EAST LAKE — The whole thing apparently started when Poe the cat was prowling outside and the big alligator followed it home.
When Poe slipped onto the back porch Monday night, the 220-pound gator came along, crashing through a screen and passing a potted ficus tree and litter box.
Tailing Poe, the 8-foot, 8-inch reptile crawled over the blue carpeting, through an open sliding glass door and past the green suede sofa in the living room.
Poe ended up someplace safe. The gator ended up in Sandra Frosti's kitchen.
After hearing strange noises about 10:30 p.m., Frosti, 69, discovered the gator and called 911.
"What's going on?" a dispatcher asked.
"There's an alligator in my kitchen!" Frosti said.
"How long do you think the alligator is ma'am?"
"It's huge!" Frosti said. "… I only saw the first half of it, and that had to be at least 3 feet. … Because it was behind the freezer, and I just disappeared."
"Are you sure it couldn't be like, a, uh, iguana or a really large. …"
"Oh, no, no, no, no!" Frosti said.
"All right," the dispatcher told her, "we'll get deputies out that way."
Once there, deputies called trapper Charles Carpenter.
Carpenter put a rope around the gator's neck. It hissed. Then he tried to throw a blanket over its head. It lunged and thrashed, sending a plate crashing to the floor.
"The interesting part was trying to get him out without destroying" Frosti's condo, said Carpenter, an agent for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "He did make a dent in the wall with his head.''
The gator likely emerged from one of the many ponds, lakes and creeks in Eastlake Woodlands in north Pinellas, where they are a common sight.
"I was feeding the birds one late afternoon and I saw something not very birdlike,'' said Fred Egre, 78. "He approached. He was lying there, jaws open, and I came in and got a broom and shooed him into the water. He wanted me to throw food in his jaws.''
He also said his neighbors once had guests who fed the baby gators.
When gators end up in swimming pools, lift stations and in the middle of highways this time of year, people often say it's because it's mating season.
But when a reporter asked wildlife commission spokesman Gary Morse if the home invader sneaked into Frosti's condo because it was crazed by reptilian lust, he sighed.
"I don't think a gator wants to mate with a cat. Let's be clear on that,'' he said. "Yes, gators mate this time of year, but they are cold-blooded creatures. As the weather warms up, their metabolism increases and they become more active. They move around more, they're looking for new territories. It's an all-around increase in activity.''
This gator, he said, was simply not afraid of humans.
"If you've got an alligator going into a house, you've got a problem,'' Morse said. "That alligator is going to repeat that behavior.''
That's why instead of being relocated to a pond somewhere, the gator is going to Dade City.
There, at a processing plant — animal lovers, you may want to stop reading at this point — its spine will be severed using either a knife or gun. Probably today or Thursday.
It's not clear who will eat the gator steaks, but the hide will go to Europe to be made into shoes, belts and bags, Carpenter said.
It was about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when Carpenter finally dragged the gator out of the condo.
He bent down and duct-taped its snout.
A Pinellas County sheriff's deputy stood nearby shooting video of the capture.
"You have the right to remain silent,'' the deputy told the gator.
During the capture, the gator was slightly injured when the plate broke and cut the beast. No other injuries were reported.
When she went back inside, Frosti found dirt and blood on the kitchen floor, blood spattered on the wall and a claw mark on the hallway wall.
"The house was a mess," she said. "It did a good amount of damage in the kitchen."
Tuesday morning, Frosti said she had no hard feelings that the gator stalked her cat and trashed her home. She even worried about the gator's fate.
But mostly, she was amused.
"I can't wait to tell my grandkids," she said, "because they probably won't believe me."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.