When Janet and Larry Porath and their visiting daughter and grandchildren returned to their Key Largo home from a late lunch at Gilbert’s Resort Thursday afternoon, they had no idea the horror that awaited.
As they relaxed in the backyard of their house in the Twin Lakes subdivision at mile marker 103, their mixed-breed dog Roxie went about her usual routine of standing on the canal-front dock and staring at the manatees and small fish swimming in the water. Manicured mangrove bushes separate the backyard from the dock, so the Poraths couldn’t see Roxie as they talked.
But they were startled from their conversation when they heard Roxie bark, followed by a loud splash. For many dog owners in the Keys, the sound of their dog swimming in the canal is no cause for alarm, but Roxie wasn’t a water dog.
“She doesn’t want to go in the boat, and she doesn’t want to go in the water,” Janet Porath said.
What they heard was Roxie being pulled into the water by a large American crocodile.
Witnesses, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, estimate the saltwater croc to be at least 10 feet long. It sprang at least four feet out of the water to snatch Roxie, who was about 65 pounds, headfirst off the seawall.
The Poraths rushed to the dock to find Roxie, but they couldn’t see her. Neighbors across the canal spotted the crocodile swimming a few feet from the Poraths’ house. Roxie was in the reptile’s mouth.
Crocodiles typically take a while to consume a meal, especially when it’s a large mammal like Roxie. They drown their prey before going about their business of consuming it, said FWC biologist Lindsey Hord.
Deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office arrived almost immediately after being called by the Poraths. The deputies called the FWC, and Officer Jason Rafter responded. Rafter knew Roxie was dead, but said in his report that he thinks it would be best for the family to retrieve her body.
“I decided to try and recover the dog from the croc so the owner wouldn’t have to listen, see or know that [her] pet was being devoured all evening right behind the house,” Rafter wrote.
A neighbor drove Rafter in his skiff in the canal, and the men tried to force the crocodile to release Roxie.
The crocodile tried to submerge beneath the water, but Roxie’s body was too buoyant. Rafter kept slapping the water with a stick to startle the animal, but it swam into the mangroves. As Rafter and the neighbor gave chase in the small boat and got closer to the croc, it finally let go of Roxie and swam away.
It took several attempts for Rafter to retrieve the dog’s body from the mangrove thicket. The Poraths are grateful to Rafter for his efforts. They had Roxie cremated Friday morning.
American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) usually don’t cause problems with people.
There are no verified reports of one attacking a person in the United States, and attacks on people in other parts of their range are relatively uncommon.
I can’t find any analysis of how often they attack dogs, but other crocodiles do like to take dogs if given the opportunity.
American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) often live on stray dogs, but I haven’t heard of American crocodiles regularly targeting dogs anywhere.
Maybe they do, and we just don’t hear about it.
Their range is so limited in the United States that we really don’t get a full picture of their behavior in other parts of their range.
It is thought that their range is forever limited to extreme southern Florida because they cannot compete with the alligators that dominate the territory just to the north.
Alligators and crocodiles are more distantly related to each other than dogs and cats are, so their behaviors and ecology are quite different. American crocodiles like salt water and esturine environments, while American alligators stay almost exclusively in fresh water.
Alligators have attacked people in the United States. It is very well-documented.
However, neither species has the attack record on people that Indo-Pacific and Nile crocodiles have.
It was a very sad thing that happened to this dog, but it is somewhat unusual.