St. Augustine Beach residents concerned after dog dies due to snake bite

by: Kristy Wolski Updated:

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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. —

Residents in a St. Johns County neighborhood say they’re afraid to use their beach access because of venomous snakes.

The vegetation along the beach access off Versaggi Drive is home to several species of snakes, some of which are venomous. 

Residents in that Linda Mar neighborhood tell Action News they have frequent encounters. 

“You have to be alert,” said Doris Hesse. “All the time.” 

Those residents are now calling on the city of St. Augustine Beach to make the beach access safer after resident Penny Wagner lost her dog, Kingsley, to a snake bite. A worker at her home left the gate open and he wandered the dunes. 

“They found him lying down the road with a very, very swollen leg,” Wagner said. “Rushed him to the vet, but the vet said the venom ... he had been bit multiple times.” 

Action News took the concerns to Greg Lepera, a former curator of reptiles at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. He said the number of snakes on Anastasia Island is actually lower than ever, as construction has pushed them to small pockets like the dunes near Versaggi Drive. 

“Habitat that was there is gone now,” said Lepera. He recommends keeping dogs on a short leash and never allowing them to approach a snake. “They’re defensive toward dogs,” he said. “Dogs smell them they put their nose down there. Rattlesnake very likely will bite the dog.” 

Action News asked the city manager if changes will be made to the beach access. He said vegetation will be cut back 3 feet from both sides of the path. He also said a raised walkway will be built in November after sea turtle season. 

“I’m very thankful that they’re listening but action needs to follow,” said Wagner. 

The city manager also said they will be consulting with wildlife experts on what else can be done.