HILTON HEAD ISLAND — The only thing Tamra Shattuck could see was teeth.
And lots of them.
She said everything seemed in slow motion as she decided which body part to use – and most likely sacrifice – to fight off an 8-foot alligator that charged out of the water toward her as she walked two dogs Wednesday.
Shattuck slipped and fell when she spun around to flee. She was on the ground, unable to get away and weighing her options.
As she drew her fist back for a punch, Shattuck decided a foot would work better and stuck it out to keep the gator away from her head.
That’s when she felt the excruciating pain, then numbness.
Shattuck, 50, had been watching over a friend’s house and dog in the Spring Lake area of Hilton Head Plantation and stopped by the house about 1 p.m. Wednesday with her own dog. She usually walked the two dogs on the street, but it was such a beautiful day that she decided to take her friend’s Brittany spaniel, Lily, and her own chow mix, Holly, for a stroll around the lagoon.
Shattuck was about halfway around the lagoon and 10 feet from the water’s edge when she heard a loud splash behind her. She turned and saw the gator lunging from of the water, mouth open, toward her and the dogs.
As she turned to run, Shattuck slipped and fell. That put her between the gator and the dogs -- the alligator ’s most likely target, according to Joe Maffo of Critter Management.
“I have been deployed twice and taken fire in the war,” Shattuck said, “but this was by far the scariest thing I’ve ever been through.”
She stuck out her foot to keep the female gator at a distance when it chomped down on her ankle. Shattuck said she then kicked the animal with her other foot when it released and scurried back into the water.
“I was going to fight, and I was not going to let that gator take me,” Shattuck said.
Shattuck said the gator was watching her from the water, and she was afraid it would charge out again. Her adrenaline was pumping, and she said she was able to stand, gather the dogs and hobble to a neighbor for help.
“It really seems like a dream,” Shattuck said. “I kept thinking this is not really happening, I’m not really being attacked by analligator .”
THE LUCKY ONE
Shattuck escaped with minor injuries. She has a few puncture wounds on her ankle -- about the size of a pencil eraser -- but no broken bones or stitches.
“For me to come out the way I did, I’m amazed and feel blessed and lucky,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it out alive, let alone with all of my limbs.”
She was wearing a pair of leather loafers, and thinks they might have prevented the bite and the injuries from being worse.
Shattuck went to Hilton Head Hospital, where she was in the emergency room for three hours. One of those hours was spent soaking her foot in Betadine, a solution to help prevent infection.
Shattuck, who works for Dell Inc., said doctors did not stitch up the wounds because they wanted them to drain if necessary. She is on antibiotics to ward off infection.
Hilton Head Plantation general manager Peter Kristian said dogs have been bitten near the plantation’s lagoons before, but not humans.
“We love the wildlife and the alligators, and generally speaking, they respect us and we respect them,” Kristian said. “But sometimes, unfortunately, this does result in some conflicts. Fortunately this was just a small bite and not anything worse.”
Maffo, who was called to remove the gator, said Shattuck should try her hand at the lottery.
Maffo set up three snares after the incident Wednesday to catch the gator. He said he also discovered a nest with about 40 to 60 eggs in it on the edge of the lagoon.
He said he almost corralled the animal Wednesday, but he was not able to capture it until Thursday afternoon.
He and his grandson, 12-year-old Joey Maffo, were able to wrangle the alligator after almost four hours of trying to hook it. Joe Maffo said the gator broke about five of their hooks and lines in the process.
The gator measured 8-feet, 1-inch.
South Carolina law requires the gator to be killed.
Despite what happened the day before, that made Shattuck sad.
“The alligator was just doing what alligators do, and she was protecting her nest,” she said. “It didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t walk down there.”
Maffo said he was instructed to leave the nest where it was and let nature take its course.