GLASTONBURY — Robert Murray’s two dogs were enjoying a routine afternoon frolic around the backyard of their home last week when one of the dogs began barking furiously toward the ground. The smaller dog, Listo, a 10-year-old miniature Pinscher mix, had spotted something in the grass. At first, Murray, 79, said he thought Listo had discovered an injured bird or squirrel.
But before Murray could reach the spot where Listo was barking, his other dog, Tanner, a 3-year-old Vizsla, raced to join the investigation.
Wielding a cane following a recent surgery, Murray said he walked toward his dogs and realized what caught their attention: A poisonous timber rattlesnake.
“I took my cane and I tried to push (the snake) away and call for my wife to get out there with leashes, but it was too late,” Murray said. “The snake had bitten both of them in the face.”
Murray rushed the two dogs to Pieper Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Middletown, where they were given anti-venom and other medications to stabilize them.
“Listo’s face and neck were swelling so rapidly that it was closing off his windpipe, and he underwent an emergency tracheostomy to help him breathe,” the hospital posted on Facebook.
Over the next several days, the dogs were constantly monitored and treated as they recovered from the after-effects of the snake venom, according to the hospital. The intense swelling eventually subsided, and the dogs have since returned home. Tanner returned home Friday, and Listo was picked up from Pieper on Saturday afternoon.
The dogs are “acclimating to becoming their normal selves” and adjusting to being home after suffering a “big shock” to their bodies, Murray said.
Dr. Jessica Urbonas, head of emergency services at Pieper, said she was “thrilled” the dogs were discharged from the hospital and recuperating. She said that these types of incidents, while rare, do occur in Connecticut.
“We don’t think about Connecticut being a place where we have poisonous snakes, but we have two different types,” Urbonas said. “It’s definitely something that we don’t see routinely, but it’s certainly something that we see.”
Timber rattlesnakes are native, but endangered in Connecticut and can be found in northwestern Litchfield County and in the Meshomasic State Forest in East Hampton, Glastonbury, Marlborough and Portland, Pieper said.
According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the timber rattlesnake, which grows to an average of 40 inches, is one of only two venomous snake species found in the state, along with the copperhead.
During her 14 years as an emergency animal doctor, Urbonas said she usually sees one snake bite every summer. The animals bitten have all survived, she added, because owners recognized the symptoms and immediately brought in their pets for emergency care.
Urbonas advised pet owners should “err on the side of caution” and get their animals evaluated if they notice an onset of swelling. Owners should also familiarize themselves with local resources that are available in case of an emergency.
“It’s something that people don’t think about in Connecticut, but it certainly should be something that’s on the radar,” Urbonas said. “People should be prepared for what to do when it does happen.”
Because his Glastonbury home abuts the Meshomasic State Forest, Murray said it’s common for timber rattlesnakes to slither onto his property.
About five or six years ago, Murray said, a rattlesnake bit another Vizsla he owned, named Tor. At the time, there weren’t any animal hospitals in Connecticut that carried anti-venom, he said. So Murray said he drove Tor to the animal hospital at Tufts University, where the dog eventually recovered.
Murray said he was “unbelievably” grateful to Pieper for carrying anti-venom, which most hospitals don’t stock because it’s expensive and has a short shelf-life.
“To their credit, Pieper has recognized that there is a significant rattlesnake population close to Middletown … and of course, it was our luck that they had (anti-venom),” Murray said. “Our little guy would not have made it up to (Tufts) — he was swelling too fast.”
If a person encounters a timber rattlesnake, they should calmly and slowly back away from it, as quick movements often scare snakes and may provoke a defensive strike, according to DEEP. Timber rattlesnakes are protected by the state’s Endangered Species Act and anyone who kills or collects this snake could face fines or legal action, DEEP stated on its website.