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I have only seen a handful of crocks where I am at. We had one close encounter while wade fishing 9-10 years ago, but other than that this is the first time I have heard of any aggression towards people or dogs.

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Posted - Saturday, March 24, 2012 07:18 AM EDT

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.

"We wanted to give her a proper burial," Janet Porath said. Larry Porath was still too upset Friday to discuss the incident. "He didn't get any sleep last night," his wife said.

FWC officers returned to the canal the next morning to remove the crocodile but couldn't find it. The problem with removing and relocating the animals, Hord said, is they almost always find their way back eventually.

Hord said it is very rare that an American crocodile would attack a pet, but not necessarily unexpected. Crocodiles eat fish and mammals, which may include the occasional dog. And as much as people like to let their dogs -- and kids -- swim in Key Largo canals, Hord recommends against it.

"We don't recommend anyone swims in the area of a large alligator or crocodile. That doesn't mean it's likely you'll get bit, but why take a chance," Hord said.

He added that there is no proven instance where a human has ever been bitten by an American crocodile. The animals are considered docile compared to their relatives in other parts of the world, which are known to attack people. Alligators are also considered more aggressive than American crocs.

FWC spokesman Officer Bobbie Dube said that's why the attack on Roxie is so troubling. "I don't recall any croc taking a dog," said Dube, who has been with the FWC in the Keys for about 25 years.

Monroe County has the largest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the United States. They are considered a threatened species by the federal government, but successful conservation efforts mean their populations around developed areas will continue to grow.

"These animals are going to be there. They were here before us, and it's their future," Hord said. "They are reestablishing themselves in their historical range."

Hord said the animals are getting used to people, and even associate people with food. This is especially true in canal-front communities, where anglers clean their fish and throw the scraps into the water for the crocs to eat.

"Some of them have lived their whole lives in the presence of people," he said.

For this reason, Dube urges fishermen not to discard fish carcasses in the water after returning to the dock. "The crocs are always out for a free meal," he said.
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