Earlier this month, Joshua Wells took his black Lab mix, Toby, out for a routine lunchtime game of fetch at the sprawling J.R. Alford Greenway Trail park in Tallahassee, Florida. Unleashed, Toby ventured into a drainage area that feeds into Piney Z Lake and was “standing up to his elbows in the water,”  according to an incident report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Suddenly, leaving no time for Wells or Toby to react, a 9-foot alligator attacked and killed the 3 ½ -year-old dog. 

“Boom, the water just sort of exploded,” Wells, an engineer, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “He never barked. He never saw it.” The reptile grabbed Toby by the head and dragged the 40-pound dog into the water. “It took him down like it was nothing,” Wells said.

Wells said he tried to rescue the family pet, who he had gotten during the COVID-19 pandemic as a gift for his 3½-year-old son. He grabbed the alligator in the water, but quickly released it when he noticed how big it was. “He said he soon realized that was not a good idea and let the alligator go,” the FWC reported.

After an officer searched for two hours, the FWC dispatched Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program (SNAP) trappers to the scene. The trappers caught and euthanized the attacking alligator. They also found Toby’s body floating below the surface of the water, according to the Associated Press, and returned it to Wells, who later buried it. 

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An estimated 1.3 million alligators live in Florida, according to the FWC. While the commission says that serious injuries caused by alligators are rare in Florida, they note that all Florida waters can have alligators, even standing water, and that the apex predators are more active when the weather is warm and their metabolism increases. They also recommend keeping pets on leashes near water because they often resemble alligators’ natural prey. 

The J.R. Alford Greenway Trail park in Tallahassee is a popular destination for dog-walkers, families and children. “There’s cul-de-sacs, you’re not expecting a gator to come out and eat your dog,” Wells said. “No one wants to go by gator, you know?”