'I came down on the alligator with all my weight': Florida woman, 74, fights off gator to save dog

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BOCA RATON, Fla. — As Suzan Marciano was walking her dog Nalu near a lake at Burt Aaronson Park west of Boca Raton, she paused to take off its leash.

It was about 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 24 when the golden retriever mix ran out until it was chest deep in the water. Marciano used a stick to play fetch with Nalu and then went up to the edge of the lake to get her feet wet.

From where the 74-year-old woman stood, the lake was clear and shallow. All it took was one look to the right to spot a dark shadow.

As Marciano crept closer to the water, she was struck with horror. The dark shadow was an alligator that measured 6 feet or longer.

"My heart dropped," she said.

Then the alligator gripped Nalu in its massive jaws.

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Suzan Marciano, 74, and her dog, Nalu, escaped an alligator attack at Burt Aaronson Park in Boca Raton.
Suzan Marciano, 74, and her dog, Nalu, escaped an alligator attack at Burt Aaronson Park in Boca Raton.

"I wasn't thinking," Marciano said. "I did the only thing I could do. I came down on the alligator with all my weight."

When the alligator released Nalu, Marciano figured she had spooked it. Then the alligator turned and sunk its teeth into her hand.

"Providence must have been with me," she said. "It was all one big blur. I was in such shock. I didn't feel any pain."

Marciano and Nalu ran out of the water and onto a trail around the lake. On the way back to her car, Marciano cried as blood poured from a puncture wound in the middle of her palm.

A friend convinced her to go to the hospital.

“I almost didn't go,” Marciano said. “All I could think was, ‘I want to get home.’ I was in such a terrible state that I wasn't thinking straight. When I called her, she told me, ‘You have to do something. You need a tetanus shot and you need the injury looked at. That snapped me back to reality.”

She was taken to a local urgent care center, where she received five stitches after her hand was soaked in a tub of iodine.

Nalu, a golden retriever mix, survived an alligator attack at Burt Aaronson Park in Boca Raton.
Nalu, a golden retriever mix, survived an alligator attack at Burt Aaronson Park in Boca Raton.

When Marciano returned home, she took Nalu to an animal emergency clinic.

Nalu, who had puncture wounds in her stomach and thigh, went into surgery for two hours. The dog received stitches after its wounds were drained.

“I had this feeling that she was going to survive,” Marciano said. "If she survived that, she can survive the surgery.”

After the attack, Nalu was quieter and more tired than usual. The dog went on short walks around its neighborhood but often stopped.

While Marciano admits the park was a far more interesting place to walk the dog, it took a few weeks for them to return.

“I didn't even want to see the park,” Marciano said. “I hardly went anywhere for two weeks afterward. I was in such a traumatic state. Every couple of hours, I was breaking into tears for no apparent reason. I was still seeing the shadow with two eyes looking up from out of the water. That image kept coming back to me.”

An incident report shows that a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officer and a park ranger checked the area and could not determine where the attack happened. The report states that neither of them observed any alligators in the lake.

An FWC spokesman said the agency's Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program has reached out to Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department to inform them that the FWC received a report of a possible bite incident at the park.

The spokesman added that the goal of the program is to proactively address alligator threats in developed areas, while conserving alligators in areas where they naturally occur. The program uses contracted nuisance alligator trappers throughout the state to remove alligators believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property.

Follow Victoria Villanueva-Marquez on Twitter: @victoriavmarq

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida alligator attack: 74-year-old woman fends off gator, saves dog

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