Imagine a teenage girl goes on vacation with her family to some subtropical Floridian tourist trap, bringing home, as a keepsake, an adorable baby reptile only to have her stern and zoophobic father flush the infant alligator down the toilet upon their return. And imagine some time later, the sewer-dwelling, bitterly abandoned pet, whose diet of growth-hormone-injected lab rodents has made him somewhat less cute and considerably more enormous and menacing, begins to viciously exact his revenge upon our species, whose callous disregard for nonhuman feeling and perpetual demand for quirky geographically-specific souvenirs begot the alligator’s lonely, radioactive existence.
This is the plot of Lewis Teague’s 1980 monster flick Alligator, but subtract from it the radioactive gerbils and ferocious, animatronic killing spree, and you get a story which resonates importantly with what happened here in Providence over the summer—at least in terms of the probable human short-sightedness and cruelty at both their centers. On August 23, a city fireman ‘fished’ a three-foot baby alligator from the Woonasquatucket River off Atwells Ave near Eagle Square. Based on eyewitness reports, the alligator had been living in the river since at least July.
City officials quoted in The Providence Journal agree that the as-of-yet unnamed alligator was likely the victim of what state veterinarian Scott Marshall calls “irresponsible pet ownership”—an apparently not uncommon fate for young alligators in America. Despite the wealth of information available online on the topic of alligator domestication—eHow.com’s entry on “How to Legally Own an Pet Alligator”(sic) contains five steps and two warnings; “How to Write a Check” has seven steps and five warnings—eager reptile-lovers consistently find themselves unprepared to raise these prehistoric creatures. People (i.e. teenage girls on vacation, frat boys, Arizona Cardinals lineman Darnell Docket—according to his Twitter anyway) buy baby alligators when they are cute and manageable, but release them into the wild when they start to get big, which they invariably do—get big—with or without genetically messed-with chow.
According to Gail Mastrati, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Management, the Woonasquatucket alligator, native to the warm waters of the American Southeast, would surely not have survived the bitter cold of a Providence winter. But thanks to the efforts of the anonymous firefighter, and the good Samaritans who spotted the creature and alerted authorities, the alligator will instead weather the cold coming months at the R.I. House of Reptiles on Harris Ave in Providence, where he will be part of the House of Reps’—golden!—ongoing educational programming and frequent cub scout birthday parties.