Deborah Decker fights in the trenches to save man’s best friend — specifically the working breed. She is partial to the big lovable dogs — German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans and Labrador Retrievers among them.
Through her K-9 Shelter & Sanctuary Corp. in St. Petersburg, she helps owners facing tough times keep their pets, knowing animals relinquished to the pound face near-certain death.
If anyone wonders whether the benevolence of a dog rescuer extends beyond the leash and collar, they should hear Deborah’s recent story.
It began the night Macks, her 12-year old Rottweiler, joined 14-year old Rocky, a small mutt, for a potty break in the backyard woods. A few minutes later, Decker heard a piercing yelp, and the dogs came barreling back.
Macks, his ear and head nearly ripped from his body, crumpled to the floor. Rocky was unhurt. Out the window, slipping behind the house, was an enormous alligator, brought in by weeks of heavy rains.
With 1.3 million gators lurking in Florida’s swamps and marshes, it’s not unusual for dogs to fall prey. In the mid-1990s, trappers infamously captured an old gator in a Panhandle swamp after picking up the signal of an electronic dog collar. Inside its belly, they found eight collars, including one from a pet that went missing 14 years earlier.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission traps and kills nuisance gators more than 4 feet long that are determined to be a threat to people or pets. In addition, many other large gators are captured and destroyed for sport.
So death was certain for the 9-foot female that was hauled thrashing and fighting from the woods behind Decker’s house. In pathetic photos, you can see the gator’s feet wrapped behind its back — and tape over its mouth and eyes — as trappers prepare to load it on a truck.
Instead, something else happened. Decker begged for the gator’s life, even as her lovable Macks hung on for life at a pet ER in Tampa.
And she won.
Turns out female alligators rarely grow so large and this one was protecting a well-hidden nest of 40 speckled eggs. Luck was on this 20-year-old gator’s side. She and her eggs were relocated to an alligator preserve in North Florida.
Despite Decker’s pain from the trauma suffered by her beloved Macks, her love and respect for animals won out. She said she felt badly for the gator, a magnificent specimen simply protecting her nest and “being a good alligator mom.” It mattered to Decker that the gator not be destroyed.
It is this generosity of spirit and commitment to our native Florida wildlife that should inspire us on a daily basis to protect the things we love and love the things we protect.
Formerly a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel, Susan Clary is a freelance writer who runs a nonprofit animal rescue in Orlando.