Last of nine lives
It’s a 12 minute drive from my house to Myrtleford, where the veterinary clinic is. It felt like forever as I flogged my tired old ute. Bertie was flopped on the passenger seat, eyes glazed, tongue out, chest heaving.
Pulling up outside the vets, I ran round to the passenger side. I grabbed Bertie and rushed in. Two nurses and two vets were waiting for me, "Here, here! Give him to me!" I passed him over and they raced off.
I was so agitated I walked up and down, and I was led away to a quiet spot to calm down, and was able to confirm that yes, it was a tiger snake that had bitten Bertie. That gave them what they needed to start him onto the antivenin.
A week later, he is still alive, but a convalescing, frail dog. He's sleeping 23 hours a day, awake to be fed, watered, toileted and medicated. A three metre walk exhausts him. He's lost more than a kilo of his 7kg body weight. The poison ate into his muscles, stomach, might have damaged his liver, and paralyzed his esophagus. He was back at the vet's today, to check what appears to be the start of bronchitis or pneumonia from fluid in his lungs.
All self-induced. He attacked the tiger snake, which the dogs found as we were walking through the bottom river paddock. That's the third time we've seen it in the last two weeks. Its been hanging around the house, the chook yard, the shed….
I was 10 metres away, and instinctively knew, when I saw him bob into the long grass, it was a snake. I called him more fiercely than normal, and he stood up, and came towards me…and collapsed. I ran over, and there was, I thought, two large tiger snakes wrapped around each other.
I grabbed Bertie and rushed back to the house, fumbling with my phone. The vets were engaged the first three times I called, and when they answered I shouted that I had a Jack Russell bitten by a large tiger snake and was 12 minutes away. "Is that enough time? Can I get him to you in time?"
"Yes, come now!"
So doors wide open, the other dog told to "Stay!", I raced down the road and into Myrtleford.
Two hours later I was back. Bertie stayed behind at the vets, and would be under intensive care for a week.
Fry the Kelpie was waiting where I left him. He whimpered when I patted him. I swear he thought Bertie was dead.
I went back to the scene of the crime. It wasn't two large snakes. Bertie had attacked one large snake, broken its back and I had seen it twisting on itself. When I found it afterwards it had straightened out and had tried to duck into a hole. I pulled it out with a long-handled hoe and killed it. Not allowed, but I would defend anyone killing a mortally wounded animal.
So for the next week we checked in every day with the vet, and visited Bertie. Every day he declined, despite their round the clock efforts. By the third day he was still vomiting relentlessly and losing the fight. As a last resort they inserted a feeding tube into him, attached it to his face, and put a bucket on so he couldn’t scrape it off. I went home that night and couldn't sleep, cursing myself for dragging it out and extending his misery. Over breakfast we decided I would call the vets, and make an appointment to go in and have him put down.
And at that point we received a SMS, a video of one of the nurses exulting as she lifted an alert Bertie from his cage, tail wagging. The vomiting had been stopped, and he had started the very slow uphill walk to recovery.
We are a long way from out of the woods. When I took him back today it was because this morning the anticipated lung problem sounded like it was surfacing. By lunchtime that had subdued, but I kept the appointment as he was fading over the afternoon. (An x-ray showed a shadow of bronchitis on one lung.)
So, he's in and out, up and down. Sometimes too miserable to eat, but malnourished and ravenous. He shows sparks of animation, like running outside when a visitor arrived, only to collapse and sleep for a few hours.
At this stage I am not 100% sure he's going to make it, but we are certainly giving it our best shot.
It didn't work out. He slowly declined, then got to the point where he refused food, wouldn't take medication, and was reluctant to drink. His story ended this morning.
His brain was still alert. For example, this morning he growled at our other dog Fry who came up to see why Bertie was getting all the attention. Even though he could barely lift his head. From his floppy position he gave Fry the eye, and Fry backed off. A tyrant to the end!
From my desk I can look out the window and see where I buried him, on a ridge overlooking one of the ex-mining pits. It often has rabbits in it and Bertie would use the height to track for any bolters, hurl himself over the edge and give chase. A magnificent Bunya Pine is planted on the spot, grown from seed by my neighbour.
A mighty tree for a mighty dog.