Sometimes it’s OK to have neighbors who can’t wait to tell you what’s wrong with your house. Among them would be the ones who phoned Belinda Donaldson to tell her about the unsightly 11-foot alligator on her front porch.
When you live in suburban Tampa, seeing an alligator isn’t any more extraordinary than spotting a deer in upstate New York. So, Donaldson told TODAY’s Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, she thought the neighbor who told her, “Do NOT open your door, whatever you do,” was being a bit of an alarmist, especially when the neighbor described the gator’s huge size.
But just to be sure, she peeked out the sidelight window by her front door.
What she saw was an 11-foot, 400- to 500-pound monster lazing against her door like the world’s biggest doormat.
“I thought there might have been some exaggeration involved, but that was not the case,” Donaldson said. “We had never seen anything this big.”
This all happened around 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 23. While neighbors gathered to gawk — at a safe distance — Donaldson, who lives in Westchase, a Tampa suburb, called animal control officers, who said they would send an alligator wrangler out to corral the beast.
A dedicated TODAY show fan, Donaldson remembered a story TODAY reported last year about another woman in Florida, Sandie Frosti of Oldsmar, who discovered a big gator inspecting her kitchen. That home invasion had also occurred in late April, when bull alligators are overcome by the urge to set out in search of a nice female gator for the purpose of making baby gators.
It took more than two hours for trapper Mike Fagan to arrive at Donaldson’s home. As time passed, residents began to worry that their children would be coming home from elementary school before the gator was removed.
By this time, Donaldson had left her house by the back door and joined her neighbors on the lawn and street in front of her home to watch Fagan capture the big gator, which had no interest in cooperating with the wrangler.
“We watched it cautiously. There was a little concern. But the gator never exhibited aggressive behavior,” she said. Until Fagan arrived, it looked as if it was perfectly happy to chill out on Donaldson’s porch forever.
A one-hour struggle
Video of the hour-long battle shows Fagan struggling to slip a noose around the gator’s neck, and the big reptile trying to get free by resorting to a “death roll” on Donaldson’s porch.
Fagan dragged it onto the lawn and ultimately had to rope the gator to a tree before he was able to roll it on its back, at which point the beast went to sleep. After Fagan tied its jaws shut and trussed its legs, the neighbors helped hoist it into a cage on a special truck.
In keeping with policy in Florida to euthanize big gators that get too familiar with humans, the animal was later put down.
The comic poet Ogden Nash never wrote about an alligator in such a situation, but he did produce a delightful sestet on “The Panther” that includes some advice about those big cats. Though the animal may differ, the advice Nash offers remains sound for Donaldson and others who may find themselves with an alligator at the door:
“…[I]f called by a panther,Don't anther.”