Gator standoff

North Charleston resident Sandra Bourgeois and her dog Peppy, a Chihuahua and Jack Russell terrior mix, faced down an alligator that lurked Wednesday night in a ditch behind the backyard fence at her home off North Oakridge Circle.

Peppy ran around Sandra Bourgeois' North Charleston home Friday and bit his favorite plastic toy shaped like an alligator.

It squeaked.

Two nights earlier, the 5-year-old Chihuahua-Jack Russell terrier mix encountered a gator that was more than he could chew.

And this one hissed.

Bourgeois returned from work about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and let her dog into the yard behind her mobile home on North Oakridge Circle.

Peppy barked. And barked.

A hissing emanated from behind the fence 2 feet in front of him. It was dark, so Bourgeois fetched a flashlight and lit up the ditch.

Staring up at her, its eyes glowing and scales gleaming, was an 8-foot alligator. Each time Peppy barked, it hissed. Then it started scaling the chain-link fence.

Bourgeois jumped onto an outside table. She feared that the estimated 350-pound male would bust through the fence or climb over it, and the high ground gave her an advantage.

For 15 minutes Bourgeois locked herself in a standoff with the beast as she phoned authorities. They all told her the same thing: She must learn to co-exist with critters in their natural habitat. That didn't calm her worries about the little dogs, cats and children who live in the area where she said gators don't belong.

“We're left wondering if he's coming back,” she said. “We can't go into our backyards without that fear.”

Wildlife officials said Bourgeois' predicament isn't unusual, especially during mating season. But unless a gator is a danger, experts won't take the ultimate measure, and the state won't give them permission to do so.

Lt. Robert McCullough of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said an alligator would be killed only if it posed a threat. It can't simply be relocated, he said, because if it's a nuisance somewhere, it'll be a nuisance somewhere else.

Oftentimes, it's up to the landowner.

Bourgeois' landlord, the Ashley Arbor II Mobile Home Park, got permission from DNR and hired Kevin Murphy of Critter Control in Mount Pleasant to remove the gator.

State law doesn't allow Murphy to bait alligators. He must instead track it down, and he's had no luck.

In a competition for a mate, the gator probably got chased off by a bigger male, Murphy said, and the ditch behind Bourgeois' home was just an escape route.

“It could have just been passing through,” Murphy said. “They get territorial this time of year.”

Bourgeois' faceoff ended Wednesday night when she told police that she feared for her life. The gator had climbed about a foot from the top of the fence, she said, and a neighbor was forced to beat it back with a stick. About 10 police cars showed up.

Two animal-control officers from the North Charleston Police Department followed up on her complaint Friday. They searched nearby ponds. The gator likely wriggled through the connected ditches.

For the decades she has lived here, the only reptiles that gave Bourgeois a problem were snakes. She usually jumps into her shrimping boots and beheads them with a shovel.

Since her run-in Wednesday, Bourgeois has installed floodlights outside her place. She gets home at night and evaluates the shadowy areas of her yard with a flashlight before walking inside.

She also has acquired a pistol and a rifle. She's not afraid to act despite a police officer's warning that she could face criminal charges if she takes matters into her own hands.

She is originally from New Orleans, Bourgeois said, and the bayou blood in her veins has given her courage.

“This is my home, and I'm going to defend it,” she said. “I can't let a gator roll up and take over. He'll be the one who will be someone's supper.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414.