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PA Press: Man in ICU after being bitten by a rattlesnake

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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on July 25, 2002 at 14:20:30:

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (Pennsylvania) 25 July 02 Man in ICU after being bitten by a rattlesnake at N.J. park - The snake had been caught in a bucket after it hurt another man's dog in a Burlington County lake. (Jake Wagman)
The combination of a curious dog, a poisonous snake, and perhaps the influence of alcohol has a Camden County man fighting for his life.
The Audubon Park resident was bitten Sunday while trying to handle a timber rattlesnake that had just bitten a dog at Bass River State Forest in Burlington County.
George P. Davidson, 38, was in critical condition yesterday at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden.
Rangers said Davidson was at Oswego Lake with a group of people who were drinking beer, which is prohibited at the state forest. Earlier in the day, rangers had cited the group for alcohol consumption and confiscated almost 30 cans of beer.
Rangers said Davidson and his group had appeared to be intoxicated.
Also at the lake was John Nogalo of Forked River, who was with his 9-year-old daughter and young black Labrador retriever, Tucker.
Nogalo was in the water, throwing hunting "dummies" to teach his dog to retrieve dead birds, when the dog lunged at what the Ocean County man thought was a dead fish.
"Then I saw it move," Nogalo, 46, said yesterday. "I saw, like, a rattle on the end."
Tucker collapsed on the beach, "shaking like a leaf with his tail tucked between his legs," Nogalo said.
He scooped up the dog, who had been bitten under an eye, and took him to an emergency veterinarian. Meanwhile, one of the people watching threw a crab bucket over the 22-inch-long rattler, which had crawled onto the beach.
Forest officials are unsure whether Davidson was trying to move the bucket or the snake, but that is when he got two fangs in a finger on his right hand.
"The thing waled him pretty good," said Steve Stoker, a ranger at Wharton State Forest, who responded to an emergency cell-phone call from one of Davidson's relatives. "It seemed to be affecting him pretty quickly."
Davidson was taken to Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton, Atlantic County, which keeps snake antivenin. He was later taken to Cooper, where he has been in intensive care since Monday.
Matthew McCort, a snake expert in Jackson, Ocean County, said it is not uncommon for snakebite victims to have an allergic reaction to antivenin, which is made from horse serum.
"The reaction from the antivenin could be just as bad or worse from the reaction of the venom," he said.
Timber-rattler bites are extremely rare and usually the result of provocation, McCort said. "Rattlesnake bites, across the board, are usually associated with alcohol," he said.
Two years ago, a man in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was bitten - and then hit with a $50 fine after it was found he was harassing the reptile.
The timber rattler's habitat ranges from New England to Georgia and as far west as Wisconsin. The snake is on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's list of endangered species, partly because of development encroaching on its habitat.
The state has been tracking timber rattlers with radio transmitters since 2000. The study is part of the settlement of a lawsuit between the Pinelands Commission and a developer in Evesham, where the snake had been found.
The snake that bit Davidson is in the custody of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Stoker, the forest ranger, said that when he arrived at the picnic area Sunday, the snake was in the bed of a pickup truck, visibly agitated and curled near the tailgate.
"It was not happy," Stoker said. "It was wrapped and ready to strike."
He and another ranger calmed the snake by putting it in a cooler of ice they had confiscated from another group of campers caught drinking that day.
Tucker, the black Lab, is doing fine, his owner said. After a couple of lethargic days, the dog is back to his usual, inquisitive self, Nogalo said.
"He is 10 months old; he is a puppy," he said. "He loves to play."

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