WHAT’S striking about the start of this Hunter snake season, for Geoff de Looze, is the suburban blandness of where the snakes are appearing.
In an October so frantic with snakes it feels like the height of summer, the Native and Feral Pest Management catcher has seen eastern browns cutting through a Cessnock school, a brown hugging the pavers in a Mayfield backyard, and several nasty bites on dogs.
Eastern brown snakes and red-bellied black snakes account for most of the work of Mr de Looze, who has been summoned to dark, confined spaces.
A recent expedition beneath a house to catch an eastern brown was the stuff of an ophidiophobe’s nightmares.
But most of his scaly discoveries could be mapped out “in loops” of houses that back onto the bush, in places like Raymond Terrace, Maitland, Thornton, Jewells and Mayfield West.
“This is something you get in the middle of summer; we never see this many this early,” Mr de Looze said.
“Our suburban back gardens have everything [snakes] need, unfortunately. I’ve been to several [call-outs] where the dog hasn’t made it.”
Many of the Hunter’s snake-bitten dogs are rushed to the Animal Referral and Emergency Centre, where the Maitland clinic is in the thick of its debut snake season.
Managing director David Tabrett said the new clinic’s proximity to the central Hunter – where brown snakes collide with suburbia – means he has seen more canine bite victims than ever.
Last weekend a Maitland family brought in a dog weak from snake venom. When they got home their other dog had collapsed.
“So they had both dogs in hospital at once. Both of them had been bitten by an eastern brown snake,” Dr Tabrett said.
“Luckily, they’re both recovering.”
Of the two-species hydra that dominates Hunter snakebites, eastern brown venom has worse side-effects in dogs than that of red-bellies. Paralysis. Bleeding from the eyes, the mouth, blood in the urine. Kidney failure.
But a red-bellied bite can do almost as much damage. Jack Russells are bitten more than most other breeds of dog, Dr Tabrett said.
“People who get bitten by a snake get bitten once, but a dog will get bitten and keep going back to the snake.”
A mown, tidy yard free of woodpiles and feed that attracts mice reduces the risk of dogs encountering snakes, Dr Tabrett said, and so does keeping dogs out of the bush.
Mr de Looze said most bites on humans are the result of someone trying to harm a snake “or be a hero”, and the best course of action is to leave snakes alone or call a professional handler.