As a certified naturalist trained in outdoor first aid, I knew getting to a vet -- not touching or trying to remove venom ourselves -- was our only hope. I also knew we had a window of opportunity -- hours -- before serious tissue damage.
Matt scooped Sadie up and swung all 60 pounds of her over his shoulders and began to run. I raced after him, grabbing the canteen on my way. We didn't get far.
It was a rough creek-bed trail with water past our ankles and lots of scrambling over fallen trees and boulders. After about 15 minutes of struggling, we knew Matt couldn't carry her the entire way out. He put her down so he could rest a moment. Just then, I saw a couple wading in the creek. "Help us!" I screamed.
Sadie, despite her condition, jumped up and ran to greet her new friends. Then, she crumpled to the ground, visibly weakened by the bites. I suggested we slip her into a backpack. The man (we were so upset, we never learned our good Samaritans' names) lent me his pocket knife, and I tore open the lining of my pack to allow for Sadie to slip in upright.
The woman, offered Matt her hiking poles so he could maintain balance with Sadie strapped to his back, papoose-style. That worked for another half mile or so until Sadie began squirming so much that we feared she'd fall out. Matt lowered the bag. This wasn't working. He suggested he stay with Sadie; the couple and I could run to get help. Just as we set off, Sadie jumped up and ran in front of us on the trail. She wanted to walk. And so we let her.
She could smell the trail and helped steer using the right direction, occasionally stopping to sip water in the creek and cool her little feet. And then we heard a rattle....
It all happened so fast; the snake latched onto Sadie's neck and she shook her head with such force that it swung off and into the air. The snake was gone, but it'd already done damage.
Sadie's throat and chin were bleeding. At that point we feared the worst. We didn't have much time. We prayed that rattlesnakes wouldn't strike more than twice, and let Sadie continue walking. This time, Matt walked in front of her, and I stayed close behind. The man ran ahead and the woman acted as caboose, instructing us which way to turn to stay on the trail.
This worked for another half hour or so (by this time, we'd been on the trail for more than 2 hours). But Sadie was slowing down. The trail was steep and the hillside was sheer from a recent fire. There was no way we were going to get out of there carrying her at that point.
So we did what we could: We cheered. We clapped. We whistled. And Sadie kept going. Her strength and indefatigable spirit was contagious and pushed our tired bodies faster as we charged onward. It took us 3 hours to hike the 4 miles back to our parking spot. We quickly said thanks to the strangers who'd hiked with us, and jumped into the car.
Our plan: Drive to a bar/restaurant near the trailhead and call for help. As luck would have it, I thought, a ranger truck was in the lot. I ran inside and shouted to the ranger from across the bar. He called the station from his radio. Meanwhile, the bartender had called 911. Neither the ranger nor the paramedics could help us; they would not send a medevac for a dog. We had one option: Get her to a vet.
We frantically dialed clinic upon clinic only to hear recorded Memorial Day messages. We had no choice but to drive 18 miles out of the San Gabriel Mountains to Studio City in the San Fernando Valley near our home. By then, 4 hours had passed. We'd escaped Devil's Canyon. But we were not yet, as they say, out of the woods.
"We're running out of options," said a vet the next night, as we stood in front of a bloated creature that no longer resembled Sadie. She was hooked up to machines and vials and an alarm sounded indicating that her heart rate had surpassed 200 beats per minute. Her head was the size of a watermelon, and the swelling had spread to her abdomen. An awful smell and black fluids spewed from her mouth. The vet did not think Sadie would last the night, but we still authorized more antivenin and a blood transfusion.
We wept and stroked her ears, the only part not swollen. Sadie started sniffing my hand. I pulled off my sweater and placed it in front of Sadie's nose, as we said goodbye.
The next morning's report would read that the vet had recommended euthanasia. Then, that Sadie was sitting up and vocalizing. Later, that she "walked to the van" when it came time for a transfer. No one could believe the transformation that had occurred.
Today, 6 antivenins, 6 blood transfusions, 6 days in vet hospitals, and nearly $15,000 later, Sadie continues her remarkable recovery. To help promote awareness and raise funds toward medical bills, we launched a Facebook fan page, named "Smiles for Sadie," because we never thought we'd see her smile again. Thanks to doctors, fans, friends, family and complete strangers, this dog can't stop smiling. And neither can we.