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Rattlesnake expert shares safety tips after dog is bitten in Billings Heights

Posted at 7:42 PM, Jun 23, 2024

BILLINGS — Billings Heights resident Sara Wald saw a rattlesnake bite a dog's nose on Calico Avenue last week. Wildlife Conflict Program Manager for The Humane Society, Dave Pauli shared some safety tips with MTN in case the same situation ever happens to you.

Wald loves spending time outside.

“I walk regularly in the Heights," said Wald in the Heights Sunday.

It was during a stroll last week when she came across a boy walking his Golden Retriever on Calico Avenue.
“I was walking faster so I kind of went out into the street to walk past him, and there was a snake in the street,” Wald said.

Billings Heights resident Sara Wald

As Wald reacted to the baby rattlesnake, it also caught the eye of the boy and his dog.

“His dog came and put his face down to the snake and it bit him on the nose,” said Wald.

The boy was able to call his father, who came and killed the rattlesnake with a shovel. They then took the dog to the vet.

"I've walked for years in the Heights and I've never seen a rattlesnake in town. I've seen lots of other harmless snakes, but I decided, you know what, if they're actually venturing out into the streets, it's probably something good for people to know about, especially for pets and little kids," Wald added.

“When it’s hot, snakes are coldblooded, and they’re very active,” said Pauli.

It's news that doesn't surprise Pauli, especially since the season of summer has officially begun.

"I am the reptile, turtle, snake guy. I do, prairie dogs is another specialty. Any large volume capturing situation, so, and then I do immunocontraception and chemical immobilization all over the world for them. So yeah, I travel a lot and always outdoors and always non-lethal things with wildlife," Pauli added.

Dave Pauli shows a fishing rod holder he uses to keep snakes at bay.

As a reptile lover, he rescues rattlesnakes as a hobby.

“Montana is a relatively low-density snake state. We only have 10 species of snakes and we only have one venomous, the Western Prairie Rattlesnake,” said Pauli. "Last year in Montana, we were 28th in the nation as far as snake bites with 38 confirmed snake bites, which includes venomous and non-venomous. So 38 snake bites. Number one in the country was Texas and they had 1500 snake bites. So that gives you some parameters that that we're in pretty safe snake country."

He said snakes are usually on the hunt for rodents or water, which is why you might see them in your backyard.

"If you have a rodent problem, the solution is not rodenticide. The solution is finding out why the rodents are there. Maybe mow the lawn shorter, put a catch tray under the bird feeder to catch the seed. Do things. Put up a raptor perch so hawks and owls can hunt those rodents day and night," Pauli said.

He said eliminating attractors like rodents and water bowls for pets will help prevent snakes from venturing into yards.

"It's usually not the snake's choice to bite. It's the person pressuring it or the dog pressuring it," said Pauli.

Phipps Park in West Billings

Rattlesnakes, however, are usually found in places full of sage brush and large rocks, like Phipps Park in West Billings.

“There is a pre-exposure vaccine that you can give to your dogs that would greatly reduce the impact to them, the swelling and everything from a snake bite,” said Pauli.

Keeping your dog leashed while wearing protective clothing like long pants and closed toe shoes is also a good idea. Pauli carries a cheap fishing rod holder to ward off snakes when he's walking his pups.

"If you hike, this is a little thing available at all the sporting goods stores for holding a fishing rod, but it's a great little Y-stick so that if you have a snake approach your dog, you can just keep the snake away," Pauli added.

If you or your dog do get bit, Pauli says don't panic and overreact.

A sign at Phipps Park

"If they are looking at a cow or a horse or a human, they know that they're not able to swallow that animal, and there's a strong likelihood it's going to be what's called a dry bite. They're just opening and hitting you, but not invenomating you, not giving you venom," Pauli added.

He said the best thing to do is remove yourself and your dog from the area.

“Never increase the size of the bite wound and suck the venom. That’s old school and not necessary. And you do not have to capture the snake and bring it in,” said Pauli. "You don't really want to move snakes, because they are GPS located to this spot. And the research from Idaho State University is that if you move them five miles or more away from where they're caught, they're probably not going to make it, because they just don't have the capability to know where everything is," said Pauli.

He said to take a picture of the snake to show to your doctor or vet but avoid killing the reptiles.

"Just record, remember what it looks like, and then go from there," Pauli added. “Celebrate snakes. We should enjoy having them in our yards, having them in the wood piles. They are the coolest, free-est rodent control available, a really a part of Montana’s landscape."