Gator snags dog on Hillsborough River as family watches in horror

A Tampa family is mourning the loss of their beloved dog, "Haze," after she was attacked by an alligator Sunday night.

The family went for a walk in Rowlett Park in east Tampa around 7 p.m. Sunday. Haze, a 75-pound black Labrador mix, ran into the Hillsborough River near a dam, chasing after a bird.

The dog's leash got stuck between rocks.

"We kind of all were just idling, watching her, thinking, 'Oh, she's going to get unstuck," said NaTausha Sabin-Lee, the sister of Haze's owner. The dog began to whimper.

Sabin-Lee went hopping, rock-to-rock to get to the dog and free her. She said she felt something swipe her hand and quickly realized it was the tail of a an alligator, approximately six-feet in length.

"By the time I got on the bank with Haze, the gator is eyeing both of us," said Sabin-Lee. "There's no rock I can pick up, I don't have a weapon of any form, there's no stick. I tried to tail the side of the bank, and he'd just parallel right with me."

She was able to unhook Haze from her leash in order for the dog to escape. Haze took off running, but Sabin-Lee said she turned around and came back for her when the dog realized she was cornered by the alligator. As Haze approached the gator, it wrapped itself around her and dragged her into the water.

"I saw Haze wrapped around that gator's body, saw his whole massive body, and then they just both submerged," said Sabin-Lee.

Haze, nor the gator, came back up from the water. Sabin-Lee's sister, Eve, and onlookers yelled at her to stay on the rock until help arrived. Tampa police officers were able to assist Sabin-Lee out of the water. Trappers were unable to locate the gator.

"That could have been NaTausha instead of Haze," said Eve Morehead, who has owned Haze since she was a puppy. "We would have been explaining to family that we lost a human, even though she was like a human to our family."

Local park goers now fear a repeat attack against another pet or small children, with few signs around the river warning people to stay out.

"This is where we have all the festivities. All year long people rent out these pavilions, and these children always flock to the water," said Johnnie Compton, who said he assisted police in the rescue efforts and recorded video on his cellphone. "Kids come here to go fishing, people go in there with their dogs. They don't know there's 10 and 12 foot gators in there."

Greg Bayor, Director of Tampa Parks and Recreation, released a statement on Monday that reads:

"Currently, the City of Tampa has (2) 'beware of alligator' warning signs properly posted along the river which is clearly visible to the public. Additionally, the front entrance signage indicates "pets must be put on a leash and cleaned up after". Even though warnings signs are installed, there are potential risks along the Hillsborough River from its native wildlife. Our condolences goes out to the family for the loss of their pet, Haze."

According to officials with Tampa Parks and Rec, there are currently no plans to build a barrier around the water keeping visitors out.

Morehead said Haze recently gave birth to seven puppies. She kept one of the puppies (pictured with Haze), but it was stolen from her home in Sulphur Springs on July 3. She said she's desperately hoping to find the dog to have something to remember Haze.