April 25, 2011 — -- It wasn't a thief or a home invader -- well, at least, not the kind one would be used to hearing about -- but what Alexis Dunbar found inside her home was alarming and shocking.
According The Associated Press, Dunbar, a resident of Palmetto, Florida, walked through her door Saturday and heard something hissing inside her guest bathroom. She looked -- and found a 7-foot alligator with its jaws wide open.
Dunbar screamed for her boyfriend, who propped up a small table against an opening in the hallway to keep the gator in the guest bathroom until officials arrived to remove the animal.
Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, told ABC News that this doesn't happen often but alligators have been known to go through doggie doors or screened entrances at homes near lakes or ponds.
"This is what they do in their effort to find food, a swimming pool, any nice cool place to relax," said Morse.
Morse said an alligator is not smart, does not have the ability for abstract thought, and, in fact, has a brain the size of a golf ball. However it's just a matter of survival skills. He said the gator may have been watching the home, especially since Dunbar's two cats usually came in and out of a doggie door off the back porch which overlooks a lake -- convenient enough for the gator to make his unwelcome entrance in search of food.
"It's always a dangerous situation when you get an alligator inside a confined space because they're bound to panic," said Morse. "They don't normally look at people as food but they can do some serious damage to you and your home in an effort to escape."
An alligator trapper was immediately sent to the Dunbar home after a call was placed to a nuisance-alligator toll-free number, 866-FWC-GATOR. Once the trapper arrived he caught the animal and removed it with ropes and duct tape.
"I'm not sure how long it took but everyone was safe," said Morse. "There's a lot of art and skill to remove an alligator, and trappers are highly trained people."
Tampa Bay Online reports that Dunbar has since shut the doggie door and now her cats, which were unharmed, will have to get used to a more conservative lifestyle.
Despite the happy ending to this story, there are far more dangerous tales, some even fatal, of encounters with alligators.
Just a few weeks ago another Florida resident, Kendrick Williams, was walking home from work and decided to cut across an apartment complex with a large pond. As he walked he heard that killer hiss and looked down to find an alligator, about 6 -7 feet long, on the ground. Williams ended up running for his life but the gator still managed to take a large bite out of his baggy pants, right above the knee.
Alligators do more of everything this time of year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation. As the temperature changes and the animals' metabolism gets accustomed to the new spring surroundings they travel more, eat more, and even mate more often.
Gary Morse says his agency has a website with basic advice for people to follow such as keeping small children and pets away from lakes between dusk and dawn and never attempting to feed an alligator.
"We have over a million adult alligators in this state, so people should be informed," said Morse.