Oriley Richardson, 10, was playing in his Florida backyard Sept. 23 when his family's 9-month-old pit bull puppy, Zeus, jumped toward him and started attacking something on the ground. Then his brother Orion, 11, entered the yard—and Zeus laid down on the thing he was attacking, which Oriley originally thought was just a rope. But when Orion noticed the pup's eyes looked "bugged out," they turned him over and found that he had actually smothered a venomous coral snake, which had bitten him four times before he ultimately bit off and swallowed its head. The Richardsons rushed Zeus to an animal hospital for anti-venom, but he died the next day.
The Richardsons are mourning the loss, but they say Zeus died a hero, protecting the children from the snake. "I feel like I may have lost one of my children had he not been there," says the kids' mom, Gina Richardson, adding that she'll be "forever grateful" to the dog. The entire family, including their two other children and Zeus's mom Sega, gathered at the animal hospital to say goodbye. "He was a good boy and I loved him with all my heart," Oriley says. "I played with him all the time. I feel sad and I miss him." The kids' dad, Gary Richardson, says he hopes their loss will change public perception of pit bulls. "Pit bulls are the most loyal dog I know of, and I’ve had a lot of different animals in my life," he tells WOFL. (This pit bull also made a heroic move.)