WOONSOCKET – Trevor Bowman loves animals, but he never thought he’d turn into a pushover for a predator.
When a city animal control officer told him that the abandoned alligator he had seen in the Blackstone River would probably die in the chilly water, Bowman was determined to save the scaly swimmer.
Using a snare made from an old broomstick and length of cord from a computer jack, Bowman captured the juvenile alligator behind his apartment in the Allen Street Lofts Wednesday. Bowman yanked the critter from the river about 9 p.m., after staking out the riverbank for hours with his girlfriend, Katelyn Howle, waiting for alligator to crawl up on dry land.
“I felt like I had to do it after the guy was saying the alligator was going to die,” said Bowman. “It’s so cold he probably hasn’t even been able to eat.”
Since Sunday, residents of the Allen Street Lofts had been catching glimpses of the alligator along the banks of the Blackstone, which runs behind the onetime factory complex. Usually, the animal was seen in the same spot, wriggling out the water and sunning itself on a small outcropping of rocks sandwiched between the river and a retaining wall.
After the alligator spent the night in a picnic cooler with a hunk of cooked chicken, Bowman turned over his leathery friend to personnel from the House of Reptiles in Providence, an exchange arranged by the state wildlife officials at the Department of Environmental Management.
A worker from the reptile sanctuary who took custody of the alligator did not want to be identified, but he said the animal would probably be donated to a college or private collector. With increasingly tough regulations in effect for keeping alligators, finding safe, responsible caretakers for the exotic pets isn’t as easy as it used to be, he said
He also said Bowman and Howle deserve praise for plucking the alligator from the river in the nick of time as temperatures headed for the freezing mark last night – just too cold for a baby alligator to survive in these parts.
“I think they literally saved it,” he said. “If they hadn’t gotten it out of the river before yesterday I think it would have died.”
Animal Control Officer Doris Kay said she learned about the alligator for the first time Wednesday from an anonymous caller to the animal shelter. Kay said she once rescued a bigger alligator in Woonsocket before – but not from the river. Firefighters called her to remove it from an apartment where they were putting out a fire.
So far as Kay knows, the river gator, blue-black with yellow markings and about 30 inches long, is the first that’s ever turned up in the Blackstone.
“I’m sure it was a pet that someone abandoned or it got loose and the owner was afraid to tell us,” she said.
A similarly errant alligator was rescued from Providence’s Woonasquatucket River earlier this year.
After learning about the alligator, she and Assistant ACO Glen Thuot went down to the river to try to catch it.
Thuot climbed onto the river bank with a noose-like snare and saw the alligator climb up on the rocks, but the webfoot wiggler was a little too slippery for him.
“As soon as Glen got close to him the alligator got spooked and he jumped back in the river,” said Kay.
Bowman had been watching as Thuot tried to capture the animal and struck up a conversation. That’s when Thuot told him of the alligator’s likely fate if it wasn’t pulled from the river soon.
When Bowman asked if it was okay for him to try catching the alligator, Thuot told him, “Go for it.” Bowman and Howle took turns staking out the riverbank for hours after the animal control personnel left the area. They watched as the alligator regularly vanished beneath the swift-moving river for 15 minutes or so at a time before resurfacing, almost always in the very same spot.
Bowman tossed a few bits of bacon on the rocks to lure the animal out of the water.
With the lizard’s landing zone illuminated by flashlight, Bowman finally succeeded in slipping the makeshift noose over the alligator’s snout.
At first, the animal seemed sluggish from the cold and didn’t put up much of a fight, but it quickly came around.
“He was flailing around pretty crazy but I was able to get him the cooler and shut it pretty quickly,” said Bowman. “I gave him a piece of chicken. I heard they like chicken.”
Ironically, Bowman grew up in St. Augustine, Fla., close to an alligator farm, but the 26-year-old videographer was never as close to an alligator – or felt closer to one – than his threatened river neighbor in Woonsocket.
“I love animals but I never thought I’d have a soft spot for something that can kill you,” he says.