup is barking, too.
"Thank God he survived," Crider said. "We all cried. We prayed."