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Deadly backyard encounter could point to dangerous snake season

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Posted at 4:26 PM, Mar 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-18 20:50:27-04

POWAY, Calif. (KGTV) - A grieving Poway cat owner says her heart dropped when she heard a distinctive rattling sound coming from the area where two of her cats were playing.

Along Utopia Road just past 3 p.m. Thursday, a picture-perfect afternoon turned into a nightmare in Donna McFarlane's backyard. She was inside her home, heard a commotion and saw her 15-year-old tabby Tyler leap onto the patio, before running into the house. As McFarlane stepped out, she heard an ominous sound.

"It was just a loud, huge rattle," said McFarlane.

She grabbed her other cat Tiger and tossed her into the house, away from the source of the rattle.

"Behind the hose, the snake was coiled and hissing. The tail was rattling," said McFarlane.

McFarlane ran inside and looked for Tyler.

"Almost didn't want to find him, because I didn't want to see what I was going to find. When I found him in the living room, he was stumbling over and drooling. Where the snake had bit him on the face, his eyes were bloodshot red," said McFarlane.

She rushed Tyler to a nearby veterinarian, but the antivenin treatment wasn't enough. Tyler was put down that night.

"I still cry. It's devastating," said McFarlane.

The next day, the snake, a 3-to-4-foot Pacific Coast rattlesnake, was found and relocated.

This year, rains have delayed the first rattlesnake sightings by several weeks. But experts believe those rains could lead to a big snake season. More rain means more food for rodents and other snake prey. According to a study published in Clinical Toxicology, rattlesnake bites in the state jump more than 10% after rainy seasons.

Back in Poway, since the attack, McFarlane has begun taking out all the trees and plants where snakes could hide. She's also ordered additional fencing to fill in the gaps and installed a device that emits sound waves to ward off snakes. She has three other cats.

"Will just be watching them a lot more carefully," said McFarlane.

McFarlane says her ordeal shows rattlesnakes can turn up anywhere. She doesn't live near a canyon and had never seen a snake in her yard in the three years she has owned the home.