By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspaper
ALLEN PARK – An errant alligator took a walk on the wild side July 16 when an unlatched outdoor pen let it loose long enough to swim in a neighbor’s outdoor decorative pond.
The illegal exotic pet, one of two reptiles kept by an Allen Park man, will soon find a new home in a animal sanctuary, as alligators larger than six inches long are forbidden by city ordinance.
The saga began when a woman in the 15500 block of Horger was walking to her garage with her granddaughter when she noticed movement near her outdoor decorative pond, heard a plop in the water, and discovered a startling surprise – an alligator about two feet long.
The gator had to cross a street to reach the inviting water on Horger.
Frances McKelvie, a neighbor, said a resident on Dasher has two alligators in an outdoor pen, and one of his children forgot to shut the gate or cage after they fed the alligators, and the one reptile just went for a walk. She said the exotic pet owner had planned to build a better habitat for the alligators.
McKelvie said the alligator was calm throughout the whole ordeal.
“It looked like it was just chillin’ on some lily pads in the park,” she said. “It wasn’t vicious at all. It was just chilling in the water. It didn’t eat any of the fish in the pond.”
The police officers who responded to the call, and declined to grab the runaway reptile, made a call of their own, to Jerry Swantner, an employee at Critter Pet Shop, 19309 Ecorse Road.
Swantner, who said he sells alligator chow to the owner, drew the pet closer to him with a net, then held him in his hands.
He took the alligator to the pet store overnight, and the owner picked the pet up about 24 hours later.
“It was super friendly, and it wasn’t trying to fight or anything,” Swantner said. “He came right on up and he was well-maintained – whoever had him took very good care of him.”
Swantner said the alligator was two feet long at the most, and only needs a minimum 4-foot-by-4-foot pen. Alligators would not survive outdoors in a Michigan winter, though, he said.
“He buys feeder goldfish from us, because that is what they eat – goldfish,” Swantner said of the owner.
He said Michigan has an animal rescue sanctuary about two-and-a-half hours outside of Detroit where exotic pets can be taken when they can no longer be kept by their owners.
Swantner said this is the first time he has ever been asked by law enforcement to retrieve an alligator.
“Allen Park PD actually help us out a lot here at Critter,” Swantner said. “If something goes on, they are here immediately, so it was our turn to return the favor, and go help them guys.”
An employee at Downriver Animal Control said on July 18 that an officer was investigating the situation.
Wyandotte Deputy Police Chief Archie Hamilton said on behalf of Downriver Animal Control, that the alligators’ owner will not be able to keep them in Allen Park, and he confirmed that the owner is working with animal control officers to find a wildlife rescue group willing and able to care for the alligators.
Allen Park’s ordinance, section 6.2, states that it is unlawful to keep bears; non-domesticated canines; exotic bees; non-domestic felines; hoofed animals, including potbellied pigs; marsupials; primates; raptors; and reptiles, except for those under six inches in length, and those that are non-venomous.
Exceptions exist for legally operated zoos, circuses, or properly licensed and registered businesses which operate in a non-residential zoning district. In no case shall any restricted animals be used to protect or guard people or property.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)