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OR Press: Pet alligator's residency will go to court

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Posted by W von Papinešu on December 31, 2002 at 20:32:14:

THE OREGONIAN (Portland, Oregon) 31 December 02 Pet alligator's residency will go to court (John Snell)
Beaverton: Round One is about to begin in the case of the City of Beaverton vs. Al the Alligator.
Al may lose the early round, when his case goes before a Beaverton Municipal Court judge in late January. But ultimately, the alligator's attorney says, he will prevail.
The issue, says lawyer Geordie Duckler, is not whether a kid should be allowed to own an alligator. Rather, it's a matter of how a city goes about regulating the actions of its residents.
Until recently, the 41/2-foot gator lived in the Beaverton home of Dee Ann Overfield. Many of the neighborhood children seem to love him, but Al is less popular with other neighbors in the 10100 block of Southwest Marjorie Lane.
They became alarmed in August, when Al waddled away from his back yard.
A month later, the Beaverton City Council passed a law prohibiting residents from owning alligators, crocodiles and other "dangerous pets."
Al belongs to Overfield's 15-year-old son, Nick Adams, who bought the reptile four feet ago as a hatchling. Al will be 6 feet long in two years.
The city ticketed the family in November on having a dangerous animal and threatened a fine of as much as $150 a day if they didn't get rid of Al.
Nick Adams said Monday that Al has been moved to a friend's home outside the city limits until the fight over his residency is resolved.
Portland attorney Duckler said he thinks the Overfields will prevail in municipal court on Jan. 22. But he's prepared to appeal if they don't.
"Our focus would be on three types of issues," Duckler said Monday.
He would argue that Oregon law permits cities to pass laws against owning native Oregon wildlife or "exotic" animals only. State law defines exotic as monkeys, bears, wolves and members of the feline and canine families other than domestic dogs and cats.
"They can't go around creating new categories," Duckler said.
Ducker said Beaverton's law may be too vague. It defines a dangerous animal as one that has "a wild or predatory nature and constitutes an unreasonable danger to human life or property."
That definition is broad enough to make it illegal for a beekeeper to own bees, or make it a crime if termites or carpenter ants infested your home, he said.
Finally, Duckler said he thinks the law would be struck down by an appeals court because Beaverton has declared Al to be a public nuisance without proof that he actually is.
The city can't do that, anymore than it could decide residents can't own pit bulls because the breed has a bad reputation with some.
"Your pit bull may be a fine dog," he said.
Linda Adlard, Beaverton's chief of staff, declined to comment on the alligator matter Monday, noting that the first stages of the case are about to go to trial.
Duckler said he is confident his client will win Jan. 22, when Overfield appears in municipal court to face the city's citation. But one interested party won't be there.
Duckler learned Monday that Al won't be allowed in municipal court when the case goes before a judge.

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