A Florida family only had their pit bull for nine months, but he will forever be in their hearts after giving his life to save their two young children from a venomous snake.
The Richardson family said goodbye to their beloved dog Zeus last week after he was bitten multiple times by a coral snake while protecting their sons outside their home in rural Webster.
"I'm still holding back tears just talking about it," Gina Richardson, 33, told TODAY. "We'll forever be grateful for what Zeus did for our family."
Richardson's son, Oriley, 10, was playing in the family's yard on Sept. 23 when he noticed Zeus leap toward him and snatch what he thought was a rope in his teeth that he began thrashing around.
Gary Richardson, 49, sent their older son, Orion, 11, to check on the situation and change the dog's water after hearing their other dog bark. Zeus then laid down on the snake next to the water bucket to protect Orion.
Orion told his father that the dog's eyes looked strange and then Zeus began acting erratically.
They went to give him Benadryl, an antihistamine, thinking he was having some type of reaction and when they pulled his body off the grass, they discovered a dead coral snake underneath him.
Richardson rushed Zeus into the car and started driving to a veterinarian in nearby Spring Hill, but the office informed her it did not have anti-venom to treat Zeus. She had to reverse directions and go to a veterinarian in Ocala.
"I was completely losing it," she said. "Zeus was in the back seat, panting heavily and I knew it was a matter of time."
The veterinarian in Ocala administered a dose of anti-venom and then allowed Richardson to see Zeus. She FaceTimed with her husband and their children for them to say hello to their beloved dog.
However, when Richardson called the next morning to check on Zeus, she was told the dog was dying.
"I just started bawling," she said.
The Richardsons and their children rushed to the hospital with Zeus' mother Sega, a 4-year-old pit bull. They all went to say a tearful goodbye.
"The first thing Sega did was put her paws up where Zeus was at, sniffed his nose and face and then rested her head on my thigh out of sorrow," Richardson said.
The day Zeus died also happened to be Oriley's 10th birthday.
"He was the first one out there when it all happened and he's just been so upset," Richardson said.
Zeus, who was born on Jan. 1, had formed a loving bond with the family in only a short time.
"I couldn't be more grateful to Zeus for what he did, but the other great thing that came out of it that I did not expect was that he became like an ambassador for the bully breeds," Richardson said in reference to a type of breed that includes pit bulls, boxers, Boston terriers and bulldogs.
"He showed people the other side (of pit bulls) that they might not see. Pit bulls aren't made to be mean, that's done by the owners who raise them that way. They can be the most caring, sweetest dog you've ever had."