West Ashley alligator attack spikes safety concerns

WEST ASHLEY, SC (WCSC) -- What started out as an early morning dog walk turned in to a battle of life or death for William Belch of West Ashley.

Belch said he was walking his grandchildren's German Sheppard, Dutchess, near a community pond in the Hamilton Grove subdivision around 7 a.m. Sunday.  Suddenly, according to Belch, a sharp movement in the water caught the attention of Dutchess who broke free from his grasp and headed directly toward the water.

"It was so quick!" recalled Belch.  "Like a snake striking out!"

Within seconds, what Belch described as an eight foot alligator had Dutchess in its jaws, dragging the 80-pound dog into the water.

"I knew it was my grandchildren's dog and that I would have no way of explaining to them that [the dog] had been killed by a gator, so I just reacted on instinct."

Which meant Belch was going to get in the water. He spent the next 30 seconds in a three-way tug of war; one hand pulling Dutchess, the other thrashing the alligator on the nose.

After a trip to a local veterinarian Dutchess will make a full recovery. The dog has some scarring on her legs and skull.  While animal safety is a top concern, admits Belch, it's not his only worry.

"The neighborhood is lined with houses, all filled with small children," Belch said.  "Something is going to happen. Something tragic. I just know it."

Belch's daughter, Joanna Robbs, said she has called her homeowners association as well as the Department of Natural Resources about alligator problems in the past.

"Usually they tell us [the alligators] are more afraid of humans and pets than anything else," Robbs said. "Clearly, this isn't the case."

Robbs and Belch both say that, in their observation, the alligators that do inhabit the pond make their way from a heavily wooded swamp area that surrounds much of Hamilton Grove.  Robbs also said that the Department of Natural Resources has told her that due to the close proximity of the alligators natural habitat to the neighborhood, it is hard to do anything drastic about the situation.

"They expect us to live side by side, but that just isn't safe," Robbs said.  "An alligator can grab an 80-pound dog, it can grab a 50-pound child."

Both Belch and Robbs agree killing the alligators is not the best method of control, however.

"Fences, barricades, something," Belch said. "Something has to be done before it is too late."

Follow up calls to the Department of Natural Resources and the local homeowners association will be made when offices resume business on Monday Robbs said.

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