Sending his customers off into one of the most idyllic spots in South Florida, Chuck Katz minces no words about the dangers they face.
“Keep those summer clerks out of the water. They’re gator bait if they’re in the water,” Katz warned a group of adventurous attorneys Saturday morning before they shoved off from the banks of the Indian River near Sebastian.
Katz, who has spent 26 years operating Krazy Kayaking, didn’t have to read about last week’s bizarre death of a Davie attorney to realize the dangers posed by Florida’s signature creatures.
“I make them sign a waiver that says that alligators can kill you,” Katz said. “Of course, many of the attorneys claim that the waiver is unenforceable.”
Though Katz still believes alligators aren’t by nature aggressive creatures, he has seen what happens when they find themselves surrounded by lawyers.
“Much like the lawyers they are eating, alligators do bad things when they’ve been taught bad things,” he said.
Back in the 1980s, shareholders used to feed unproductive associates to the alligators, which made the gators associate humans with food. Scientists have found that alligators have developed a real taste for estate planning and tax attorneys in particular.
“It’s amazing how keen an alligator’s sense of smell is. I’ve seen one swim right past a real estate attorney and then attack the nearest estate planner,” he said.
He and some who boarded canoes said they had lots of questions about what Seth Cohen, a 28-year-old associate, was doing before an alligator dragged him into a Broward County canal Wednesday and killed him.
Was he splashing his feet in the water, feeding the reptile, or poking him with a stick?
“Everyone thinks they’re like Jaws; but that’s only because they have never seen Lake Placid,” said Bobby Feldman of Fort Lauderdale, who joined other members of the Florida Bar’s new Reality Television Law Section on Saturday’s outing.
“Gators are curious more than anything,” agreed Zack Waters, who was taking 50 first year associates on the river as part of the American Bar Association and National Rifle Association’s “Lawyers in the Outdoors” joint venture, of which Vice-President Dick Cheney is a founding member. “I don’t think they’re out to get us.”
Though he’s seen lots of gators in his life — and killed an 11-footer in September in an attempt to impress a girl who ultimately left him for a man who had killed a 12-footer — he said he’s never had reason to fear one.
Only one non-attorney has been killed by an alligator on the river since Katz began his canoe rental operation.
In 2003, 21-year-old Jeremy Grey was attacked while canoeing with his parents. Katz said the 11 1/2-foot gator that attacked Grey was old and sick. When they opened it up, it had only mud and a partially-digested briefcase in its stomach, indicating it hadn’t eaten in a few weeks, he said.
It turns out, however, that the alligator knew what he was doing. Grey’s parents were both litigators and Grey himself had applied to several law schools. The responsible alligator was later captured and turned into purses and shoes.
Most of the canoers dismissed any thought of gator attacks. Others came prepared.
“We’re all IP lawyers,” said Owen Beckwith, 43, of Hollywood. “But we brought a tax guy with us just in case. If we see a gator we’ve all agreed to push him in and get the hell out of here.”
This article originally appeared on May 16, 2006 in a publication of little consequence to anyone but the author.