Cody, an 11-year-old dachshound was grabbed and eaten by an aligator at the the boat ramp in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
Without hesitation, Mike Karris’ and his fiancee didn’t think about their own safety for a second. They immediately dashed knee-deep into the water after Cody.
They were unsuccessful in saving their dog from the alligator as it retreated into the pond near the boat ramp crowded Saturday with throngs of people heading out for the opening weekend of scallop season at St. Marks.
“I couldn’t catch up to the gator. It was so fast,” Karris said Tuesday. “The whole thing, start to finish, didn’t last 5 seconds and the dog wasn’t on the ground for more than a minute.”
Karris and his fiancee returned to the ramp around 3 p.m. While they were preparing their boat to leave the park, they set the dog on the ground, unleashed.
Karris estimates the alligator came out of the pond, crossed 10 feet of grass and gravel and then onto the pavement where the boat was parked. The animal may be acclimated to humans given the brazen attack at the bustling ramp, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
However, Karris is not trying to shirk the responsibility to leash pets in the park. He blames neither the alligator for its natural instinct, nor park staff whom he has contacted since the incident. He just hopes his experience serves as a warning to others.
“While it’s up to us to be our first line of defense and watch out for our loved ones,” Karris said, “I’m not sure having a gator that’s aggressive and not scared of humans at a family friendly park is a safe situation.”
There is a leashing requirement in the park; however, incidents involving humans and the hundreds of alligators throughout the park are rare, said refuge manager Terry Peacock. The last attack on a dog was more than 15 years ago.
Refuge officials, who expressed sympathy for the loss of the dog, have a duty to the animals at the park. But they aren’t in the animal control business, Peacock added.
Alligators that have become a threat to humans have been removed from the park before, Peacock said, but there have been no reports of this animal being aggressive toward people near the boat ramp.
“I can’t punish an alligator for being an alligator,” Peacock said. “That’s just an alligator being its normal self.”
Refuge officials are monitoring the large reptile, have posted signs and are handing out “living with alligators” literature to visitors.
Sometimes complacency in the long interval between the rare attacks can cause people to forget they are coming close to dangerous wild animals.
Any body of water in Florida can hold alligators and with more people expected to enter the park over the holiday weekend, it’s important to keep an eye on pets, Peacock said.
“People just need to understand that we are a national wildlife refuge, and first and foremost, we are there for the wildlife,” she said.”