Human Interaction

Ed Cassano Interview Fatal Attractions

posted: 05/15/12
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Ed Cassano Interview
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A discussion with the man who received a near-fatal bite from his pet cobra.

Ed Cassano received a near-fatal bite from his pet cobra, a harrowing incident featured in Fatal Attractions. Animal Planet.com spoke with Ed about his fascination with deadly snakes in this exclusive interview.

Animal Planet: Hi Ed, this is Animal Planet! How have things been in Claremont, Florida since we saw you in Fatal Attractions?

Ed Cassano: Oh, it's just been fine! I've been real busy doing dog rescue and keeping my own guys going.

Animal Planet: Are you still living with venomous snakes?

Ed Cassano: Yeah, I'll have all my venomous snakes until they die off. Whenever I take an animal in, I pretty much give it a commitment that I'll take of it until it dies.

APL: You were almost killed by your pet cobra. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently in that situation?

Cassano: I would follow the basic rule, which is: don't stick your hand in a venomous snake cage unless the snake is out of the cage. Generally when people get bit, they're doing something stupid. They're just taking a shortcut. If you follow the rules, the way I keep snakes, there's no reason to get bit. A venom producer like George Van Horn or anybody that produces venom, they've got to hold snakes behind the neck, and that subjects them to a whole lot more danger. If you're just keeping snakes as a hobbyist, if you follow the rules, you can do it without getting bit.

APL: What was it like to go through that near-death experience?

Cassano: I dunno, it was just an experience. It was something that happened. It's hard to say. The feelings that existed existed while it was going on. Looking back on it, I just feel fortunate that I'm still here and that I've had 10 extra years. As far as the experience, it's just sort of living in the moment, which was denial at first that it was going to happen and then denial that it went as far as it did. Then when I finally realized that it looked like I might die, it was like a passage going from this world to the next. You always wonder what's going to happen after you die. It was sort of a curiosity when it was actually going on. The only time I felt really bad about anything happening was when I felt bad for my dog having to be without me.

APL: Have you changed the way you interact with venomous snakes after your near-fatal bite?

Cassano: Oh yeah, I'm much more careful. I follow all the rules now. I don't put myself in the position to be bitten.

APL: Where does your fascination with snakes come from?

Cassano: It started when I was a little boy. About when I was in the third grade or so, we went to Silver Springs Reptile Institute and they had an indigo snake there that they would let anybody hold. Anybody in the audience could hold it if they wished. My mom wanted to get a picture of me and the snake, so I held the indigo snake. I was just fascinated by the snake at that time. When we went back home, we got some little brown snakes as pets that you could feed earthworms to. I've been fascinated with them since then. They're beautiful animals. They've got fascinating habits. To me it's amazing that something with no arms and legs can make its way through life and be such a successful predator. It's just something that I've been attracted to all my life.

APL: Have you been bitten by snakes other than your pet cobra?

Cassano: Yeah, I've had about three serious snake bites and several lesser snake bites. Probably about a dozen in all.

APL: What continues to draw you to these animals, especially the deadly ones, after you've been bitten so often?

Cassano: Well, the fascination is still there. The attraction for the snakes is still there. It's similar to driving a car. If you're in an accident or get a speeding ticket, you don't say, "I'm not going to drive anymore because I might get in another accident or get another speeding ticket." First of all, you never believe you're going to get bit. I have no fear of that ever happening again. It can and evidently it did several times before that cobra bite. But you always think you're not going to get bit. It's always some really weird circumstances that causes you to be bitten. But it's like anything else if you love what you're doing. If it's sports, and you get injured playing sports, most people won't give the sport up unless the injury is debilitating to them. And it's the same way with snakes. It's a risk you know you're taking. You know the chances are you are going to get bit if that's your hobby. You just try not to.

APL: In the episode, you talked about establishing a relationship of mutual trust with your animals. How do you get to that point with a snake? What's the process?

Cassano: They're reactive animals. If you handle them gently they don't come to look at being handled as an unpleasant situation. They're not mean animals. They bite in self defense. They bite when they feel like they're in danger. If they don't feel like they're in any danger when you're handling them or when you're taking them out of the cage, chances are they're not going to try and bite you. The mistake people make, and I've made it myself, is you really can't extend that trust to the snake. You really can't trust the snake. You've got to always handle them on a hook, stay out of striking range and don't put your hands anywhere were you can be bitten. It's not a matter where you can trust the snake because you don't know what might set him off. It's nice to be able to feel like you've got that trust. I've got it with a python. A python's not a venomous animal.

APL: What's that relationship like with your python?

Cassano: I think some of the pythons are a little more intelligent than some of the other snakes. I know a lot of herpetologists don't believe that pythons can recognize their keepers. I think they can. I think they can at least recognize that the keeper's not a danger to them. The keeper comes in and makes their life pleasant by association. They like to be petted in the proper manner. They associate you with food. So you become something pleasant. Usually when I open up a python's cage, and I'm the only one there, it'll come to the door. It'll come to see if I've got something for it to eat or just come over to say hi. When other people are at the door, whether it's the extra number of people or whether it's the people themselves, a lot of times the snake will stay away from the door or go back to the other side of the cage. So there's something going on there. The snake recognizes me or at least recognizes the way it's being handled and responds favorably to that.

APL: How many snakes do you have and what are they?

Cassano: I have about 40 snakes. My favorites are the rattlesnakes. I've got several different species of rattlesnake. I have copperheads and vipers. On the harmless side, I've got a couple of pythons, some rat snakes, garter snakes, hog-nose snakes. I've got a green mamba that's a very deadly snake but not a very dangerous snake. It's very, very docile. It's never tried to bite. It's a super-intelligent snake and it's a pleasure to have.

APL: Is there a snake that you've always wanted to have but haven't gotten around to getting yet?

Cassano: I've tried just about everything that I've wanted to keep, but the first time I saw the albino reticulated python, I just thought that was a gorgeous, gorgeous snake. I've had reticulated pythons before. I stayed away from getting that because they get so large, they require a lot of space and they're a snake that just makes a lot of mess. It's a lot to clean up and I just don't have that much space in the house for another python. But once I saw that snake... They were going for almost $250,000 when they were first bred, but now you can pick one up for as little as $1,000. That's beyond my reach now though because they just recently passed laws in Florida where it's illegal to own any of the big pythons. People that have them were legally permitted or were grandfathered in, so I can keep the one I've got until it dies and then I'm no longer allowed to have large constrictors.

APL: Is that because people have been releasing them out into the wild?

Cassano: The main problem we had here in Florida was not so much people releasing them out into the wild. Pretty much genetically it's been traced back to one animal dealer down there in Homestead who had hundreds of pythons. He had them in a greenhouse barn — not very substantial — and they were in plastic containers. With Hurricane Andrew, a bunch of these young snakes got blown all over the place, and that was the core of the breeding population that's established itself now. Some people have let snakes go, but with regards to people releasing snakes, everybody would have to be releasing their snakes pretty much in the same place for the snakes to meet up and mate. With the small amount of people doing that, the odds of them starting up a breeding population are kind of low. But when you had this hurricane come and hundreds of these snakes were immediately thrown into the wild in a fairly close area, that was enough to get a breeding population started. And being that they have so many young, it just expanded unchecked for many, many years before people realized it was a problem.

APL: Which of your snakes are you most cautious around these days?

Cassano: Probably the Gaboon vipers. They're a docile snake, they've never tried to bite me in anger, but the bite is so horrendous that I just will never get within striking range of a Gaboon. I'm super-careful with the Gaboon vipers.

APL: What do your friends and family think of your snake collection? Do they ever worry about you?

Cassano: Oh, they worry all the time. My family has of course been brought up with me having snakes all my life. My parents were really supportive. They've never been supportive of the venomous snakes. They don't like them and they don't like me having them. But they were very supportive of my hobby of having snakes. They allowed me to have snakes the whole time I was growing up. My dad used to take me out at night before I could drive. A lot of snakes come up on the road at night for the warmth of the road. It's a good way to find snakes. And he would spend hours and hours driving me around snake-hunting. Most people would rather not see the venomous snakes in the house, but they understand my hobby.

APL: Thanks for talking to us Ed. Is there anything else you'd like to mention that we haven't covered here or that wasn't covered in the show?

Cassano: Yeah, I thought the show was done very well. The biggest disappointment I had with the show though was: the day that I was bitten, my neighbor Pete found me. He went next door to Stan. By the time he went next door to Stan, I was already blue and unconscious. I hardly had a heartbeat or pulse. Stan, my next-door neighbor, was the one that came over (he's a retired Navy hospital Corpsman), and he immediately started CPR. There were quite a few neighbors around me at that time and they all thought I was dead. Had it not been for Stan, who recognized that I was blue and had a need for oxygen and started CPR.... He's the one that made the rescue in those final minutes possible. Three, four or five more minutes without oxygen and I would have been gone or brain dead at least. I guess due to time constraints, his role was left out of the show, but he was one of the most important links in me surviving that day. I wouldn't be here without him. Otherwise I thought, for the amount of time that you guys had, it was done very well. Twenty minutes isn't much time to get the story in.

APL: Thanks Ed!

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