Alligators instead of pit bulls are guarding drug dealers' stashes nationwide, creating a dangerous situation for police and the reptiles themselves.
The tropical animals with the enormously powerful jaws aren't only being found near their southern habitats, but in drug dens in places from Baltimore to Oakland, Calif., reports The Washington Times,
and may become even more widespread with the Internet making the animals easy to buy.
In just one case, a team of tactical police officers from Anne Arundel County, Md., searching a dealer's mobile home, discovered a three-foot alligator in a walk-in closet when they forced their way through a bedroom door.
"My first thought was, we're definitely not touching it," a police officer who was there said. "It kept hissing, like 'Leave me alone.'"
The closet door where the alligator was hiding had been removed, and there was a kiddie pool for the scaly guard animal with the toothy grin, which the owner had named Little G. Police found five ounces of marijuana, but said they weren't sure if the animal was actually guarding the stash or if it was just kept nearby.
"Definitely if someone saw that they'd think twice about doing something to that guy," said an undercover detective.
Little G's owner, Michael Golden, 33, said it was "crazy" for someone to think he'd trained the animal.
"The only time they will listen to you or follow you is if they are hungry or you are holding food," he said.
In another case earlier this year, a drug dealer in California was using a giant alligator named Mr. Teeth to guard 34 pounds of marijuana, reports CBS News affiliate KPIX in San Francisco
The dealer said he bought the alligator to commemorate the death of rapper Tupac Shakur. The reptile died in a rescue organization a few days after its capture after suffering from malnutrition and pneumonia.
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Possession of alligators and other like animals is illegal in many states, and often, the reptiles end up being seized and placed in rescue organizations or zoos.
Debbie Leahy, manager of captive wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, also said there is an underground market for alligators, making it difficult to keep track of how many are out there.
But reptile ownership overall is on a rise, and the image of alligators in popular culture, such as the two leashed creatures on the cover of Beyonce's "Ring the Alarm" album, are leading to more interest in the dangerous animals.
Baby alligators are also easy to find online, and cost as little as $89.
"They are very readily available and cheap," said Christina Obrecht, who operates an alligator sanctuary in Pennsylvania. "That's the problem."
She said she has rescued 54 alligators in the past two years, many from owners who can't care for them.
The animals are low-maintenance when they are small, professionals note, but grow quickly and pose a danger to everyone near them, not just intruders. And, they're not trainable like a dog, so they're more likely to bite the hand that feeds them, not police or another drug dealer, animal experts warn.
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