Gatsby - born to be great


Written by Lani Schwartz

Professional photography by Heather Edwards

Gatsby was born to be Great – and to do great things. (Note: He is not a sandwich! He was named before we moved to Cape Town.)  

A snake in the bush

Wednesday the 28th of February’s walk was like any other. I walked up the gravel path behind my house in Redhill (I am lucky enough to live in Table Mountain National Park) while the dogs ran up the hills, clambering over rocks and dashing through any Fynbos and bushes that remained after last year’s fire.

On the way back, near the bottom, they smelled something in a bush. I thought that it was the recently residing mongoose but, when I went to Gatsby to leash him, to my horror he pulled out a wildly thrashing snake. They both put up quite a fight, and although Penelope usually joins in, she didn’t manage to even get close this time.

We turned to head for home, sadly leaving a deceased snake behind. Gatsby, who seemed as happy as normal, had lost his collar so I quickly went back looking for it and, in passing, snapped a photo of the snake.

Gatsby collapsed

All seemed well and I thought nothing further of the incident; I was home for about another hour and then went out for a couple of hours and, when I returned him, Gatsby came in as normal, tail wagging.

But, shortly afterwards, disaster struck: Gatsby started to foam at the mouth and then collapsed. I rushed him off to Glencairn Vet, heart in my throat. The photo I’d taken just “for interest sake” turned out to be crucial in speeding his treatment as it allowed for immediate identification: Gatsby had been bitten by a Cape Cobra, one of the most venomous snakes in Southern Africa.

Emergency treatment

He was immediately given antivenin, sedated and put on oxygen (as a neurotoxin, Cape Cobra venom causes temporary paralysis and breathing shuts down). I was sent to another vet to collect more serum, to be on standby.

In the meantime, the vets had called a 24-hour emergency animal hospital, one of only two in Cape Town which have a ventilator and, thankfully, one was available. They also called Cape Medical Rescue ambulance service.

Gatsby went off to Cape Animal Medical Centre in an ambulance, red lights flashing, manually kept on oxygen the entire journey.

What snakebite?

Now the wait began: both vet practices warned me that the normal period for sedation and being on the ventilator is about three to seven days before an improvement would be seen. Well, 24 hours later, I received a call from the vet: Gatsby had been breathing on his own for an hour and a half.

Roll on Saturday and Gatsby was allowed to come home! The trooper was very tired and had no appetite on Sunday but, by the time Monday arrived, he was terribly upset to not be able to join us on the walk. It had been advised that he take it easy for about a fortnight and not go on any walks. Not going to happen – not if Gatsby had any say in the matter!

A week later, he was back, dashing through the hills, not a care in the world. Snake bite? What snake bite! His new collar suits him perfectly: it says “Super Dog”.

I’m hugely grateful to Cape Medical Services (not part of a normal day’s work), Glencairn Vet and Cape Animal Medical Centre for literally saving Gatsby’s life.