Before she was dragged into a lake by a 12-foot 6-inch alligator, Shizuka Matsuki and her neighbors at a gated community in Plantation received a warning from the homeowners association advising residents to watch for the reptiles lurking inside the canals that surround the Isla del Sol neighborhood.
Matsuki, who was 47, made a habit of walking her dogs — neighbors said she owned three pit bulls but sometimes only walked two at a time — every day around the same time. Dressed in gym attire, the petite and friendly woman often let her pets swim in a canal on the southwestern end of the neighborhood, letting the dogs off their leash as they frolicked in the water with tongues hanging out.
But in recent months, neighbors said, Matsuki stopped taking her dogs out as often. And although no one knows for certain why, a string of alligator spottings and an attack in the area certainly put the neighborhood on alert.
Two days before the attack, on Wednesday morning, a neighbor who lives on her street found a large alligator on her porch. Soon enough, a neighborhood bulletin was emailed out urging the community to be alert to their surroundings.
"Please use caution around the boat ramp and anywhere in the community; we live surrounded by water in Florida and need to exercise caution with our families and pets, mindful that alligators, snakes and other wildlife may be in the area," reads the memo, sent by the Isla del Sol Homeowners Association. "Thanks for being alert to your surroundings."
On Friday morning, Matsuki — likely well aware of the perilous waters surrounding her home — packed her dogs into her car and headed south for the Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, a quiet nature preserve nested inside a Davie neighborhood a little over eight miles away.
Matsuki was walking her dogs on the path around one of the two lakes inside the property just west of Florida’s Turnpike, when she was grabbed by a gator Friday morning. One of her pit bulls was also bitten in the attack. A witness who had seen Matsuki walking with her dogs checked back to see the dogs unattended. It is unclear if Matsuki’s dogs were leashed during the attack.
Matsuki's body was recovered from the lake just before 10 p.m. Friday. An alligator was removed from the lake earlier in the day with her arm in its stomach.
Nate Fischer, a neighbor of Matsuki's who fishes regularly around their neighborhood, told the Miami Herald on Saturday afternoon that Matsuki’s dogs liked to roam and swim in the canal off leash, but that recent gator spottings in the area — and the death of a neighborhood dog at the jaws of one — may have forced Matsuki to rethink her routine.
"I think she stopped walking her dogs behind our house when one of our neighbor's dogs was taken by a alligator,” Fischer wrote in a Facebook post. “She probably thought that Lake was [a] safer alternative, after so many gators have been showing up around here lately.” Fischer added that, especially in Florida, “You have to be ready for anything.”
Peter Limia, a commercial realtor who lives near Matsuki's home, said that after news broke of Matsuki's death, he and his neighbors gathered to share information they may have.
One neighbor, who did not answer a reporter's knocks at their door Friday, told the group that Matsuki's husband had warned her against visiting Silver Lakes with the dogs alone because they had seen alligators there, Limia recalled.
"He had warned her not to take the dogs over to that place because they had seen gators before and it isn’t safe,” he said.