tampabay.com

Dog jumps into water after gator

The owner thinks he was trying to protect her.

By Thomas Lake, Times Staff Writer
Published February 13, 2008


TAMPA - Gator devours small dog. That is the story. Four words and a dot.

Nothing stunning, at first glance. Alligators exist around these parts. They live on animal protein. Small dogs make convenient targets.

You could take the basic details - a dog unleashed, a gator lurking in Al Lopez Park, and a state-licensed trapper who will kill the gator and have it turned into edible nuggets - and mold them into some combination of fear, blame, and righteous indignation.

Or you could wave all that aside and choose to see it another way: as a tale of remarkable bravery.

This is what Sarah Frey would prefer. The dog was hers. His name was Freddy.

Frey is 37. She is a manager for a company that leases space to beauty salons. She works from home in a carriage house in Hyde Park. Freddy used to sleep in her bedroom. After he died, she went home and hugged his bed, his awful-smelling bed, because she missed him so much.

"I think I was probably crying for eight hours straight," she said, surrounded by flowers her friends had sent.

Freddy was a cairn terrier, 5 years old, 19 ferocious pounds. His favorite toy was a rubber goldfish that squeaked when he chomped on it. She called him Hyde Park's head of security. Neighbors told her he barked only when she was home. She is convinced that he lived to keep her safe.

Once he chased a possum and made it play dead. Once he chased a UPS truck and nearly got run over. Every day, when Frey took him for a walk and her two cats tagged along, Freddy chased away anything that got near the cats.

On Monday morning, Frey took Freddy for a walk in Al Lopez Park. They went south toward a small pond. Freddy was not on a leash.

Suddenly he took off. Only he knows why. Near the path, a sign in red capital letters said, Warning: Alligators.

Frey did not see what happened next. She is grateful for this. She was running behind him but she was not fast enough.

Other people saw it, and they told her what they had seen.

Their accounts included this notable detail: The gator never left the water.

They said Freddy saw the 7-foot gator and he ran to the shoreline. He stared down this armor-plated carnivore and he began to bark.

Frey would like to think that Freddy believed he was protecting her.

He did not stop with barking.

Freddy jumped into the black water.

When she reached the shoreline he was gone.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3416.