CLEARWATER — For 77-year-old Mary Wischhusen, an 11-foot alligator crashing through her kitchen window has turned out to be "a fun thing, really."
Sure, the alligator broke her good red wine bottles and countertop glass. It also left fist-deep holes in the wall from swinging its thick tail around, and took a bite out of two chairs.
But the police and fire rescue workers who responded to her house early May 31st were cute, Wischhusen said. And nobody got hurt.
Not Lovie the 2-year-old parakeet, who was in a back room. Not Wischhusen herself, who was taken out of the back entrance to watch the emergency responders wrangle with the gator.
Soon, Wischhusen would realize, she had become something of a celebrity.
Since word of the alligator caper spread a month ago, Wischhusen said she's been stopped and asked if she's the 'gator lady.' Strangers have left red wine on her doorstep to replace the bottles she lost.
One morning, she woke up to a sign hung over her door knocker:
"Enter at your own risk," it read, with green, webbed gator claws on either side.
"I'm amazed," Wischhusen said. "It should have died about three weeks ago."
Wischhusen said she's used to seeing alligators, coyotes and other animals by her house, which is located near two golf courses and off a retention pond southwest of the McMullen Booth and Curlew road intersection.
Experts think the alligator was seeking a mate and got confused by its reflection in the glass. Or it may have been running away from a newspaper delivery woman who also saw the alligator.
During alligator hunts, few permits are filed in Pinellas County because of how urban it is.
From 2008 to 2018, 418 alligators were captured in Pinellas County by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission trappers after being reported as a nuisance, said Tammy Sapp, a spokeswoman. Statewide last year, a total of 8,139 alligators were captured.
Alligators generally do not bother people. Wildlife Commission records dating back to 1948 show the number of alligator bites to people statewide, fatal and nonfatal, has never exceed 15 in a given year. The alligator removed from Wischhusen's house was taken alive and transferred to a facility, according to Melody Kilborn, another Wildlife Commission spokeswoman.
Wischhusen expects the buzz around the encounter will die down soon. Aside from the new hurricane-strength doors she's planning to have installed, the house will be the same.
"We'll get back to normal," she said.
Except for the dent in the bottom of her refrigerator, knocked in by the alligator's swinging tail.
That's her souvenir.
Contact Romy Ellenbogen at or email@example.com. Follow @romyellenbogen.