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OR Press: Council bans boy's pet alligator

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Posted by W von Papinešu on October 17, 2002 at 20:16:46:

THE OREGONIAN (Portland, Oregon) 16 October 02 Council bans boy's pet alligator (Richard Colby)

Beaverton: Al the alligator's days as a Beaverton resident are numbered.

Voicing concern about how big Al might some day grow and what would happen were the reptile to escape its home, the City Council voted unanimously Monday night to extend an ordinance that bans dangerous animals to include alligators.

The change will take effect Nov. 20 if the council gives final approval next week. Violations of the ordinance could bring Municipal Court fines of as much as $150 a day until any such animal -- currently a lion, tiger or wolf -- is removed from the city.

Predictably, the council's action didn't make the owners of 4-year-old Al happy.

"I feel like we've been attacked and not given the chance to defend ourselves," DeAnn Overfield, mother of the alligator's 15-year-old owner, Nick Adams, said Tuesday.

Overfield, who tearfully protested the council's action immediately after the vote, said she had learned only a week earlier that the ordinance change would be considered Monday.

Tuesday, she said she was exploring possible legal action that would allow her family to keep the alligator.

The family has had the reptile since Nick bought it, a 6-inch hatchling, from a pet store. It is now 41/2 feet long, and could reach 6 feet in another two years.

If unable to prevent the ordinance from taking effect, she said, her family has chosen a place to take the alligator where it will be cared for. She declined to say where.

Mayor Rob Drake proposed the ordinance amendment after complaints from several of Overfield's neighbors on Southwest Marjorie Lane, off Scholls Ferry Road near McKay Elementary School.

The complaints came after Al escaped the Overfield home Aug. 24 and was found in a neighbor's yard. Five Beaverton police officers responded and put the alligator into a portable dog kennel without incident. An Estacada reptile handler who took over the animal later returned it to the family.

During Monday's council testimony, Nick said he didn't expect the alligator to grow longer than 6 feet, although a state-licensed reptile keeper, Mary Esther Hart of Canby, testified that full-grown male alligators average 10 to 14 feet long and females 7 to 9 feet.

Overfield and her son acknowledged they do not know Al's gender.

"In general, I don't advocate keeping crocodilians because they get too big," said Hart, who operates Hart's Reptile World, a private animal zoo. Hart said, however, that she didn't think alligators should be banned outright but should be allowed by permit. That way, she said, city officials would know where such animals were being kept.

Drake disagreed. "There are people," the mayor said, "who don't apply for permits because they don't want to spend the money."

Although Nick said he thought Al wasn't likely to hurt anyone, just how dangerous an alligator such as Al actually is or could become wasn't clear from testimony.

Kent Vliet, an alligator biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, said that even small alligators can inflict a bite like a dog's, "although their teeth aren't as long."

In Florida, where the wild alligator population is estimated at more than 1 million among 16 million people, fatal attacks against humans are "extremely rare," Vliet said. Raised as pets, he said, they can be docile.

Stan Kirkland, regional spokesman for Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Panama City, said feeding wild alligators is illegal for exactly that reason. He said his agency documents 20 to 25 alligator attacks on humans per year, such as the one last month that took off a man's forearm while he was pulling weeds from a pond.

An account of that attack was included in the Beaverton council's agenda packet as it considered the ordinance.

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