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NJ Press: Now we hear the snakeís side of story

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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on July 25, 2002 at 14:21:15:

THE PRESS (Atlantic City, New Jersey) 25 July 02 Now we hear the snakeís side of story (Jack Kaskey)
The story of a man and dog bitten by a venomous snake is taking more twists than a coiled rattler.
George Davidson was bitten by a timber rattlesnake Sunday, but not while trying to save his dog from the reptile - at least according the dog's true owner.
John Nogalo stepped forward Wednesday to say it was his dog, Tucker, that was bitten by a rattler Sunday afternoon at Lake Oswego in Bass River Township, Burlington County.
Nogalo, 46, of Lacey Township in Ocean County, doesn't even know Davidson. But he was there when Davidson was bitten by the snake - which is listed by that state as an endangered species - apparently while trying to capture it.
Davidson, 38, of Audubon Park, Camden County, remained in the intensive care unit of Cooper Health System in Camden on Wednesday.
The snake emerged at about 2:45 Sunday when Nogalo was in the lake about 5 feet from shore, throwing retrieving dummies for Tucker to fetch. Tucker is a 10-month-old black Labrador retriever that Nogalo is training to be a bird dog.
At one point, the Lab swam for what appeared to be a dead fish, rather than the dummy. It was the rattlesnake.
"He bit it and flung it, and then came back in," Nogalo recalled.
He told his dog to go back out and get the dummy.
"I didn't realize anything was wrong," Nogalo said. "Then I saw it was a snake. I noticed a rattle on the end of it."
Tucker started shaking terribly and closing his eyes. Nogalo threw a towel over him, thinking he may be going into shock.
A man in a kayak called out that there was snake in the water. Two men on shore identified it as "a pine rattler," Nogalo said.
"They got a bucket and a scoop net, and they went after it," he said.
Nogalo didn't see what happened next, because he was making arrangements to take his dog to an emergency veterinarian in Lakewood.
"He was lethargic and kept closing his eyes," Nogalo said.
Before he packed his dog and his 9-year-old daughter, Katy, in the car, he heard that a man had been bitten trying to catch the rattler.
It was Davidson, still standing and sucking on his finger.
"I asked him, 'Are you OK? You better get to the hospital.' "
Before the Green Bank Rescue Squad could arrive, Nogalo was heading to the vet. He talked to his dog the whole ride, trying to keep him awake.
Without the dog and its owner there, a different story made its way into the report filed by rangers at Wharton State Forest. Chief Ranger Greg Langan said Tuesday that Davidson was bitten trying to pull a rattler off his dog, not while trying to catch the snake.
Langan was not in his office Wednesday, but a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said the new story would be forwarded to law enforcement.
DEP spokesman Al Ivany said it's not clear whether Davidson was trying to collect the snake to help identify it for the dog owner or for more nefarious reasons.
Collecting wildlife - particularly an endangered species such as the timber rattlesnake - is illegal without a permit in New Jersey.
Unlike Davidson, the snake and the dog were doing fine Wednesday.
The Lakewood vet didn't treat Tucker for the rattlesnake bite, because he told Nogalo there are no poisonous snakes in New Jersey. Nevertheless, Tucker responded well to the antibiotics and other drugs the vet injected.
The dog's face was swollen Monday morning and he had a baseball-sized lump under his mouth. But the swelling was mostly gone by Wednesday and Tucker was running around the house and eating again.
As for the snake, Ivany said that the DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program has it in its Clinton office.
"Generally, in situations like this, the snake would be re-released," Ivany said, explaining that snakes don't bite unless provoked.
As for why the dog has recovered and Davidson has not, one Pinelands naturalist offered an explanation: Rattlesnakes can control how much venom they release, depending on the threat's severity, said Russell Juelg of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
"When the dog went to grab it, the snake responded in self defense and gave a little bite," Juelg suggested.
When two men came after it with nets and buckets, it probably frightened the snake much more.
"It probably felt its life was in danger and so (the snake) decided to let him have it with everything he had," Juelg said.
Rattlesnake bites deliver a toxic soup through their hollow fangs that includes a fast-acting neurotoxin and a chemical that destroys blood cells.
Davidson initially was treated at Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton, but did not respond well to antivenin. Juelg said he knows one man in whom the antivenin triggered an anaphylactic reaction, nearly cutting off his ability to breathe.
No one in recent years is known to have died from a timber rattlesnake bite in New Jersey, officials say.

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