When Chris and Nicole Henning took their family to see where the Animal Planet television show "Gator Boys" is filmed, they had no idea they'd be living their own gator adventure hours later.
The Henning family lived in New Richmond for the past nine years before moving to Parkland, Fla., in January. Parkland is near Fort Lauderdale in the northwest corner of Broward County.
"We live right near the Everglades, two blocks away," Chris Henning said in a conversation last week.
Earlier this month, they had family members visit, so they went to nearby Everglades Holiday Park, the home base for the "Gator Boys." The Gator Boys franchise is extremely popular with locals because they rescue wild alligators that wander into residential areas. Instead of disposing of the animals, the Gator Boys find new wild homes for the gator or keep them at their theme park.
After an enjoyable day at the Gator Boys' complex, the Hennings returned to their home. In their driveway was the vehicle driven by Paul Bedard, head of the "Gator Boys." They found Bedard in their backyard, trying to catch a large alligator that had moved into a pond behind their home.
It began an adventure that led Bedard and his staff to remove an alligator that stretched 9 feet, 4 inches from the pond.
The community is dotted with ponds that are connected to the Everglades by a sewer system. The Hennings' house sits about 20 yards from the edge of their pond. When they arrived home they went into their backyard and saw Bedard snorkeling in their pond. He had been told about a larger gator that had moved into the area.
Bedard wasn't able to capture the gator that day, so he returned the following day. His assistant used a fishing pole with bait on the line to draw the gator near shore. This time, Bedard was able to get a grip on the gator in the water with a lasso-type apparatus. He pulled the gator to the shore. He climbed onto the gator's back, from where he could grip the gator's mouth closed. They taped the gator's mouth, then put a protective bag over its head. They then put a larger bag over the gator's body so it could be transported safely.
The Gator Boys also removed a smaller gator that measured 5.5 feet in length from the pond.
Henning said the pond is two to three acres in size. He said the gators would scurry to the safety of the pond whenever humans were present, but they often saw the gators sunning themselves in the Hennings' yard.
"They seem pretty shy," Chris Henning said. "The problem is, if people start feeding them."
Bedard informed the Hennings that gators have a strong homing instinct. If they find an area they like, they can be taken 50-60 miles away and still return to that location.
The Hennings have taught their sons: Cayden 11, Noah 9 and Eden 5, that they have to look out into the yard before they go outside, to make sure there aren't alligators around.
Chris said he saw a few bears when they lived in the country outside New Richmond, but he wasn't prepared for all the wildlife they've experienced in two months in Florida. In addition to the gators, family members have seen a panther and a bobcat in their development.
"We thought we might see a gator, but not in our backyard," Chris said.