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With a brick and a rock, Lakeland commissioner saves neighbor's dog from gator

Bill Read, 69, poses with Dixie, a Labrador, after she survived an alligator attack. On Tuesday, the Lakeland city commissioner used a brick and a rock to defend Dixie as she swam away from an alligator in Lake Parker.
Bill Read, 69, poses with Dixie, a Labrador, after she survived an alligator attack. On Tuesday, the Lakeland city commissioner used a brick and a rock to defend Dixie as she swam away from an alligator in Lake Parker.
Published Sep. 18, 2017

Bill Read has seen a lot of gators in his life.

He spots them every day at work, when he takes people fishing. There's one that suns on his boat deck. He has the head of one he harpooned mounted on his wall.

But on Tuesday, he fought one off with a brick and a rock.

The 69-year-old fishing guide and Lakeland city commissioner lives on Edgewater Beach Drive, where his backyard faces Lake Parker. He came home Tuesday to clean up after Hurricane Irma. He was setting up his swing when his neighbor's dog came around.

The chocolate labrador, who Read later learned was named Dixie, managed to get through open gates from another neighbor's yard. It was about 4 p.m., and his neighbors were all out, chain saws and generators running as they cleaned up debris.

Read's Boston terrier, Zina, made her way toward Dixie as she headed toward the water. His wife picked up Zina before she made it into the lake. Dixie paddled about seven feet from the shore. That's when Read saw a ripple. And then a gator.

"Alligator!" he yelled. "Alligator!"

Without thinking, Read grabbed a brick and a baseball-sized rock and rushed to the lake's shore.

Zina ran back into the house. His wife ran to get Dixie's owners. Read stayed. He tried shouting at the dog, but it didn't respond. He watched as the gator got closer and closer. Dixie didn't see it.

Dixie didn't make a sound as the gator wrapped its jaws across her midsection, took her under and began a death roll, the water splashing and swirling where she once swam.

A few seconds later, in the unsettled waters, Dixie emerged. The gator surfaced a few feet away, looking disoriented, Read said. As Dixie began paddling toward the shore, the gator started after her again. Reeling his arm back, Read chucked the rock at the gator, hitting it on its side. It snapped at the rock and slowed, buying Dixie a few precious seconds.

But the dog was too far into the lake, and Read couldn't reach her. The lake, overflowing from the recent rainfall, had submerged part of the fence separating his neighbor's yard and his. He stepped into the lake, and Dixie began swimming toward him. And so did the gator.

The gator kept gaining on Dixie, so Read, adrenaline pumping, took a step further, the water up to his thighs. His eyes were on the gator, which was about five feet away and was close enough to Dixie that it could have pulled her by her tail, he said. So he chucked the brick in a last attempt to stop it.

"I hit him with a brick on top of his head," Read recalled. He watched as the gator snapped, turning his head and banging it on a pole from the submerged fence in the water. He took a step back. That was when Read realized just how big this one was, about 10 feet long.

The gator, sensing his presence and probably disoriented from the blows, turned around and left as Dixie made it to the shore.

"He was getting away from me, he didn't want any of this," he said of the gator's departure. Dixie, bleeding, bolted home. Read climbed onto his porch and breathed.

He reacted on instinct, he would say later. But it was traumatic, watching the dog get dragged down by the gator. When he thinks about it, the whole scene plays in slow motion.

"I had to compose myself, it was kind of emotional," he said. He doesn't know what he was thinking, or why he chose to step up and save a dog he didn't know. Even though he's more of a cat person, he couldn't help it.

His constant exposure to gators could have allowed him to react the way he did, almost without fear of the gator. But he knew that he was Dixie's only hope in the incident he estimates lasted about 90 seconds.

"It was either me or nobody," said Read, a Tampa native.

He would later find out that Dixie suffered two puncture wounds on her side, and scrapes, and she would have to wear a plastic cone for a while. But that she would be okay.

"This alligator was substantially larger than any I've seen in a while," said Read, who stands at 5 feet, 8 inches, and weighs about 200 pounds.

Online, he shared the story with friends, who hailed him as a hero. He posed with a photo with Dixie, and gave her a nickname: The Luckiest Dog in Lakeland.

Contact Melissa Gomez at mgomez@tampabay.com. Follow @melissagomez004.