New York man fighting to bring 750-pound pet gator home after reptile seized

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) – A New York man wants his alligator returned home after the animal was seized earlier this week.

Tony Cavallaro said he returned to his Hamburg house in suburban Buffalo on Wednesday morning after running an errand and found several law enforcement agencies outside with a warrant.

“Everything they did to me, they treated me like a terrorist,” Cavallaro said.

The officers took his 12-foot, 750-pound gator away in a truck. Authorities said they turned the animal over to a licensed caretaker who will house and care for the animal until it can be properly transported for permanent care. But Cavallaro said he wants his longtime pet back.

He’s owned Albert for over 30 years and said he has treated the 34-year-old gator like a child. He bought the alligator at an Ohio reptile show when it was two months old and considers him an “emotional support animal.”

Years ago, Cavallaro even put a $120,000 custom addition onto the back of his house to make a room for Albert, outfitted with an inground pool.

Cavallaro, 64, said he typically gets his permit renewed on time, but that recently changed after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) updated regulations and his repeated phone calls questioning these updates went unanswered. He said he believes he should have been grandfathered in to the old regulations.

The change in regulations for possessing dangerous animals was adopted by the DEC in 2020. After Cavallaro’s license expired in 2021, he failed to bring the holding area into compliance to ensure the alligator did not pose a danger to the public, the agency said.

“I’d always get my permit renewal two months beforehand. Then [the DEC] started to get sluggish,” he said.

But even if it had been renewed, Cavallaro had let other people pet the alligator, even get in the pool with him, providing grounds for the removal under the rules for keeping animals classified as dangerous, the department said.

According to the DEC, possession of animals designated as dangerous, including alligators, is prohibited by New York State except under license from the DEC. A spokesperson said Cavallaro failed to meet specific conditions to ensure the alligator did not come into contact with humans and did not pose a threat to humans or the animal.

Cavallaro said in addition to paying for extra insurance, the new regulations would have required him to tape Albert’s mouth shut when around humans and add a fence around the animal’s enclosure in case it gets out.

He disputes the DEC’s claim that Albert has “numerous health-related issues, including blindness in both eyes and spinal complications.”

The alligator, who subsists on a diet of raw chicken and pork chops supplemented by vitamins, is under the care of a veterinarian, including for cataracts, but Cavallaro said he is not blind. He said there was nothing wrong with the alligator’s spine before it was carried away.

Friends of Cavallaro have been rallying around him since officials seized Albert. Doug Widdowson even went swimming with the reptile last year.

“He’s just a big gentle giant – he truly is,” Widdowson said. “I just dipped in the pool real quick, and I cautiously walked over to him, pet him on the head and gave him a kiss.”

Cavallaro created a petition and, within 24 hours, received nearly 20,000 signatures, and fans have created “Free Albert” T-shirts and buttons.

A friend even penned a song for the cause: “Oh Albert, please come home,” the pal sings while strumming a guitar in a video posted to Facebook.

“He’s like family,” Cavallaro said. “Everybody loves him. He has thousands of people, as you see, that love him.”

The DEC said they are analyzing evidence seized during the warrant and consulting with a licensed veterinarian to determine “any future potential charges.”

Cavallaro has retained a lawyer, though he does not have a court date scheduled yet, but he said he plans to fight to bring Albert back home.

It’s unknown how many alligators are kept as pets in the U.S., but wildlife officials periodically report being called to rescue abandoned reptiles from parks and creeks. Officials believe a lethargic 4-foot (1.2-meter) alligator found in Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn in February 2023 was likely an abandoned pet.

In Buffalo in 2014, animal control officers spent days trying to retrieve a caiman from a creek, eventually succeeding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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