Alligator mauls service dog to death near Florida park

PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA/CNN) - An alligator mauled a man’s service dog to death outside a Florida park last week.

Java was a service dog for Andrew Epp, who suffered mental health issues. (Source: WFLA/CNN/Andrew Gabriel Epp Family)

Now, a fellow park-goer is stepping in to try to keep the same thing from happening to anybody else.

Sharil Dowling called it an accident that was just waiting to happen.

"Most people, if they knew they were that close to marsh and gators, they wouldn't walk back there," Dowling said.

She was at Dog Leg Park at Buffalo Creek last Friday when a chocolate lab named Java got loose outside the fence.

The next thing she knew, she saw the lifeless dog slumped over a man's shoulders, covered in blood.

“I cannot imagine the anguish that guy was in,” Dowling said. “It was horrible.”

In the five years Tim Todd has come to the dog park, he said he knows of at least three dogs eaten by alligators.

After Friday, he reached out to the county demanding they put up warning signs. Officials responded and installed warning signs for snakes and gators earlier this week.

"Too late to do anything for that dog but what could we do to help other people?" Todd asked.

Java was a service dog for Andrew Epp, who suffered mental health issues. Epp was so distraught, his family said he took his own life the very next day.

“It was just such a sad situation," family friend Kayla Weston said. “He couldn’t deal with it.”

Now, dog owners at the park just hope no one else has to.

Park officials sent a trapper out to try to catch the nuisance alligator. So far, it is still out there.

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