Kent Lewis had taken Roxie, an old black lab, for a Sunday-morning run Oct. 8 in Chokecherry Canyon. On the way back to the car, he noticed her unusual lethargy.
"Neither of us knew what happened," said Kent's wife, Christie. "We weren't sure if she ate some chemical or poisonous plant.
"When they got home 30 minutes later, her muzzle was flowing, she didn't look right," she said. "We called the vet, and ended up taking her in."
They took Roxie to Valley Veterinarian Clinic. A veterinarian drew blood and confirmed the dog was bitten by a poisonous snake.
San Juan County isn't known for its rattlesnakes, but that doesn't stop local pets the occasional bite. Sometimes, as in Roxie's case, there aren't any easily visible holes or bite marks.
"She couldn't find the puncture marks," Lewis said. "But all the symptoms were indicative of a snake bite."
Roxie needed antivenin quickly, but there was one problem. The Lewises couldn't find a single clinic in Farmington that carried the stuff.
The issue, according to local veterinarians, is that the life-saving serum is expensive and doesn't last very long. Given the low number of bites seen by local vets, it doesn't make financial sense to keep the serum around.
"We only get three or four rattlesnake bite cases a year," said Valley Veterinarian Clinic Vet Tech Cheryl Height. "It just doesn't happen very often."
Ellen Williams, the office manager for Animal Haven Clinic, said rattlesnake bites are extremely rare.
"We get so few cases, not necessarily even one a year," she said. "Nobody carries the antivenin because it outdates quickly and is fairly expensive. It's kind of hard to keep it around."
One of the few places that carries antivenin regularly is the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
"During the spring and summer we go through quite a bit," said Emergency Veterinarian Joanna Dombeck. "We are also a resource for surrounding clinics."
Dombeck agreed that the small vials of "Antivenin," a drug made by Fort Dodge Pharmaceutical Company, are extremely expensive, but she doesn't think it goes bad that quickly.
"The vials on our shelves right now expire in 2014, and I'm pretty sure we just bought them," Dombeck said. "We never have enough that we keep it till it expires."
Luckily for Roxie, Kent managed to locate antivenin at the Animal Hospital in Durango, Colo. The only other choice was Albuquerque.
The serum costs $800 a vial, Lewis said.
"We decided to go get it," Lewis said. "It's just so surprising. We've lived here for 30 years, and with all that running, we never encountered a rattlesnake before."
Despite the fact that local case numbers are low, pets are 20 times more likely to get bitten than humans, and 25 times more likely to die.
Numbers aren't available for San Juan County, but about 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the U.S.
The lack of antivenin doesn't mean pet owners are without options. Some local clinics, both in Farmington and Durango, sell a vaccine.
"The vaccine makes it so that the animal can survive longer after getting bitten," said Karen Jones, receptionist for Bayfield Veterinarian Clinic in Durango. "It gives pet owners more time to get to a vet."
In the end, Roxie will go running again.
"We were shocked that we couldn't find the antivenin in Farmington," Lewis said. "But it turned out all right. Roxie is doing great. Dr. Heather Toyne (of Valley Veterinarian Clinic), did an excellent job."