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Fingers intact, Land O'Lakes man recovers from alligator attack

Joseph Cannistra, 38, is recovering from an attack by an alligator Sunday outside his Land O’Lakes home. He is to see a specialist today.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Joseph Cannistra, 38, is recovering from an attack by an alligator Sunday outside his Land O’Lakes home. He is to see a specialist today.

TAMPA — Thirty-four stitches, several pain pills and a rabies shot later, Joseph Cannistra was back at work Monday morning.

Shortly after midnight Sunday, Cannistra, 38, was attacked by a 5-foot alligator outside his home in the Grand Oaks subdivision in Land O'Lakes. The alligator bit him as he tried to round up his dog, Zeus.

"I was clapping my hands," Cannistra said Monday. "The second time I clapped, I couldn't take my hands apart."

The gator took skin off his right hand and injured several fingers on his left hand.

Cannistra, who runs a collision repair shop in Tampa, said he hopes he will heal but he does not know the extent of his injuries. He plans to see a specialist today.

"Being in this business, I got a lot of calluses," he said. "If it was someone with dandy hands, they would have been in trouble."

Cannistra and his friends were unloading several carloads worth of presents from his girlfriend Tamara Smith's baby shower. As they brought in the Pottery Barn Kids and Babies R Us goodies, Zeus ran outside.

Cannistra went looking for the 2 1/2-year-old pit bull mix and couldn't see the alligator on the dimly lit side of the house.

"The next thing I know, I was getting chomped," he said.

A friend brought him to University Community Hospital in Tampa. Zeus came home. State wildlife officials caught the alligator and said it would be killed.

Cannistra moved from Town 'N Country in Tampa to his home on Geddy Drive three years ago. His fenced-in back yard is next to a large nature preserve, and he's seen or heard of at least three alligators wandering the neighborhood.

Monday, Cannistra manned the phones at JVC Collision Pros on Florida Avenue. He usually works on cars, but was confined to the front office, limited by the heavy bandages on both hands.

Cannistra runs the shop with Smith, 40, who is due with their first baby, Sabrina, in late December or early January.

More than 60 people came to their coed shower Saturday night. The couple got everything they wanted.

"It was a great night until this happened," Cannistra said.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Fingers intact, Land O'Lakes man recovers from alligator attack 11/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 12:03am]
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