She is finally done. I hope you all like her. It only took 10 plus years to complete. Not that long to paint, but the procrastination and misplacing took years. Now for one more Nellie story.
The yarder engine roared and the cable snapped tight. Limbs and debris went flying as the yarder heaved the logs into the air. From the bottom of the canyon the logs sailed up the hill until they were suspended over the landing. Then they dropped to the ground with an earth-shaking thud and a cloud of dust.
I was visiting a logging job to go over log quality with the siderod. It was a hot, dry afternoon on the mountain. On this day, Hawk and Nellie, two panting golden retrievers were riding in the bed of my truck. They were my traveling companions. “Okay, guys time for a drink,” I said to the dogs as I climbed into the truck. We pulled out of the dusty landing and headed down the steep, winding road.
After a few miles, we stopped at a flat next to Deadwood Creek. The Forty-Niners mined this little creek during the Gold Rush. Its banks were piled high with the old mining tailings. I popped open the tailgate and let the dogs out. Smelling the water, they both turned and headed down a trail to the creek. As I followed them, I could hear the wind rustling through the leaves. They got right into the water and drank their fill. This was followed by swimming and eating grass along the bank. When they had enough, I started back up the trail, but didn’t call the dogs. I was trying to beat them to the top of the stream bank so they wouldn’t run me over on the steepest part of the trail. When they realized I was leaving they raced after me. Instead of taking the trail, they took a different route. We all reached the top of the bank at the same time. They stopped about fifteen feet to my right and then I heard a rattlesnake. The sound was coming from where the dogs were standing. I frantically began calling them and ran toward the truck to draw them away. They followed within seconds, but it seemed like minutes. Once safely in the back of the truck I quickly examined them, but could find no bite marks.
Unconvinced that everything was okay with the dogs; I grabbed my camera and headed back toward the rattler. When people are bitten by a rattlesnake it is important to know what specie of snake the venom is from. The anti-venin given to treat snakebite is specific to each type of snake. I didn’t know if that was true for dogs so I wanted to identify the snake just in case. When I was within forty feet of the snake it started buzzing loudly. I had a sinking feeling. This snake was really agitated. I got as close as I could and took pictures. It was a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. I hurried back to the truck fearing the worst. When I reached the truck my fears were confirmed, Nellie was holding her left hind leg up and out.
As quickly as I could, I chained Hawk in and scooped Nellie up in my arms. I loaded her into the front of the truck and sped down the road, leaving a cloud of dust. We were an hour and a half from town. Nellie couldn’t sit still as pain from the snakebite racked her body. She kept leaning against me until she couldn’t stand the pain anymore. She would change positions, move around, and then come back and lean against me again. All I could do was drive fast. I stroked her, but could give no comfort or relief. About thirty minutes after leaving the flat, I was able to get a cell signal. I called Mary, my wife, and told her what happened and that we were an hour out from the vet’s office. She said that she would alert the veterinarian and meet us there.
One very long hour later we arrived the vet’s office. I picked Nellie up and headed for the front door. We burst in and I said, “I have a snakebite here.” Mary was there waiting and told me, “Follow me, they have a room ready for her.”
Dr. Joy came almost immediately and began the examination. She took blood samples. “Some snakebites are dry bites that don’t actually deliver any venom. We already know by the swelling she has been envenomated, but the blood work will tell us how she is responding,” she said. After riding in the truck with Nellie I already knew the blood work would show that she was in bad shape. Once the blood work confirmed that her red blood cells were being destroyed, she was started on antivenin.
There was nothing left for us to do but call our son. Nellie was his, but he was active duty Air Force so she stayed with us. Now we had to give him the bad news. He was very worried for her and we promised to keep him up to date. Later that evening, Dr. Joy called to tell us that they wanted to keep her for observation for a couple of days, but that Nellie had stabilized and was resting comfortably. This was good news.
About mid-morning the next day, while I was at work Mary called me to tell me that Nellie was going downhill fast. The vets shaved her leg to look for an additional bite wound, but they didn’t find two bites, they found six. All bites were on the same leg, but on all sides. The vets started round two of antivenin. Again, we waited for the medicine to do its work.
By the next day she was doing better, and from that point on she steadily improved. She came home a week later. It took the fight out of her for a good long time. Eventually she made a full recovery. To this day, our veterinarians say this was the worst snakebite they have ever seen.
Today at twelve she is still an eager traveling companion of mine. She never likes to be left behind.
When I reflect back on the events of that day, I remember the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves, but it wasn’t breezy that day. I realize that the sound I heard wasn’t the sound of leaves, but the sound of a nervous rattlesnake buzzing quietly. The rattler had been sunning himself and warned us to stay away. I didn’t recognize it at the time for what it was. I believe that when Nellie reached the top of the creek bank she stepped on and stood on the rattler. She is a very stoic dog and didn’t get off of it until I called her. Meanwhile, the rattlesnake repeatedly bit her, because it was responding to her apparent attack. The rocky tailing piles along the creeks are prime rattlesnake habitat. Scouting these sites before turning the dogs loose is now our standard procedure so that none of our dogs have to experience what Nellie went through.
There is a snakebite vaccine made for dogs. However, it has limited effectiveness for most rattlesnake envenomation. It works best on Western Diamondback bites, but provides little or no protection from the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. If you are considering the vaccine for your dog, talk to your veterinarian. Also, find out which poisonous snakes are most common in your area.
You will find Nellie’s preceding posts here;
Due to technical difficulties I wasn’t able to access all of the photos I planned to use, until now. The Nellie painting was completed some time ago. I apologize for the delay, and I hope you enjoy the post.