WILDEST JOBS IN EAST COUNTY: RATTLESNAKE WRANGLER

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By Rebecca Jefferis Williamson

August 16, 2018 (San Diego’s East County) -- “Listen for sprinklers, they sound like sprinklers,” says Tom Minga, a rattlesnake specialist.

Minga, a Flinn Springs resident, who owns Snake Solutions Removal & Relocation, recommends listening for rattlers when you are out in nature or even in your house.   

“I saw my first rattler at the age of five.  I caught a rattler at the age of eight,” he recalls.  That was in Otay Mesa, where he lived as a child. “I was out snake hunting, took a crude snake hook. I taught myself.  I was with my friend, Mike Hendrickson.”

Though catching poisonous snakes can be a risky business, he adds, “I’ve never been envenomated.”

Minga has been in the business of dealing with rattlesnakes for decades A native San Diegan, he’s lived in Otay Mesa, San Carlos and mostly Harbison Canyon, with a brief period in Arizona.

“I was a single parent of a daughter, Tamara,” says Minga, who raised his daughter from age one to 10. “I took a rattlesnake to class.  It spread from here.”  Minga has been active in teaching school children about rattlesnakes.

Since then his business has dealt with the removal and relocation of rattlers, rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs and their owners, and he teaches youth and adults about rattlers.

“I make a living training dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes, for 25 years now.  I do recommend the rattlesnake vaccination for dogs,” he adds. “I won’t take a dog under 6 months.  It’s a retention issue.”

As for catching rattlesnakes, he explains, “I get calls every night to remove and relocate them. Sometimes there is panic in their voice,” Minga says of the callers. “I take rattlesnakes out of houses a lot.  I even have to cut snakes out of chicken wire.”

He notes it is illegal to own or possess a rattlesnake.  “I keep them a week to ten days and let them go,” he explained.  He says he does not name them.

Tips for dog owners from Minga:

  1.  Keep them on a lead if you are walking them.
  2. Be aware.  People who are aware of their dogs can tell when their dog sees a snake.
  3. Right now, it is wise to use a flashlight at night when you are walking.  Do not wear earbuds in snake country.  You have to be able to hear them.  They sound like sprinklers.

He cautions that snakes are everywhere: beaches, canyons, and around lakes. “Every single canyon has them,” he notes.

If you are calling for a rattlesnake removal in your home, he advises customers to:

  1.  Keep an eye on it from afar.  If you don’t, it might disappear.
  2. Do not corner a rattlesnake.

Minga said rattlers love swimming pools and woodpiles.

“The profile of a [typical] snake bite victim is an 18-35 intoxicated male,” Minga claimed. “Rattlesnake bites are very expensive; often you lose a limb and mobility.  Ninety percent of dogs are bitten on their snout.”

The four breeds of rattlers in this region, according to Minga, are:  1. Sidewinders, 2. Southern Pacific, 3. Red Diamond, and 4. Speckled.

“I’ve been recognized by the State of California for bringing public awareness of snakes,” says Minga.

So what comic strip artist does a rattlesnake hunter appreciate?  “Larson (Gary Larson of The Far Side) has really good snake stuff for humor,” he says.

How do the women in his life react to the snakes?  "The ex-wife was ok with them.  My girlfriend, Lorri Dailey, helps muzzle them," explained Minga. 

I had to focus my thoughts on getting the selfie for this story.  Not on the live rattlesnake near me, even if the snake was muzzled.  Focus. Focus. Focus. And, focus some more. 

To contact Tom Minga, call 619-322-4569.