by Lesley Scott
In the lowcountry in South Carolina, alligators flourish.
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 deal with all types of animals and related complaints and it was a position that I found exciting. At that time, I boasted to be the only female, or male, who would respond to reptile complaints in other jurisdictions. I also answered livestock calls from other departments. Dealing with farm animals is something else I enjoyed. All 97 pounds of me loved to handle any kind of animal.
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 all 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 code 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. Also, the smell and noise associated with firing a weapon bothered me a lot. All I needed were my wits and my choke stick.
“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, snored loudly on the front seat. I parked on a back road for the view of the Santee River and 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 on the bank 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, and heard my number being called. The dispatcher informed me that a large alligator was holding up both lanes of traffic on busy Bushy Park Road. Luckily, I was ‘gator watching at that time and place. The dusty and potholed road let me right to the scene. With the traffic piling up, I would not have been able to make my way to that location if I had been anywhere else. 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 close to 15 feet long. Alligators lived 150 million years ago and have not changed a bit. 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.
Picking up some large granite rock, I started pelting him hoping he would move. His hide was too thick for him to take much notice, so 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 truck and equipment. My trusty choke stick in hand, I heard a woman, stranded in the traffic backing up for a quarter mile, tell her kids, “It’s alright, she knows what she’s doing.” I smiled. Junior gave me a scary, loud rumbling growl from deep inside of this scaly creature. I felt the vibrations go through my body. Spooky!
As I poked and teased Junior, he charged me far enough to open one lane. Making sure not to walk too close to his lethal tail, now I could take care of the backed up vehicles. Then, on closer inspection, I noticed he had only one eye. While I moved the traffic in the humid July temperature, his good eye looked me in the face. I smiled, though it was not really funny in the oppressive heat. With one lane open, I could redirect the traffic in the other lane. An officer from the Naval Weapons Station arrived after the bulk of the traffic jam began slowly moving.
The Naval Weapons Station, located on Redbank Road in Goose Creek, South Carolina, consisted of hundreds of acres of wooded areas and several lakes, as well as nuclear submarines and other choice weapons of mass destruction. Sometimes Buster and I had business in the Restricted Area. We were photographed (both of us) and given the badges with a time stamp. If we weren't out of the area in 30 minutes, the Marines were authorized to shoot. One of the officers told me that he was dying (no pun intended) to shoot somebody. Not me, not now, I thought.
The Naval Weapons Station Police sent an officer to assist me. He opened his window, awaiting my instructions. Obviously, he was not prepared for this type of problem, "Well, all I can come up with,” I told the responding 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 Crown Vic. Reaching as far as I could, though only five feet tall and 97 pounds, I spread my legs for stability. The bumper seemed close to my face.
Slowly, we teased the behemouth, Junior, to back up with the big heavy car herding him slowly. That was when I noticed he was larger than the car! “Oh my!” I told myself, “This is a real adventure!” The excitement of the situation gave me a big rush. We eventually persuaded Junior to leave the other lane of the highway. 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 behind the wheel. 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 until 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 golden orb of an eye seemed to be looking into my eyes. 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 big vehicle side to side and up and down. The officer 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 what was left of the choke stick as a souvenir.
I returned later after a cat bite call and Junior left a path of flattened underbrush and saplings. He was home and happy that he made the trip in such good shape. His mouth was probably sore, and I felt sore all over, still all pumped up with adrenaline. Junior will always be the largest alligator I've seen, here, in the lowcountry of South Carolina.
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: 1480