LAKELAND - He may not realize it, but Dante is a hero. And he has the battle scars to prove it. The black lab mix is credited with saving his guardian's life after combating a cottonmouth snake that nearly sunk its fangs into her foot.
Gudrun Mastriano was walking in a park near downtown Kissimmee Sunday when she noticed a short, fat snake with a white mouth right in front of her. Not knowing the danger, she thought little of it.
But Dante didn't hesitate. Mastriano said the dog pulled the snake away from her feet before it could attack her. Instead, the snake attacked Dante.
"It turned around and went viciously after the dog," Mastriano said. "Bit him in the snout and bit him in the foot."
The result was nearly deadly. Dante become seriously ill. A park attendant noticed the dog was in bad shape.
"His paws were fat and his body was hanging. And his throat was hanging," Mastriano said. "And his head was really really big and he couldn't hold it up."
Dante arrived at an animal hospital with a swollen face and open wounds in three places. After receiving antivenin and blood transfusions, the facility referred the dog to the SPCA animal hospital in Lakeland. That's where a newly installed hyperbaric chamber was ready for its first patient.
"They're a very venomous snake, and people and pets can both die from it," said Dr. Boyd Harrell, who's seen cottonmouth bites on animals before. Harrell said hyperbaric treatments can dramatically heal damaged cells caused by poisons such as snake venom.
"We can make him feel better much faster," Harrell said. But he cautioned that Dante will likely have some permanent scars from his fight with the cottonmouth.
"There's still a lot of what we call necrosis, or tissue death," Harrell said.
"He has a large open wound on his neck. He has an open wound on his foot where he received another bite. He has a lot of damage on the inside of his mouth. But all of that is on the way to recovery," Harrell said.
Dante has received several sessions in the chamber for about an hour each time. Mastriano said the effect has been dramatic.
"His face was as large as a St. Bernard," she said. "Now he looks like my dog again."
Dante is walking and eating normally, but his wounds need time to heal.
Mastriano got tears thinking about what might have happened if she was the one attacked instead of Dante.
"It could have been me," Mastriano said. "Dante came in front of me and pulled the snake away."
Mastriano paid several thousand dollars for the initial emergency care for Dante before he was brought to the Lakeland SPCA for the hyperbaric treatments. She can't bear the thought of what would have happened if she couldn't afford the medical expenses, as animals are not afforded the same obligatory treatment that humans are when rushed to an emergency room.
"He saved my life. Then I'd have to tell him I'm sorry, but I don't have the money to take care of the dog," she said. "I think that's so wrong."
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