In early June, Josh Wells was throwing the tennis ball for his dog during his afternoon lunch break, like any other day.
It was a routine for the pair to head to the JR Alford Greenway Trail off of Buck Lake Road for a game of fetch. Wells got Toby during the COVID-19 pandemic for his 3 1/2-year-old son.
On that Monday, it had just rained. It was muggy and hot. Toby, a 40-pound black labrador retriever mix, was standing up to his elbows in the water, which serves as drainage for the nearby residential area and feeds into Piney Z Lake.
Then “boom, the water just sort of exploded,” Wells, an engineer, said. “He never barked. He never saw it.”
Toby was grabbed head first by an alligator.
“It took him down like it was nothing,” Wells said.
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Wells tried to grab the gator, but quickly realized it was a bad idea once he saw how large it was.
The alligator who ate Toby was 9-feet, 2-inches long, according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife incident report.
FWC Officer Benjamin Johnson, who reported the incident, stayed for two hours to look for the alligator, Wells said.
In the incident report, Johnson located a 6-foot, 6-inch alligator, along with the alligator who attacked and ate Wells’ dog.
Both were removed from the waterway by a Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program trapper. The alligator who ate Toby has been euthanized, Wells said.
An estimated 1.3 million alligators live in Florida, according to the FWC. During spring and summer, alligators can become more visible and active as their metabolisms increase.
FWC warns Floridians that alligators can inhabit any kind of freshwater wetlands, even brackish water, where there’s adequate food and shelter.
The area where Wells frequented with his dog is known to be a popular area among the neighborhood kids, who play near the water’s edge.
“There’s cul-de-sacs, you’re not expecting a gator to come out and eat your dog,” he said.
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Anywhere there is standing water, an alligator might be found, warns FWC.
People with concerns about a nuisance alligator can call FWC’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR.
Officer Johnson later met Wells at a local library to return Toby’s remains, which were found by the trapper. Wells later buried Toby and gave him a respectful farewell.
“No one wants to go by gator, you know?” Wells said.
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
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