Monday, May 31, 2010

PPM 5/31/10 The greater danger: Foxtails vs Rattlesnakes

Blog Date: May 31, 2010 (Memorial DAY)

The greater danger: Foxtails vs Rattlesnakes

Happy Memorial Day!

Team’s Romeo and Juliet finished up a week of training on Friday and things are going exceptionally 
well with both dogs alerting to PPM burrows in known areas. Our USGS team has been awesome to work with and very accommodating of our training needs. The weather has been fabulous, if a touch on the hot side for us Seattleites, and Casey’s happy to soak up the rays.

With training finishing on Friday we’re raring to get started on surveying Tuesday after a 3-day long Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to all the data the USGS has on current PPM populations we’ve had a nice and smooth burn in period. Our biggest concerns, rather than finding tinny tiny poops, however has been rattlesnakes and foxtails, oh and “live fire” areas or course. J


Team Juliet has had two rattlesnake encounters so far that were thankfully uneventful. Both dogs have received their first of two shots that will provide some safety against a Western diamondback bite and we have local vets on call should we need emergency help.

There are three different types of rattlesnake here in San Diego, the Southern Pacific, the Southwestern Speckled, and the Red Diamond Rattlesnake.

The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) is a venomous pitviper. Most people erroneously think of snakes as poisonous rather than venomous. While it may not seem that important since we’d want to avoid either, a poison is absorbed, where as venom is delivered via an apparatus, in this case the snake’s fangs. The nice thing about a rattlesnake is they do their best to let you know they’re upset by rattling their tail. This gives us a good chance to move out of the area quickly and avoid direct contact. The pitvipers are also able to control the amount of venom they inject and often choose not to inject the full amount. Even though the diamondback isn’t particularly toxic, it can still have some nasty effects and life threatening consequences. The venom is a proteolytic, most commonly referred to as a hemotoxin, which destroys cells and tissue through intermolecular digestion. While there are some neurotoxins (these are the really bad toxins that cause paralysis) as well, the hemotoxin is what becomes visible as the area swells rapidly. This poses the most danger to our dogs since they could easily be bit on the face and the swelling could quickly affect their ability to breath. The most important thing is to remain calm and seek medical help immediately.

While a bite hopefully won’t be life threatening with these precautions we still do our best to reduce our presence to wildlife in the area, including snakes, and be as non-invasive as possible. 


Team Romeo had a bit of a scare on Monday when we thought Alli had inhaled a foxtail. We immediately called the closest vet and scheduled an appointment. After a fit of sneezing on her part and Sampson’s, we determined it was more likely the dogs were suffering from allergies than a foxtail and decided to keep an eye on her for the time being before rushing to the vet.

Foxtails have been a constant annoyance but they can also be a serious danger to the dogs. The seeds are barbed like a fish hook and easily get caught in clothes and dog hair, but they can also get stuck in the paws, eyes, nose and throat. Once embedded in the tissue, these nasty seeds begin to burrow deeper and deeper into the tissue causing infection and ultimately migrating to the spine and internal organs.

Foxtails aren’t just a safety issue but also a “thorn” in our foot. We’ve had some issues with all of our gear becoming so crammed with foxtails it can be quite painful to wear. Our biggest concern was Sampson’s boots and his need to wear them due to all the cacti. Our friends at Ruff Wear came to the rescue suggesting we try out the Skyliner boots that have a ripstop cover rather than the standard breathable mesh. The boots worked perfectly and even have a gaiter that helps keep the foxtails from getting down into Sampson’s boot making him a happy camper. Thanks again Ruff Wear!

In an effort to keep the dogs healthy, each day as soon as we get back the dogs each get there own personal grooming session. This includes a nice brushing, with Julie and I picking foxtails out of their hair, and checking the paws, ears, eyes and throat for possible seeds. This also helps us keep track of ticks, possible cuts or bites that we may have not noticed in the field, and cracked pads. It’s also a nice reward for the dogs after a hard days work which they love
After a few days relaxing the teams ready to hit the hills and get to work. Well let you know how it goes and the adventures we find this week.

Hideho from San Diego!

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