Outdoor Life in SoCal
For the outdoor enthusiast, San Diego is arguably the greatest city in the U.S. Within San Diego County, you can hike up trails taking you above 5,000 ft elevation requiring snowshoes, and in the same day, take a sunset stand-up-paddleboard (SUP) or kayak in fairly temperate Pacific waters, finishing up with some fantastic grub fit for foodies. The breadth and depth of the outdoor experience is impressive, and provides enough variety and good weather to last a lifetime. I’ve been out here almost a year, and while I’ve made a dent in San Diego Magazine’s Top 50 Trails, there’s plenty still to explore. The trails cover desert, mountain and marine environments, turning part of the car into an outdoor gear closet, and making for some interesting dog-wildlife interactions on recent adventures.
The Rattlers of Mission Trails
One month ago, my sister-in-law and I set out on a hike in our backyard, otherwise known as Mission Trails. I wanted to take the pups but also wanted to avoid the heat illness factor, so we set out just after sunrise, getting the trail all to ourselves. The dogs were super psyched, begging to be let off leash. Mid-week, early in the morning, not another person or dog in site, I cut them loose. Chase has proven himself to be an excellent hiking and running companion; while he needs to take the lead, he always turns back every 20 feet or so to make sure everyone is accounted for. Sydney, the younger pup, followed suit, and the two ran ahead, circling back to the humans in the caboose every so often. On one such U-turn, Chase and Sydney came around a curve in the trail. They both sat in the middle of the trail until I gave the “ok.” Chase hesitated slightly, but went on ahead with a second “Ok,” while Sydney sat in her tracks, not wanting to move one inch. I tried to sweet talk her into moving ahead, but she wasn’t budging. Walking past Sydney, I heard that rattle, the buzzing that has now become a familiar sound in the canyons around here, and spotted this guy about 6 inches off the trail:
Chase was standing on the trail, looking back and forth between me and the rattler, somewhat unsure of scene safety as the snake hissed at him.
Calling Chase gently and lovingly at first, and then ultimately letting out a blood curdling “CHASE!!!” Chase finally made a graceful leap past the snake, into my arms, happily getting back into his gentle leader.
That was our second run in with a rattlesnake this season. The good news is: no strikes and no bites, likely because our pups have been scared and not aggressive towards them. The bad news is if the snakes do strike, we’re looking at life-threatening venom, requiring emergent treatment with expensive antivenin resulting in significant dog injury.
The rattlesnakes love this weather, and they are striking more often than ever in Southern California. We have several species of rattlesnakes here including the Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled, Red Diamond, Southern Pacific, Great Basin and Mohave. How can we protect our pups?
- Rattlesnake vaccination for dogs is available for the Western Diamondback. However there does not appear to be cross-protection for other species such as the Mohave. Efficacy in dogs has not been proven. It appears to be safe and “may help, anecdotally” however dogs bitten by rattlers still require emergent evaluation. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Guidelines read: “Canine Rattlesnake VaccineThe canine rattlesnake vaccine comprises venom components from Crotalus atrox (western diamondback). Although a rattlesnake vaccine may be potentially useful for dogs that frequently encounter rattlesnakes, currently we are unable to recommend this vaccine because of insufficient information regarding the efficacy of the vaccine in dogs. Dogs develop neutralizing antibody titers to C. atrox venom, and may also develop antibody titers to components of other rattlesnake venoms, but research in this area is ongoing. Owners of vaccinated dogs must still seek veterinary care immediately in the event of a bite, because 1) the type of snake is often unknown; 2) antibody titers may be overwhelmed in the face of severe envenomation, and 3) an individual dog may lack sufficient protection depending on its response to the vaccine and the time elapsed since vaccination. According to the manufacturer, to date, rare vaccinated dogs have died following a bite when there were substantial delays (12-24 hours) in seeking treatment. Recommendations for booster vaccination are still under development, but it appears that adequate titers do not persist beyond one year after vaccination. Adverse reactions appear to be low and consistent with those resulting from vaccination with other products available on the market. The product license is currently conditional as efficacy and potency have not been fully demonstrated. Based on existing evidence, the UC Davis VMTH does not currently recommend routine vaccination of dogs for rattlesnake envenomation, and the vaccine is not stocked by our pharmacy.”
- Rattlesnake Aversion Class – Come in a variety of flavors, but the general idea is negative conditioning. Some classes use rattlesnakes which had their venom bulbs extracted.
- Keep pups on leash at all times during the hot season
- Avoid distractions while hiking/running such as being on the phone, using earbuds, etc.
- Hike during the coolest times of the day, however this clearly is not foolproof
- If your dog is bitten, carry your dog out if possible. Take the dog immediately to the closest vet. Almost all San Diego Vets offices carry antivenin. VCA Hospital has a pet ER for after hours emergencies.
Chase and the Sea Lion Pup
A few weeks after Chase gracefully avoided a rattlesnake bite, we wanted to give the pups some non-backyard time off-leash without the added anxiety of facing off with a snake. We took them to Del Mar Dog Beach, a.k.a., dog heaven-on-earth, for an afternoon of chasing birds, perfecting the doggie-paddle and making dog friends along the way. As we made our way back up the beach to start the drive home, Chase found a new friend:
Chase found this little guy in the surf, seemed about his size, and tried to get the sea lion pup to play. At first I even thought it was another dog because that’s what I expected to see. Then people started pointing. Chase and the sea lion began exchanging hisses and barks, inches from each others’ faces when the sea lion pup finally swam back out to sea. Chase, formerly not too fond of the water unless chasing another dog or a toy in the surf, took off after the sea lion pup, and I honestly thought he was going to swim with the the sea lion all the way to Hawaii. I went in after Chase, and at that point Chase came to get me instead of the sea lion pup. This dog’s paddle has gotten strong, but another near miss for Chase and the wildlife of San Diego, and Chase might have bought himself his own PFD with this year’s REI dividends.
This year Southern California has seen a surge of young starving sea lion pups (over 2,000) coming up to shore looking for food. Sea World has temporarily halted their Seal Lion exhibit to rehab these emaciated pups. This particular pup we encountered in Del Mar swam back out to sea. If you are on the beach and see one that’s not headed back, contact a lifeguard or call Sea World’s Rescue Hotline (800) 541-7325. Sea Lions are totally adorable, and while sea lion bites are uncommon, they will bite if provoked. During mating season, males may become aggressive. Parents also become protective of their pups during breeding season. More often sea lions will try to avoid combat, however, with four large canine teeth and incisors, and cone-shaped teeth, sea lions are capable of grasping and shredding. This particular season, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate the possibility of sea lion bites in Southern California given the unprecedented number of hungry sea lion pups on the beaches. Sea Lion bites should be treated immediately with aggressive irrigation of the wound, exploration for foreign bodies in tissue, debridement of tissue as necessary and early antibiotic treatment, similarly to how one would treat shark bites (Auerbach, Wilderness Medicine 6th Edition, 1122, 1587-1588).
Ooh baby, baby, it’s a wild (& beautiful) world, from sea to summit!