Alligator attack victim was unaware of dangers lurking in most Florida waterways, family says

What started off as a simple dog walk became a terrifying and traumatizing event for a woman and her boyfriend, who were visiting Palm Harbor from out of the area. 

Diana Petersen says her son, Cameron, and Cameron’s girlfriend, Jessica didn’t know the dangers lurking in Florida’s waterways. 

Following Tuesday's alligator attack, Jessica is recovering in the hospital and expected to be OK, but Petersen said it’s been a rough 24 hours for the family. 

"I did, at one point, see flesh. She was very hysterical. She was going into shock," Petersen said.

Petersen's dog was likely the gator's target

The couple was visiting Petersen’s home for a BBQ and offered to take her dog for a walk.

"My dog had to go to the bathroom and they both volunteered and said, ‘Oh no, we’ll take her for a walk,’" Petersen said.

She thought they were going to take the pooch to the dog park across the way, but instead, they decided to go for a walk along the water. That’s when the gator attacked.

"My son pulled my dog away, and then Jessica apparently fell, and the gator went after her. My son had to pull the gator, pull her leg out of the gator’s jaws. And he hit it on the snout a couple of times," Petersen said.

After fighting off the gator, Cameron quickly made a tourniquet out of his shorts.

"My son was hysterical, he just wanted medical attention for her and everything," Petersen said. "We went to the hospital last night, she was in surgery, but they’ve done grafting on her leg."

Jessica remains in the trauma unit. Petersen says it serves as a reminder to always be aware of your surroundings.

"Just be very, very careful. The thing went after my dog and she’s only 13 pounds. She could have been mincemeat to this gator," Petersen said.

Crews trapped and removed the alligator Tuesday night.

Diana says she’s lived in the complex for a little over a year. Until yesterday, she had only heard about alligator sightings in the pond.

Had she known her son and his girlfriend were heading that way, she said she would have re-directed them.

FWC provided the following safety tips when it comes to alligators:

Generally, alligators less than 4 feet in length are not large enough to be dangerous unless handled. However, if you encounter any alligator that you believe poses a threat to people, pets or property, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWCGATOR (866-392-4286). Please be aware, nuisance alligators are killed, not relocated. 

Be aware of the possibility of alligators when you are in or near fresh or brackish water. Bites may occur when people do not pay close enough attention to their surroundings when working or recreating near water. 

Do not swim outside of posted swimming areas or in waters that might be inhabited by large alligators. 

Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn. Therefore, avoid swimming at night. 

Dogs and cats are similar in size to the natural prey of alligators. Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in or near waters that may contain alligators.

Dogs often attract an alligator’s interest, so do not swim with your dog. 

Leave alligators alone. State law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators. Handling even small alligators can result in injury.

Learn more about alligators by visiting FWC's website.