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Heroic snake-bitten dog heads for overseas family reunion

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 9:45 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo by Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)
"Dante," a 3-year-old black Labrador, suffered severe snakebites while protecting Gudrun Mastriano, left. Here he gets a hug from Mastriano at Orlando International Airport, Wednesday, November 28, 2012, before being shipped overseas to Madrid to Dante's parents, U.S. Navy Commander Carl Eirle and his wife Charlotte (Mastriano's daugher).

(MCT) — ORLANDO, Fla.—When U.S. Navy Cmdr. Carl Eierle and his wife, Charlotte, moved to a Madrid naval base in September, they were disappointed that they had to leave their black lab, Dante, behind for a few weeks.

But Dante’s extended stay in Kissimmee may be the reason Charlotte Eierle’s mother is still alive.

One week before Dante was to make the 4,500-mile journey to join his owners in Spain, he and Eierle’s mother, Gudrun Mastriano, were headed home after a walk when they came across a highly venomous cottonmouth snake.

Mastriano said the deadly snake was inches from her feet when it lunged toward them. Dante’s protective instincts took over, and the 3-year-old Labrador bounded in front of her and dragged the snake away.

In the tussle, Dante was brutally bitten on his face and leg. The snake’s lethal venom caused about his snout to swell to about 17 inches, officials from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said.

“It could have been me,” Mastriano said. “I would have died.”

After the snake disappeared into a nearby embankment, Mastriano took her daughter’s sluggish and swollen dog to Celebration Animal Clinic and Veterinary Health Associates, an emergency pet clinic in Winter Haven.

There, Dante was treated with antivenin and stabilized before he was transferred to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals medical center in Lakeland.

“I thought he looked like a little baby hippopotamus,” Mastriano said Wednesday at Orlando International Airport as she prepared to load the now healthy dog onto a pet carrier for his 13-hour trans-Atlantic journey.

In the past two months, Dante had seven treatments in the SPCA’s Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy unit.

The treatments cost about $125 per visit and reduce the swelling safely and painlessly by delivering concentrated oxygen into the damaged cells to speed healing, said Kim Domokos, one of the SPCA veterinarians who treated Dante.

“We’re just happy to see him healthy and going home for the holidays,” said Domokos, who was also on hand for Dante’s farewell at the airport.

Mastriano sobbed as she loaded Dante into his large gray pet carrier, which carried the notification that he was a “Traveling Hero” and should be handled with care.

She said she is already planning a trip to Spain to visit Dante and her daughter in September. By then, she said, Dante should be barking in Spanish.

For now, Mastriano will remain at home in Kissimmee with her own dog — Ludwig — who she said has been jealous of the attention Dante has been getting lately.

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