Reston Woman Wrangles an Errant Alligator Into Captivity

The alligator captured in Reston was described by an animal expert as small,
The alligator captured in Reston was described by an animal expert as small, "but he would definitely create a significant wound." No one has determined how the reptile ended up in the Great Falls Crossing neighborhood. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Orndorff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2007

Erin Kemp has had lots of practice rounding up her kids' guinea pigs, so capturing a stray alligator that wandered into her Reston neighborhood Monday night seemed like no big deal.

"You see it on Animal Planet," said Kemp, who watched the late Steve Irwin, the "Crocodile Hunter," do it lots of times on his popular TV show.

"I wasn't really scared," she said. "It was kind of exciting."

Kemp, 45, a stay-at-home mom, spotted the 2 1/2 -foot-long gator when she was taking out the garbage about 6 p.m. It noticed her, too.

"It was definitely coming after me; it was not friendly," Kemp said.

She told her neighbor, Erin Miller, 9, who was out walking her dog and also saw the gator, to run for it. Before grabbing the pen she uses to corral the guinea pigs, Kemp made sure her own kids and the family pets were all safely inside.

Then she called Fairfax County Animal Control for backup.

As neighbors started gathering -- and her 16-year-old daughter slipped back outside to watch -- Kemp tried to single-handedly capture the gator, but it bolted. In the panic that ensued, Kemp picked up the pen again and threw it over the gator while her daughter tried to toss a towel over its head to subdue it.

Finally, three animal control officers arrived and removed it from the pen. It was taken to the county's animal shelter until employees found it a home at the Luray Zoo. No one knows how the alligator wound up in the 1300 block of Dasher Lane.

Though not unheard of, it's unusual to find an alligator wandering around the suburbs, staffers at the shelter said. Having an alligator as a pet is illegal in Fairfax County, and shelter employees suspect it was an abandoned pet.

The neighborhood, Great Falls Crossing, is close to the Reston Zoo. But Kaci Rice, the zoo director, said yesterday that the zoo's alligators were all accounted for.

Patricia Rockefeller, the animal caretaker supervisor at the shelter, said that once people realize how dangerous alligators are and how much care they require, they often dispose of them in the closest fresh water they can find. Instead, she said, people should turn them over to the shelter, which can find a home for the critters.

Rockefeller urged anyone who sees a stray alligator to get inside and call authorities.

"He is small, but he would definitely create a significant wound," she said of Reston's reptile.

Things have returned to normal on the block since the alligator appeared. Erin Miller said she still walks her dog and plays outside, and Kemp has earned a nickname: Bindi Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter's 8-year-old daughter and star of her own TV show, "Bindi: The Jungle Girl").

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