It was a sunny Sunday morning in Thonotosassa, Florida when Melissa Butt’s grandkids were playing in her yard with her beloved pit bulls. But when she heard ferocious barking, her blood ran cold.
She Trusted Them
Melissa Butt knew her dogs were well trained. Her grandchildren loved playing with them, as they were always kind and gentle. When Butt left them in the yard together, she was sure Slayer and Paco would keep her grandchildren out of harms way. She never expected what would happen later.
Beloved Family Members
The 47 year old Melissa loves animals and is the proud mom of pit bulls, including a three year old named Slayer, plus a nine month old puppy, named Paco. Though pit bulls are a feared breed, Butt trusted her dogs. Pit bulls are quite the misunderstood breed of dogs, as most of them can be quite gentle and loving, despite their stereotype of being an aggressive dog. However, if the dogs are trained properly, they will not become violent or aggressive.
Why They’re Feared
Pit bulls often get a bad rap as a particularly vicious dog, in part due to their history in as a baiting tool in blood sports, like bull fighting and bear fighting. The breed was developed as a cross between terriers who are agile and skilled hunters with the strength of a bulldog, making their bite particularly harmful. Though being a pit bull does not predispose a dog to violence, they are seen as particularly fearsome, hence Butt’s worry at their abnormal behavior.
The Hidden Danger
Early on August 13, Butt brought her four year old grandson Zayden and his eighteen month old baby sister Mallory to enjoy the morning sun. While Butt worked in the garden, she couldn’t quite see the two, but they were protected by her trusty pit bulls, and she was well within ear shot of the group. She heard the two youngsters giggling and enjoying the beautiful morning, when a sudden commotion broke out behind her. Butt’s heart nearly stopped at the sound of it.
It Wasn’t Like Them
Butt tried to steady her nerves, so she could calmly control the situation. Despite the terror coursing through her body, she didn’t want to rile up the dogs any further. She knew that whatever was going on on the other side of the yard was not usual behavior for them. She later told CBS News, “The dogs started acting a little funny.” Though they may bark at a passerby here and there, but she had never heard a sound like this before.
They Wouldn’t Listen
Both Paco and Slayer were exceptionally well trained dogs. Butt made sure of that, even though Paco was still quite young, that’s the best time to instill good habits in dogs. So when she ran over to calm her dogs down and make sure the children were safe, she was surprised by their canine ferocity. They were standing guard over a particular patch of grass, and refused to “disengage” according to Butt. The urgency of their barks was fearsome to behold.
Running For Safety
Butt grabbed her baby grandchildren and ran inside with them, where their mother was able to keep watch on them. Luckily, the kids seemed unharmed, but Melissa Butt knew was still alarmed by her dogs’ frantic behavior. She grabbed her husband Daniel to accompany her back to the yard, in case the situation escalated. The obedient pit bulls had not moved from their vigil, and it soon became apparent to Butt and White just what had scared them so thoroughly.
It was the nine month old puppy, Paco, who had almost reached the full size of an adult pit bull that first took heed of the snake hiding in the shadow of the grass. Paco sounded the alarm to his brother Slayer, who quickly took control of the situation, joining Paco immediately. “My Slayer takes over all of those situations; he’s ultra-protective of the family,” Butt told reporters. The dogs tried as best they could to scare the snake, but it wouldn’t budge.
When Snakes Attack
The savage barking coming from the two dogs didn’t seem to concern the snake in the slightest. In fact, all it did was rile the snake up to attack. Rearing its head, the snake then sunk his teeth into poor little Paco’s leg. He yelped with pain, but refused to back down. Slayer was moved to attack at Paco’s injury, angry that one of his pack was assaulted. But the snake turned its attention to Slayer, and managed to attack the dog first.
Bitten On The Face
The snake would not back down. After striking Paco in the leg, it launched itself at Slayer, even as the dog leapt to protect his younger brother. But Slayer was too slow. The snake struck him once on the side of his face, sinking his teeth into the dogs soft jowls. Once was not enough. The snake struck again, on the other side of Slayer’s face, but the fierce dog still had a surprise in store for the vicious viper.
Snapped In Half
Slayer had hardly registered the injuries rendered to him by the snake as he struggled to control the viper. The pit bull snapped and then snapped again, each attempt to catch the viper failing, until finally, with a snarl, he trapped the snake in his jaws. The snake may have been neutralized, but Butt knew the fight was not over just yet, as copperheads are poisonous creatures, and each of her dogs had received at least one bite.
How Slayer Prevailed
Melissa Butt, in the aftermath of her dogs’ heroic struggle, recounted the story to CBS News, telling reporters how, “[after biting Paco,] that’s when Slayer grabbed the snake in his mouth and killed it,” she said. Butt continued by sharing that Slayer “almost bit [the snake] in half”. Thankful for her dogs strength, it was now time for Butt to act, and quickly. The dogs may have saved the children, but now Butt needed to rescue them.
Copperhead snakes are common throughout the eastern region of the United States, and are one of the most likely poisonous snake to bite. They’re distinguished from other similar venomous snakes by the hourglass pattern present on their skin. You’ll find copperheads as far north as New England, and as far south as Mexico, making them a truly ubiquitous creature in eastern states. Following the snake attack, both dogs had received worrying doses of their toxic venom. Butt needed to act quickly.
His Face Was Swelling
Melissa Butt needed to get her poor dogs veterinary attention immediately. Though the effects of the snake’s bite were less apparent on Paco, Slayer’s face was rapidly swelling where he had been bitten, and both dogs were exhibiting symptoms of copperhead venom, including respiratory distress. Butt hurried her pooches to her car, as the venom took its toll on the dogs’ health. Slayer especially was in a precarious state. She hopped behind the wheel and sped off to the vet.
Racing To The Vet
Butt hurried to park her car and ushered the dogs inside the vet clinic. With each passing minute, Butt’s fear for Slayer’s health grew, as she couldn’t know just how long it would take before the poison entered his bloodstream. Copperhead venom may be mild in humans who are bitten, but it can be deadly for a dog. Butt waited anxiously for the vet to enter the clinic room. Her poor dogs were calm, but clearly in dire need of medical attention.
They Had No Antidote
The vet faced a hard task in front of her. She examined both dogs, and though Paco’s bite was less serious, Slayer’s face was severely swollen. She checked their back room, and unfortunately for Melissa Butt and her precious companions, they had no antidote available on site. The vet bandaged Paco’s leg, but had to inform Melissa that there was nothing more this particular clinic could do for her dogs. She did, however, have one final suggestion.
An Emergency Situation
The vet told Butt about an emergency clinic that might be able to help her dogs. The only problem is that it was located a 40 minute drive away, in Brandon, Florida. Butt helped her stricken dogs to climb back into the car. Slayer was in especially bad shape. As much as Melissa wanted to stop and cry at the thought that she might lose one of her babies, she knew there was no time. She drove as fast as she dared, hoping BluePearl could help.
In Dire Straights
She spent the entirety of the drive in focused determination, knowing that the minute she let go, she might break down, which would be of no use to her ailing dogs. The vet techs rushed the dogs into an examination room, where Dr. Shelby Loos was awaiting their arrival. The doctor would later tell Today that the minute she saw Slayer’s condition, she told Butt, “We have to act fast.” Every minute that ticked away made Slayer’s recovery less likely.
Their Saving Grace
It was Melissa Butt’s luck that there was a BluePearl clinic so close by. BluePearl is a chain of veterinary clinics throughout the United States that provide speciality and emergency veterinary care. It is their goal to properly treat even the most difficult of cases, which was exactly what Butt needed that fateful August day. More importantly, most BluePearl clinics are open 24 hours a day, so they are ready to treat any animal emergency at the drop of a hat.
Administering An Antidote
Dr. Loos administered a dose of an anti-venom to each other dogs, hoping to halt the poison’s assault on their blood stream. She also treated them with medication for their pain and their nausea, hoping to make them more comfortable while they recovered. The vet wanted to keep even Paco overnight for observation in order to make sure he was ok before he went home. It was unclear just how long it would take for Slayer to recover.
The Long Wait
One round of the anti-venom wouldn’t be enough for Slayer. Though Paco was released only a day later, Slayer’s recovery was not going so well. “It was devastating to see how bad [he] had gotten,” Butt said. After several more days in the animal hospital and several more courses of antidote, Slayer was finally cleared to go home. Butt was relieved to have him back with her in Thonotosassa, but when she received the vet bill for his stay, she knew the ordeal wasn’t over yet.
Sharing The Updates
Butt eased her worries by sharing constant updates about her dogs on her Facebook page. Following Paco’s release she wrote, “Paco is home and back to his normal self. He has minimal swelling on his elbow and is happy to be home. Slayer is still at the hospital. His face is super swollen and he cannot hold anything down. His prognosis is good, but he needs a bit more critical care. The vet is hopeful he can home tomorrow!”
She Still Needed Help
Butt’s eyes nearly glazed over at the sight of the number printed on the veterinary bill for Slayer’s care. She let her gaze return to the bill, hoping somehow the number would suddenly lessen, but it was all wishful thinking. Of course, she was prepared for some expenses when she became a dog owner, including vet bills, but she had never imagined one of her dogs in need of such critical care. Melissa’s luck struck again when she found an option for paying the debts.
Melissa Butt had another guardian angel watching over her when she discovered the charity, Frankie’s Friends. Frankie’s Friends is a non-profit dedicated to helping pet owners cover the expenses that critical care for their animals incurs. The non-profit specifically wants to help families who are under financial strain cover their pets’ medical care, especially when they can help significantly improve the animals’ lives. Thanks to Frankie’s Friends, Slayer’s vet bills became a manageable expense, rather than an overwhelming one.
BluePearl Went Beyond
Melissa Butt later learned that it was BluePearl who first got in contact with Frankie’s Friends on her behalf, knowing how difficult it can be to cover vet bills of that size. But they did more than just save the dogs and the family’s finances. It was BluePearl who brought the heroic story to the local media, booking Butt an appearance on a segment called “Hero Dogs” which would air during the 11 pm news. The coverage would also help Butt to raise money.
Advice From The Vet
BluePearl used the incident to share some advice with other pet owners, releasing a statement that said, “We’re so happy they both responded so well to treatment and are now expected to make a full recovery. This case is a good reminder to pet owners to be on the lookout for snakes during the summer months, particularly if the weather has been wet. Our veterinarians recommend keeping a close eye on your dogs if you let them out, and consider keeping them on a leash.”
Showered With Love
When Melissa Butt was finally able to bring her precious Slayer home, she knew she was going to spoil him even more rotten for having gone through such an ordeal to keep her small grandchildren safe. She shared with Today that Slayer and Paco are “very rightfully being very, very spoiled right now.” Butt then added, “We spoiled them before. They’re ultraspoiled now.” Butt has another pitbull, Zombie who had missed out on the ordeal with the snake, but seems a bit jealous of his brothers.
Zayden Speaks Out
Four year old Zayden also had something to say about his grandma’s heroic dogs. Following Slayer’s release from the animal hospital, he was visibly relieved to have his friend back, echoing Butt’s words to her, “Slayer protects me. Slayer protects us,” he said. “He will always protect me.” Butt reported that Zayden then very sweetly moved to cover the recovering dog with a blanket, telling her it was to help make him feel better. Even Zayden knows that Butt’s dogs are “100% family.”
A Venomous Snake
Between the two dogs, a large, brown snake was coiled up, very near to where Zayden and Mallory had been playing. The snake is believed to have been a copperhead viper, a snake armed with a deadly poison in its bite. The children would not have had any way of knowing just how much the snake could have hurt them. The dogs noticed what the children did not, and quickly acted to get the little ones out of harm’s way.
Sharing Her Relief
Butt shared her relief in a Facebook post writing, “Frankie’s Friends has been a blessing to our hero[es].” She added, “I know my dogs are heroes, and without a doubt saved the lives of my grandchildren. They are too small to have fought something off like that.” On Facebook, she concluded: “As bad as it is, we are lucky and blessed.” Though Paco and Slayer certainly frightened her for a moment, their heroism has just made her love them more.