Dawn Terminel figured her teenage son was playing a joke on her.
“He texted me a picture of him holding an alligator,” Terminel said. “And I thought it was photoshopped.”
But it wasn’t. The small alligator was real, alive and lacking any tape around its jaw.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. For starters, Terminel, who used to live in Sebring, had moved about as far away from Florida’s alligators as you can get in America.
The live alligator in question was in Mirror Lake, Alaska.
“When we lived in Florida, I wouldn’t let my kids swim in lakes because of alligators,” she said. “So I never thought my kid would be swimming in the lake with an alligator in Alaska.”
The pet alligator brought to frolic among the Alaskan children was the subject of a Julia O’Malley column in the Anchorage Daily News. The unidentified alligator’s owner simply showed up with his pet “Gucci,” who was taking advantage of Alaska’s unseasonably warm 80-degree temperatures, to go for a public swim with the kids.
It didn’t seem to freak out anyone but the Alaskans who used to live in Florida.
Gina Agron was at the lake with her two boys, ages 9 and 13. Agron spent part of her childhood living in Pembroke Pines.
“The kids came over to me and said, ‘Mom, there’s an alligator in the lake,’ and I said, ‘This is Alaska. There’s no alligator in the lake.’ ”
But when she saw there was, she didn’t buy the notion from its owner that it was tame and safe to play with.
“I think it was just comatose from the cold water, which was about 60 degrees,” she said. “Everybody was pretty excited, because we don’t even see alligators at the zoo, but I don’t think you can train an alligator.”
Agron took photos of the alligator and the children who squatted around it as it stood on the shore of the lake. And she phoned the state’s Fish and Game department and the municipal parks department, asking about the propriety of bringing an alligator to a public swimming area.
All she got in response was a referral to a state code that allows residents to own reptiles as pets as long as they don’t release them into the wild.
“Alaskans are live and let live,” Agron said. “But I was just managing risk. There were kids there with the alligator and their parents weren’t with them.”
Agron said she eventually relented, allowing her youngest son to hold the alligator, but it bothered her.
“I couldn’t be the mom who didn’t say, ‘Yes,’ ” she said.
When O’Malley wrote about the alligator at the lake, the typical reaction from Alaskan readers was to criticize Agron for calling up government agencies to question the safety of playing with an alligator.
“How bout you mind you own business,” one commenter wrote. “If you don’t want your kids touching it, don’t let them. For some, it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to touch a gator. Please move back to Seattle.”
Another put it this way:
“If you were afraid of dogs, would you call Animal Control every time you saw a dog? I feel that you felt compelled to thrust YOUR belief structure on everyone at that lake by calling. Simply because you were afraid of what YOU saw.”
I guess living in Florida gives you a “belief structure” about alligators that may be lost on Alaskans.