Christi Fisher was out fishing in a boat on the Tiber Reservoir in Montana with her friend's dog named Maggie and her curly-haired Golden Retriever named Crockett, when the trio got a nasty surprise visitor.
It was a warm summer day last August when Fisher and Maggie dozed off in the front of the boat while Crocket remained on guard at the rear. The dog was watching the fishing lines for any sign of a fish. "She's an excitable creature" who loves to fish, Fisher said of Crockett.
But Crockett tussled with an animal of another kind that day while Fisher slept. Crockett's bravery in the encounter earned her the Purple Paw Award from the Great Falls Animal Foundation this past week.
A rattlesnake more than 4-feet long, with a diameter as big as an apple had slithered into the boat. "I heard this big commotion," Fisher said. "I can't remember if I heard a yelp - she might have barked." Crockett ran past Fisher to the front of the boat after the snake bit the dog near her eye.
"I turned around, and then I saw the snake halfway in my boat," Fisher said. Tiber Reservoir is famous for rattlesnakes, but Fisher said: "For a Montana rattlesnake, he was a big one."
Fisher grabbed an aluminum pole to fend it off. "I was actually angry at the darn thing," said Fisher. The snake was so big that when it wrapped around the pole it bent it. The snake's cold rattler was wrapped around the boat motor. Fisher then decided to grab the snake and pull it fully into the boat. As she held the creature, the snake's head came around repeatedly, trying to bite her.
After a brief wrestle, Fisher was able to toss the snake into the water. When the snake started to head back toward the boat, Fisher fired up the boat motor and took off.
She said she had planned to fish some more, but then realized Crockett had been bitten. Crockett came over to her and she petted her, "My hand came up with blood on it," Fisher said. Fisher raced back to camp and drove back to Great falls as fast as she could.
"Poor Crockett," she said. "Her eyes were so swelled up she couldn't even see. I thought she was going to die on the way." Fortunately, she got to a vet in time for anti-venom to be administered and Crockett recovered quickly after the shot.
Being bitten in the face turned out to be a fortunate turn for the dog, because if she had been bitten in a place with more muscle, she might have died. Crockett was better just few weeks after the snake bite. The only telltale sign remaining is that her face was turned permanently grey from the venom.
Fisher isn't sure Crockett would have been so heroic had she heard rattling from the snake, since the dog is not a big fan of the creatures. But because the snake's rattles were submerged in the water and silent, Crockett confronted it.
Fisher figures had Crockett not been on guard that day, the rattlenake likely would have snuck up and bitten her instead. She's just not expecting Crockett to be as heroic a second time around. "If she smells that scent, she'll probably be in the next county," Fisher said with a laugh.