O'Malley: Kids and an alligator. What could go wrong?

Julia O'Malley
An alligator has a chance to swim in Mirror Lake Tuesday evening, June 18, 2013 along with lots of kids enjoying hot weather.
Gina Agron
An alligator was brought to Mirror Lake to swim Tuesday evening, June 18, 2013.
Gina Agron

In case you don't have enough proof this week's heat made Alaskans do uncharacteristic and inadvisable things (men of Spenard's bus stops, I'm talking to you: put your shirts back on), here's a story of some hot-day crazy that played out on the shores of Mirror Lake.

Gina Agron went to the lake Tuesday night with her kids, like a lot of people. The scene was beachy, she said. There were barbecues and a young man strumming a guitar. The water was full of children splashing happily.

Then a guy showed up with an alligator.

It was not a huge alligator, maybe between two and three feet long, but it had a good-sized mouth on it, Agron said. Certainly large enough to take a chunk out of a toddler.

Before I go much farther, I will say that I was unable to find the owner of this alligator and so I'm unable to answer the question of whether the reptile was actually an alligator or a caiman, which looks like an alligator. Either way, alligators/caimans are not cuddly. The Internet is full of paragraphs like this:

"It might be difficult for a caiman to kill a full-grown human, but they can still inflict terrible wounds. Even the smallest caiman has a fearsome bite and these animals don't usually bond closely with humans. They are not hands-on pets and you need some expertise even for the minimal necessary handling and feeding. For obvious reasons, no householder with small children should consider adopting a caiman."

Agron had not yet Googled , but instinctively the mother of two felt that the alligator was not a great idea. Already 10 or 15 kids were crowded around it. The owner was inviting them to pet it.

"The children come running to me, 'Mom, mom, there's a 'gator in the lake," she said. "I said, 'No don't touch him,' and they looked at me like, 'Mom, you're such a dork.' "

Against her better judgement, she told her kids they could hold it. And she went over to have a look herself. By then the alligator was on the ground, surrounded by children, in the shallow water near the shore. A toddler in a swim diaper was petting its scaly muzzle. She watched it watching her son's toes. She told him not to get too close. The owner overheard this warning and took offense.

"The owner says, 'She doesn't bite, I've trained her not to bite, she sleeps with me,' " Agron said. "'If I get too far from her, she just snuggles closer, it's a real pain in the neck sometimes.' He was very emphatic."

The alligator, the man said, was named Gucci. Agron noticed someone had painted its toenails pink.

"I'm just staring at him with that quizzical look: seriously?" she said.

Afterward, she called the Department of Fish and Game. There wasn't much they could do.

"They sent me to the Alaska admin. code, which allows for people to own reptiles as pets as long as they don't release them to the wild," she said.

Then she called the state Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation. They sent her to the city parks department, which as of Wednesday afternoon hadn't returned her call. She suspects there are no rules against letting an alligator swim with children in a city lake. Which isn't all that surprising. It probably hasn't come up much.

The scariest moment Tuesday evening came when Agron watched the toddler try to step on the alligator's back. She thought the baby was going to lose a foot, but in the alligator's defense, she said, "Truly, this Gucci did not react at all."







  Julia O'Malley writes a regular column. Reach her by phone at 257-4591, email her at jomalley@adn.com, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @adn_jomalley.



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