|‘Gator in the Road or Losing my Head
In 1986 the small City of Goose Creek was on the rise. The land clearing for progress drove the native wildlife into an unfamiliar civilized world. It was my position as Animal Control Officer to all types of animals and related complaints and it was a position that I found exciting. At that time, I boasted that I was the only female who would respond to reptile complaints in other jurisdictions. I also answered livestock calls from other departments. I knew how to deal with most farm animals and I possessed a sturdy horse trailer. I weighed less than one hundred pounds and I was fearless.
I tackled many animals. I dealt with Copperheads on front porches, churches, and even the Police Station. On one occasion, the Chief and other officers al jumped on the table in the squad room when they caught a glimse of a snake I was holding. I tried not to laugh at the sight of grown men with guns frightened as I slid the small snake into a pillowcase. Most cops, from my experience, are terrified of snakes and alligators. Therefore, I was mostly alone and could do whatever I wanted with these wild creatures. I loved working with ‘gators and they showed up in strange places.
With plenty of complaints for animal captures, I stayed busy. I thought of myself as an animal related problem solver. I impounded animals, but not a lot, of dogs and cats. I wore a badge, patches on my shoulders and could recite the ten codes in my sleep. The Chief wanted me to carry a gun. I indignantly informed my commanding officer, “Are you kidding? What would I shoot, my foot?”
I qualified on the firing range, but I didn’t like firearms. I used my talents, experience and body language. Animals don’t shoot back, either. I could handle whatever came my way. Carrying a weapon is asking to shoot someone.
“But what would you do if an animal attacked you?” The Chief asked, concerned with my safety. He was gruff with the other officers, but he was really a funny and sweet man. He liked to holler about the snakes in my knapsack, (they were in pillowcases). He eventually learned to keep a wide berth around my knapsack. Every herper (lover of reptiles and amphibians) knows reptiles will bake in a parked cars, even alligators. The bathroom was a sensible place to store alligators and other reptiles, which made the dispatcher nervous. Everyone started using the bathroom in the back.
One hazy and humid day in July, Buster, my Boykin Spaniel, was snoring loudly in the seat. I parked on a back road for the view of the Santee River; I watched a ten-foot long ‘gator schooling fish. He leaped all the way, (so it seemed) out of the water, snatched a fish, and dove back, hardly making a ripple. The two kids fishing jumped on their bikes and skedaddled. I asked Buster, “Did you see that?” He still snoozed in spite of my moment of excitement.
My ears, tuned to the police radio, I heard my number being called. I was informed that a large alligator was holding up both lanes of traffic on busy Bushy Park Road. I was lucky I was ‘gator watching at that time. The dusty and potholed road let me right to the scene. The dispatcher called and told me the Naval Weapons Station’s Officer was en route. How could he get though the bumper-to-bumper traffic at a standstill?
Excited, I had to take care of this situation myself. Pumped up, I was ready to do my job. The first matter was moving this huge creature. who was large enough to block both lanes of the highway with space enough for large semi trucks. This good ole 'gator must have been twenty feet long. Alligators were here 150 million years and have not changed. I will always be enamored of these large animals. Alligators are living dinosaurs. Reptiles have a magnetic homing instinct, and it was obvious this ‘gator was traveling to his home, the Santee River. Now I understood. He had been relocated, and his innate instinct was working well.
I picked up some large granite rock and started pelting him. His hide too thick for him to take much notice, I went back to the truck, to fetch my choke stick and gave Buster the guard signal. He sat on the seat, ready to protect my equipment. My trusty choke stick in hand, I heard a woman tell her kids, “It’s alright, she knows what she’s doing.” I smiled. Junior gave me a scary, loud growling from deep inside. I felt it go through my body. Spooky.
As I was poking and teasing Junior I made him charge me enough to open one lane. I made sure not to walk too close to his lethal tail to reach the other lane. Then, on closer inspection, I noticed he had only one eye. While I had to move the traffic in the humid July heat, his good eye looked me in the face! I smilled, though it was not funny in the oppressive heat. I had one lane open and now I could redirect the traffic on the other lane. Police from the Naval Weapons Station, arrived after the bulk of the traffic jam was slowly moving.
The officer, Earl, opened his window, awaiting instructions. He was obviously not ready for this type of problem, "Well, all I can come up with,” I told the officer, a retired Marine, “ I can climb on the hood and use my stick to back him the rest of the way, out of the highway. It’s getting congested again.” I jumped up on the hood of the large car. I was not sure I could reach old Junior. as my height was less than five feet. Therefore, I had to slide down more with my head just above the bumper.
Slowly, we teased the behemouth, Junior, to back up with the big heavy car herding him slowly. Then, I noticed he was larger than the car! “Oh my!” I told myself, “This is a real adventure!” I loved the excitement. We eventually persuaded Junior to leave the other lane of the highway. I noticed where the ‘gator had made a wide path, dodging swingsets and other toys behind the Officers’ Quarters. Luckily the kids were all inside, enjoying televison in air conditioned splendor.
Junior decided to make his stand and backed against a power pole. My choke stick, a bent and mangled mess, was useless. "That’s it, let’s back up slowly,” I told the nervous officer. What happened next, I will never forget in my life! As the tires barely started rolling backwards, Junior moved so fast, I never saw him as he latched on to the metal bumper. He proceeded to shake the bumper violently; I held to the hood latch of the car and slid all over the front of the vehicle. Just inches from his huge, powerful jowls, I could smell algae and fish, and his eye seemed to be looking into face. It was a rush and a discovery. However, we weren't equipted to capture the monster 'gator.
Junior decided to shake the car one more time and refused to move again. He was out of the highway. I slid down from the hood, grinning, I was so full of adrenalin and awe. The poor officer was happy to see me with my head attached. At the time, all he could see was my tennis shoes as the huge angry gator shook the truck so violently. He opened his window, shaking so badly, he could not light his cigarette. I had to light it for him. I was all pumped up, ready to do it again. I picked up the choke stick as a souvenir. I had a shorter stick I liked better.
I returned later and Junior left a path of flattened underbrush and saplings. He was home. I was happy that he made the trip in such good shape. His mouth was probably sore. I felt sore all over, but I was still all pumped up with adrenaline. I had never seen an alligator so large and with such a temper. I've dealt with many alligators.
The Chief griped about the unbelievable amount of damage to the bumper. He told me it would be very expensive to fix. The car probably needed a new bumper, “Screw the damn bumper,” I laughed, “I could have literally lost my head!” I waited for him to tell me that I needed a new head.
I probably do need my head examined.
word count: 1459