Much to the surprise of some Radnor Township dogs, a stick lying in the yard turned out to be a young alligator.
The three-foot-long American gator was about a half-mile away from any body of water before it was captured by Dirk Shearer, president of The Wildlife Control Company.
Shearer suspected the animal was a pet that either escaped or was released.
“Most people buy their exotic pets when they are small and cute,” Shearer wrote in a statement. Yet when the animal grows larger, more aggressive and more expensive, “it is not uncommon” for owners to intentionally release their exotic animals.
In its natural habitat in the Southeastern United States, the gator may have grown up to 11 feet long. In the midwest, however, it probably would have died during the winter.
Shearer said the residents who reported the animal were not aware of any alligator owner in the community. He said that he would allow time for the owner to respond before he offers the alligator to a reptile specialist.
Exotic ownership is legal in Ohio, yet is largely unregulated.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Laura Jones said that a permit is only necessary for those who wish to own native animals, such as black bears.
The Ohio Revised Code does not mandate a system for licensing non-native animals, however, Jones said.
Consequently, it is difficult to gauge how common exotic or wild animal ownership is in the state. The Humane Society of the United States, however, reported that Ohio has the fourth highest number of incidences involving exotics escaping, injuring or killing people or other animals.
In Delaware County, Shearer said he had been pecked by a peacock, gathered mute swan escapees, wrangled a released ferret, and reunited a parrot with its owners.
Additionally, a 10-foot Burmese python made international news when it was found in Powell in 2002.
The snake had been on the loose for three weeks before it was noticed in a vacant home undergoing renovation, according to humane society reports.
An x-ray of its bulging belly confirmed that the snake had swallowed a 15- to 20-pound dog. A rescue group agreed to house the python after its capture.
Other found animals are often put up for adoption, said the Humane Society of Delaware County agent Misty Bay. Such animals have included snakes, iguanas, hedge hogs, ferrets and turtles.
Legislation of exotic and dangerous pet ownership is currently under debate. A work group of 10 diverse stakeholder organizations meets on a monthly basis to discuss regulating wild animals supposed to be dangerous, according to ODNR.
“Outreach to stakeholders is taking place at the request of Governor John R. Kasich who supports the regulation of dangerous wild animals to ensure the public’s safety and animals’ humane treatment,” ODNR states on its webpage.
Such regulation differs from the former Gov. Ted Strickland’s executive order to ban the possession, sale and transfer of dangerous wild animals.The ban, which was issued January 2011, expired April 6.
In the meantime, Shearer and other animal rescue organizations continue to respond to calls in the hopes of reuniting exotic pets with their owners.
And while it may have been a rare find for Delaware County residents, the alligator found this weekend was about two feet too short for Shearer to get too adrenalized.
“To me, it’s no big deal,” said Shearer. “If it had been a five-footer, it would have been a little bit more exciting.”
For the dogs who initially mistook the gator for a stick, however, the reptile would have made for an unusually exhilarating game of fetch.
For those looking to discard their pets, Shearer recommended contacting a rescue agency, the humane society or the Ohio Department of Agriculture instead of releasing them into the wild.