HARRISON – When the call came in March 9 that an alligator was being neglected and needed help, Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks knew it would be an interesting day.
“We were like ‘Oh-oh!” she said. “What’ll we do with an alligator?”
Hicks said that when she and Animal Control Officer Bob Dodson arrived it was apparent that the animal was not being neglected, but that the woman caring for it was definitely “in over her head.” Hicks said the woman, who was wheelchair bound, became the animal’s caregiver when her son left it with her five years ago.
“She’s been raising the thing, and it’s about 4 feet long,” Hicks said. It turned out that the gator was actually 43 inches long, and impressively formidable.
“He was hissing pretty good while we were there,” Dodson said. Hicks agreed, adding that he was not a happy camper.
“We went there because we got a tip that somebody wasn’t feeding an alligator,” Hicks said. “We get calls like that a lot. You go out there and they’ve got a lizard – or nothing.”
This time was different, though. After being asked to wait outside for a bit, Hicks said the lady’s caregiver opened the door and there sat the lady with the alligator in her lap. She said they were prepared to hand over the alligator right then, but that wasn’t going to happen. The Clare County Animal Shelter facility has no way to accommodate the needs of an alligator, so Hicks sought assistance from an alligator rescue. She called the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary in Athens, Michigan [Calhoun County], and someone came up the next day to retrieve the alligator. That person told Hicks that the alligator was in pretty good condition, considering his cramped tank accommodations.
One might ask just what does someone feed an alligator for five years? In this case, the answer is chicken, fish and frogs. Hicks said the lady would pay neighborhood children to catch bluegills in the summer, then the fish would be put into the gator’s tank where he could catch them.
Hicks also said that the situation brought up the legality of possessing an alligator, and she learned that there is no Michigan law against it. She said the alligator owners had been quiet about the animal because they weren’t sure they were allowed to have it. Apparently, they were successful at being quiet, because when the animal was brought out of the house, a neighbor standing by was quite surprised to see it.
And so it was that March 10 became the first day of a new life for an American Alligator named Elvis…yeah, Elvis.
“I had to say, when we walked him out – ‘Elvis has left the building,’” Hicks said. She said the guy from the rescue got a chuckle from that as well.
Hicks and Dodson made sure there were photos taken of the rescue, and the sanctuary also posted a photo of Elvis in a holding facility at his new home. One photo shows the alligator sporting what appears to be a full-on happy smile, accompanied by the following text:
“Elvis looks happy. He’s in our intake quarantine so we can begin his training and teach him to eat the food we have.”
“But look at that smile,” Hicks said.
As of March 12, Elvis was on the sanctuary’s Facebook page along with a brief description and information on how to sponsor the gator for a fee, which would go toward his first veterinarian appointment. The fee would also include the right to name the animal, although Elvis is truly hard to beat.
Hicks said this was not the first alligator call she ever received. That first call came seven years ago and was about a gator in Budd Lake.
“And there really was an alligator in Budd Lake,” she said. “It was an absolute fake one. It was a pool one that some goofball had set loose in Budd Lake and we were getting calls like crazy.”
She said they arrived believing it would not be real, however, once seeing it wet and shiny in the water found it to be quite real looking. Coupled with the way it moved back and forth in the water, Hicks was nearly convinced it was real – until it was pulled out, revealing it was just a rubber head. Whew!