by Lesley Scott
Catching alligators is fun and exciting.
As the animal control officer for the city of Goose Creek, I dealt with a wide variety of animal-related complaints. Without a doubt, I enjoyed the thrill of capturing and relocating nuisance alligators a lot more than impounding stray dogs. The gators could be twelve feet long to three feet long. These modern day dinosaurs have remained unchanged for over 150 million years.
Apex predators, alligators have no natural enemies and the population thrives in the South Carolina lowlands. Not many animal control officers responded to alligator complaints, so I picked up calls all over Berkeley County. The calls included snakes, livestock and other unusual complaints.
The main trick to handling angry or defensive alligators was simply to tire them out. Gators are like batteries, after a lot of activity the energy winds down. When I worked a gator, a crowd would usually watch from a safe distance. If I had a large, heavy gator, once it was restrained and mouth taped shut, a bystander would usually help me lift it into my truck.
I liked to name some of the gators I dealt with and I met Ernest in a drainpipe in a growing subdivision. Some of the neighborhood kids harassed him, shot him with a pellet gun and Ernest was mellowed out by the time I arrived on the scene. He gave me no trouble as I dragged him out of the drainpipe by the tail. I estimated him to be close to five feet long and maybe he weighed forty or fifty pounds. Compared to most of the gators I captured, I considered him to be on the small side.
Ernest gave little resistance as I taped his mouth shut and lifted him into the cage in the back of my animal control truck. Deciding to take him home to enjoy for a while, I needed a place to stash him until the end of my shift at ten o’clock that evening. Since it was quiet at the police station, the ladies’ bathroom seemed the perfect place to keep a gator. The other officers patrolled the streets and the dispatcher, Gwen, was on duty.
Gwen, the hub of the police department, sat alone in the small dispatch office, responding to telephone calls, traffic stops, and emergencies. She knew where each officer was located and always kept a cool head during the occasional shootout or hostage situation. I never saw Gwen surprised or upset.
Covered with a bit of mud and algae from the ditch, I sat on a stool in the dispatch office to eat my peanut butter sandwich. At the time, the streets relatively quiet, and I helped out by answering the telephone and running license plate numbers for traffic stops. Sometimes, when Gwen needed a break, I took over the dispatch command. Dispatching is a stressful job and I wouldn’t want to hold those reins, myself. I would much rather catch alligators and snakes or even pick up road kills.
After only fifteen minutes or so, my sandwich dropped to the floor as Gwen startled me, gasping and clutching her chest. I almost panicked, wondering how well I remembered my CPR training. Her eyes bugged out of her face as she continued to gasp and point to the door. Glancing in that direction, I noticed Ernest rounding the corner of the office Poor Gwen remained speechless. She was genuinely frightened and I tried not to laugh. I hopped down from the stool and grabbed Ernest’s tail. He hissed deeply enough for me to feel it run through my body. It seemed his batteries had recharged. He thrashed from side to side and poor Gwen freaked out even more than before. Finally, I had Ernest under control and back into the bathroom.
As I slid back onto the stool, “Gwen,” I remarked, “after all of these years, this is the first time I have ever seen you at a loss for words!”