It happened so fast.
Kasey Konkel was walking her three dogs on leashes on a dirt trail that leads from Alta Laguna Park to Thurston Middle School in Laguna Beach at 4:30 p.m. March 20 when Gracie, Konkel's 7-year-old German short-haired pointer-Labrador mix, got a little curious.
Konkel looked away momentarily to attend to her two other dogs — enough time for Gracie to stick her nose into a wildflower bush. Seconds later, Gracie "jumped back, startled," Konkel said.
"I thought, 'Oh, she was bitten by a snake,' " Konkel said.
She noticed two holes on Gracie's face that marked where the snake's fangs had entered her skin.
Konkel squeezed around the holes to get as much venom out as possible. She ran back to the bush to see if she could spot the snake and, sure enough, she saw the rattler's tail.
In the time it took to walk back toward the park, Gracie's jaw swelled to the size of a baseball.
Konkel knew she had to act fast.
She rushed home, got in the car and took Gracie to Laguna Beach Animal Hospital on Forest Avenue.
Gracie arrived panting but could still walk and did not lose consciousness, said veterinarian James Levin, owner of Laguna Beach Animal Hospital.
Levin did not treat Gracie but said he is aware of the incident.
Veterinarians injected Gracie with antivenom, intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
"Timing is the most important thing [after a snake bite]," Levin said. "You don't have hours to wait."
Levin has owned the hospital for 36 years and said he has seen more than 100 snake bite cases.
"Animals can die from snake bites," he said.
Gracie stayed at the hospital for two days, but her treatment was not finished.
Toxins in the snake's venom caused skin to die, leaving an open wound on Gracie's face and neck.
Konkel took Gracie back to the animal hospital for veterinarians to insert a rubber tube in the dog's neck to allow the bacteria from the wound to drain.
Gracie eventually received 20 stitches and is expected to make a full recovery.
"My family and I are so very thankful that Laguna Beach Animal Hospital had the antivenom on hand and were able to save Gracie's life," Konkel wrote in an email. "Witnessing Gracie endure the pain and suffering that results from the toxic rattlesnake bite is absolutely horrific, and I do not want another dog to experience this potentially life-threatening situation."
Last winter's rains have led to a lot of vegetation growth, which attracts rattlesnake prey such as mice and other rodents, according to Barbara Norton, OC Parks operations manager.
Norton oversees four Orange County parks, including Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons wilderness parks.
"We are seeing rattlesnakes almost daily," Norton said. "It's important to note that rattlesnakes don't chase people but only bite as a defense mechanism when provoked. They want to save their venom to hunt for prey. Interestingly, almost all bites on humans occur on the hand by people trying to pick them up."
OC Parks has one documented case in the past 20 years of a rattlesnake bite at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Norton said, though she added she has heard of others that were not reported. The documented incident occurred 15 years ago when a horse stepped on a snake.
When walking through wilderness areas, hikers should stay on a trail, make sure dogs are leashed and give snakes a lot of space, Norton said.
Konkel's friend Suzanne Parker will host rattlesnake avoidance training sessions from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. May 13 at Acu Canyon Park, 27999 Camino Las Ramblas, San Juan Capistrano.
During the training by Rusty Debricinni, a dog trainer who specializes in rattlesnake avoidance, dogs can learn to detect and avoid rattlesnakes by sight and smell.
Dog owners can register for 20-minute private sessions for $125 each. For more information, call (949) 295-5716 or email email@example.com.
For the Record: The original version of this story incorrectly listed the phone number for registration as (949) 275-5716.