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Three-legged gator parks itself in garage

(ran in SS edition of METRO & STATE)

It could have gotten ugly for Daisy.

Merry Beth Shadrick usually locks her 11-year-old Doberman pinscher in her three-car garage when she runs errands. If it weren't for two workers from a roof-cleaning company, she would have done just that Friday morning.

And she would have locked Daisy in the garage with a 6-foot-5, three-legged alligator.

"I would have shut the garage door and Daisy would have been trapped," Mrs. Shadrick said. "My dog would have been killed by him."

Mrs. Shadrick was preparing to meet her daughter to go shopping in Tampa. But before she left, two workers from Professional Roof Cleaners knocked on her door and told her that an alligator had just strolled into her garage, which serves as Daisy's makeshift room.

"We had just gotten off a roof, and we just saw him sneak into the garage," said Michael LaRocca, 33, of Professional Roof Cleaners. He and his crew had seen a dog in the garage earlier in the day and were worried the alligator was going inside to attack it.

"I've never seen that before, the way that thing snuck into the garage like a snake in the grass," he said. "I had a guy go knock on the door. He asked, "Is there a dog in there, because an alligator is going after it.' The lady panicked."

The alligator was under a car in the garage thrashing around. That made LaRocca think it was attacking the dog, so he jumped on top of the car and tried to distract it, he said.

"We tried to hit it, tried to throw stuff in there," he said. "I tried to make a noose from an extension cord."

The names of the workers were not known Friday.

Mrs. Shadrick called 911 at 11:31 a.m. Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrived at her house in the Tarpon Woods subdivision to try to catch the gator, which had settled under Mrs. Shadrick's green 1996 Acura.

But the alligator was too big.

"We'll take the little ones, but the big ones, you need special training for that," said Murray Smith, a sheriff's deputy who patrols Brooker Creek Preserve, a county-owned nature preserve in East Lake.

So, in came veteran wildlife trappers Joe and Inez Borelli. The couple are licensed alligator trappers who have a contract with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

The Borellis surrounded the hissing alligator, which was still under the car. Then they asked Mrs. Shadrick's husband, Bill, to move the car.

"I can't believe they made my husband back the car up when the alligator was under it," said Mrs. Shadrick, 43.

But her husband wasn't that scared.

"Trust me, I'm not foolhardy," said Bill Shadrick, 44. "Besides, (Joe Borelli) was between me and the gator."

Once the reptile was in the clear, the Borellis slipped a wire loop around the alligator and dragged it out of the garage. They wrapped electrician's tape around the alligator's jaws and eyes.

"We just get the loop around them to get control," said Joe Borelli, who has been a trapper for about 20 years. "Then everything is routine."

With the alligator muzzled, the Borellis tied the alligator's back legs. The gator was missing its front left leg.

The alligator probably lost its leg when it was young during a fight with another alligator, Borelli said. It's fairly common to see alligators missing a limb or two.

Borelli said it also is common to find alligators invading property.

"It may be more secure in there than out here," Borelli said. "They like to go under things."

And this alligator apparently was fond of the neighborhood.

This was the second time a three-legged alligator ventured down Shadrick's street. The first alligator sighting was about two years ago at the house across the street from the Shadricks' home.

"He's been in the neighborhood before," Shadrick said. "This is only the second time, but as far as I'm concerned, two times is two too many."

A much larger alligator, with four legs, appeared in September at a condominium parking lot at East Lake Woodlands, which is just south of the Shadricks' neighborhood. The 8-foot-7-inch, 300-pound alligator settled under a van.

The alligator caught at the Shadrick's home will be destroyed since the state has mandated that gators more than 4 feet long that threaten people must be killed.

When the Shadricks moved into their home 11 years ago, their children were fearful that an alligator from one of the three ponds around their house would invade their home.

"We all had nightmares about alligators crossing the street," said Aliceanne Nobles, 23, Shadrick's daughter. "We were just scared because we knew they were in the pond."

While the Borellis were capturing the alligator, Daisy sat with Nobles on the front lawn away from the action. After the alligator was hauled away, the dog returned to her favorite spot in the garage.

"Daisy loves her garage," Nobles said. "She just said, "I'm too old for this.' "

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