Location: Loveland, Colorado
Date: September 7, 1992
On September 7, 1992 in Loveland, Colorado, Richard and Oma Thomson took a ride out for a Labor Day barbecue with their four grandchildren--Rachel, 9; Teresa, 8; Audrey, 7; and David, 5. Also packed into the family truck for the outing were the four family dogs, including a beautiful 9-year-old retriever/husky named Lady.
As the Thomsons pulled up to the site of their future home, their daughter, Sandra--mother of Rachel--arrived with plenty of hot dogs and buns to join in the fun. As the cars were being unpacked, the Thomsons' other daughter, Laura Martinez, and her husband, Bob--parents of Teresa, Audrey, and David--pulled in. Together, the large clan grabbed the groceries and began their hike to the barbecue pit and the party.
The day was warm and sunny--perfect for a long, giggling game of tag or the take-turns excitement of the rope swing. Squealing and laughing, the children played noisily while the adults took their time unpacking and preparing the afternoon cookout. The family was together, and the adults were happy to talk and joke and watch their children and grandchildren enjoy the day.
Around 4:00 that afternoon, the kids declared that they were getting hungry. The grown-ups said that it was about time to eat, and they prepared to light the barbecue. Audrey announced that she had to go to the bathroom. With that, all the other kids, and some of the adults too, realized that they also had to relieve themselves.
Because the house was not yet built and there was no bathroom around for miles, the family used an area they called "the latrine," which was really just an area located in the bushes and trees safely away from the barbecue pit. A small creek separated the areas where the boys and girls went to the bathroom, so Oma took Audrey and Rachel by the hand, with Teresa following behind, while Bob and David went to the other side of the creek.
Sandra went along with the girls, while Richard and Laura stayed behind to cook the hot dogs. Lady, not a very active dog to begin with, stayed behind with them, happy to rest lazily while everyone was busy with some activity or other.
Back by the creek, Teresa was still in a playful mood, and she dashed ahead to the latrine before the others could catch up. She disappeared behind the shrubs as the rest of the group approached the latrine at a more leisurely pace.
Suddenly, a strange and scary sound filled the still afternoon air. It was a rattling noise, a noise that sent shivers down the spines of everyone who could hear it. It was the sound of rattlesnakes--not just one, but many that were all around Teresa out in the middle of the bushes--far from the safety of the barbecue pit.
Shocked and horrified, the two women stopped in their tracks and looked around quietly and carefully. Oma and Sandra knew the snakes must be dangerously close by, because they could hear the sound so clearly.
Afraid for Teresa, who was hidden behind the bushes, Oma called out for her to be still. She warned of the rattlesnakes and told her not to move. Looking around in alarm, Teresa spotted a big rattler glaring up at her from a nest just a few steps away. Screaming and nearly frozen with panic, Teresa yelled to her grandmother that she had discovered a whole lot of deadly snakes.
Knowing she had to keep the child calm, Oma again encouraged Teresa to keep still and that help was on the way. Oma knew there was very little time before the scared child would try to run away and, possibly, cause the rattler to bite her. Oma called out frantically to the others at the barbecue pit. "Come quick," she cried, "there's rattlers all around us."
Suddenly, alerted to the possibility of danger, Lady jumped up from her lazy nap and sprang into action. Before the others even realized what was happening, Lady had raced across the field and into the bushes, looking to protect her friend, Teresa. As Lady approached the spot, a large rattler lashed out at the dog, barely missing her with its ugly fangs.
This only served to make Lady even more angry, and she bared her own teeth, growling and snapping at the snake. Seeing her chance to escape, Teresa ran through the trees to stand beside her grandmother and aunt. All were shaking badly from the close call, but no one had been harmed.
In the bushes, Lady continued to fight as the frightened family looked on. Oma watched in horror as the largest rattler coiled up like a spring and lashed out at Lady, striking her above the eye. Recoiling, the snake struck again, this time on the side of the brave dog's face.
By this time, the children, crying hysterically and very shaken, were safely back with the rest of the family. Now their concern was for Lady. Bob and Laura called desperately to Lady to come back and get away from the danger. At first, Lady didn't respond. She continued to fight like a wild animal, protecting her loved ones from a terrible enemy. In the next moment, however, Lady stopped her fighting and looked around cautiously, assuring herself that her family was safe from harm. When she was sure everyone was all right, Lady turned and walked away from the raging rattler.
Looking exhausted, Lady walked slowly toward the others at the barbecue pit. Cheering on their hero, the family excitedly waited to congratulate Lady on her courageous fight and brave rescue. But Lady slumped to the ground, more than just tired and looking hurt and ill. Had she been bitten by her enemy?
Oma remembered seeing Lady get struck by the snake, and quickly they examined the dog closely. They discovered two puncture wounds above Lady's right eye--two holes made by the fangs of the snake.
Moving with great speed, Oma and Laura placed Lady in the car and drove off for help. Oma held Lady gently on her lap while Laura raced through the dirt roads and over to a neighbor's house to telephone the veterinarian, Dr. Jerry Butts, who told Laura to take the dog to a nearby veterinary hospital at Colorado State University. Although the hospital was only fifteen miles away, it was a holiday weekend, and traffic was very slow and difficult. Struggling to remain calm and get the dog medical treatment as fast as possible, Laura drove surely and steadily through the traffic until they reached the hospital. Throughout the forty-five minute trip, Oma caressed the sick dog, keeping an ice pack over the injury to try and ease the pain.
Once at the hospital, another veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Metelman, and a student raced to meet the car and bring Lady inside on a stretcher. Lady's face was swollen to twice it normal size and she was taken immediately to the critical care unit, where they discovered exactly what was wrong and began treatment.
More than a half hour later, Dr. Metelman returned to the lobby where Oma and Laura waited anxiously for news. The doctor said Lady had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the snake bite. The dog needed a special dose of antivenin serum and Laura and Oma were sent on a mission to pick up two vials of the medicine at a nearby hospital.
Another 30 minutes passed before the women returned with the serum. Racing into the hospital, the women handed off the vials to Dr. Metelman, who swiftly ran to Lady's room and gave her a shot of the medicine. It was now two and a half hours after Lady had been bitten by the rattler. Would the serum work in time, or had this brave dog given her life to save her young friend?
Oma and Laura left Lady at the hospital and returned home, where the rest of the family waited. During an emotional and tearful evening, the family explained to the children that Lady could die, but even if she did, she was a very special dog, a brave and true friend that saved Teresa's life. The whole family cried themselves to sleep that night.
Eager for news of their dog, Laura called the hospital first thing the next morning to see if the serum had worked. Dr. Steven Hill, who was on duty at the time, was happy to report that Lady had responded well to the medicine and seemed to be improving steadily. By 5pm, the family was informed that they could bring her home. The sounds of excited screams and joyful tears were deafening, and the family was ecstatic as they drove to the hospital to get their dog back.
At first, it was hard to recognize Lady. She looked older and tired. Her swollen face gave her head a lopsided look, and much of the fur on head had been shaved. The bruises were still big and painful looking where the fangs had pierced her eyebrow.
Walking down the hospital corridor to greet their dog, the children were excited, but also sorry to see Lady looking so bad. Suddenly, Lady saw the children and perked up immediately, becoming the Lady everyone knew and loved. She pulled at her leash so hard that it almost snapped, and she tried to run the entire length of the hall to greet her family. Doctors, nurses, and family alike could hardly think that this feisty dog had been on the verge of death only hours before.
Lady is fine today, her usual playful--sometimes lazy--self. But even more, Lady is a hero, and the Martinez and Thomson families will never forget how this beloved animal put her life on the line for those she loved.