We had to put our dear dog, Walter, down today. He was too young – perhaps 8 or so. We don’t know his age because he came wandering into our yard one day in 2005. We found out who his owners were and tried to contact them. They never returned our calls. So Walter sewed himself into the quilt of our lives. This dog was a pain in the butt – like a prisoner hell bent on escape. Each time he fled, some nice person always called us and we got him back. One day not too long ago, he stopped running out of our yard…that was nice but sad at the same time.
Last weekend, Walter came home and didn’t seem himself. It was obvious that he got in a fight with something – blood was running out of his mouth. We shrugged it off until the next morning, when he was still slobbering crimson. We sought medical assistance. The vet was confused. The wounds in his mouth were unusual – two punctures. His tonsils were slightly swollen. Blood work showed that his clotting factor and platelet counts had plummeted. The vet was lost. These two issues don’t usually happen at the same time. One symptom suggested rat poison; the other a bad infection.
The vet sent us home with about $400 worth of medication to deal with both problems and we treated him diligently. But he just declined. I took him back to the vet yesterday and the prognosis was splenic cancer. The spleen is blood-cell central. So, that made sense. We prepared ourselves for the inevitable.
Last night, I had a revelation. Walter loved water. In fact, the day he started bleeding, he had shown up earlier in the afternoon soaked from dipping in a pond or stream. It occurred to me that perhaps the real culprit wasn’t Walter’s spleen. Two punctures in the mouth. Uncontrolled bleeding plus confusing blood work. Sounded like a snake bite to me. Pit vipers like cottonmouths are common around here. It has been an unusually wet spring. I’d bet they were out on the day he was taking a dip. Their venom is a potent hemorrhagic, causing platelet counts to drop and blood clotting factor to vanish. That’s how they kill their prey – they make them bleed out.
There’s more. Walter did not like snakes. His life was punctuated with battles with black rat snakes in the yard. He’d bark, bite, and lunge until each snake escaped into the brush or I rescued it.
Did Walter have a near fatal battle with a cottonmouth that day?
Back to the tragedy that is today. When we brought him in this morning to send him to that great dog run in the sky (actually we think he’s sitting on the hill in our yard eyeing the deers), I mentioned to the vet, who saw the puncture wounds and puzzled over the weird blood work, that Walter may have been done in by a snake. I will never forget the look I got from the vet – confusion and perhaps a touch of pity. She was thinking: Here was someone with no ability to process what was happening, grasping at twigs. Rather than a routine splenic condition, I had warped it into an epic battle between Walter and a rather nasty venomous water snake.
Am I nuts?
I get paid to think creatively about science. The vet gets paid to thumb through a set of known symptoms and use that to guide the treatment. Deviations from the recipe make things messy and perhaps a bit scary. After the deed was done and my poor dog breathed his last, I wondered whether the vet might take a look under the hood – just to see what happened to him. I offered to allow her to do a necropsy…for science’s sake.
There was no interest in doing that – unless I wanted to pay another fee.
Quite frankly, I doubt that the vet would know what she was looking at and even if she did, there really was no sense in it. Walter was gone and I know, I am sure, I am convinced that he kicked that snake’s butt. Good boy.