albert the alligator
Albert the alligator being collected by environmental officers. Image: Department of Environmental Conservation

Community Demands New York Return Man's Pet Alligator

Earlier this month, the state of New York seized a man's long-time pet — a 34-year-old 750-pound alligator named Albert — because of a licensing dispute, but now, the community is rallying behind the man, saying the state should return the gator.

Supporters have been posting on social media and more than 132,000 people signed an online petition demanding that New York's Department of Environmental Conservation return Albert to its owner, 64-year-old Tony Cavallaro.

Most signees, like Kari Celotto, argued that seizing the animal would hurt both Albert's and Cavallaro's well-being. "Albert should be able to live the rest of his life with his companion! It's cruel to take him away from everything he knows," Celotto wrote.

Others, like Danyah Jones, argued that the seizure was government overreach and that officials justified it using bureaucratic rules. She said that Cavallaro was "tricked" into getting the gator taken away.

"He was trying to renew his license and whoever provides that chose to instead ask a whole bunch of questions that never had to be asked before and next thing you know a SWAT team is at his house taking his pet," Jones wrote.

However, most of what's known about the bizarre case is coming from Cavallaro, who has done a number of interviews to tell his side of the story, and a press release from the NYDEC as it is not commenting on ongoing investigations.

In the statement, the agency said that Environmental Conservation Officers seized Albert on March 13, saying it had been kept inside the home illegally and had numerous health issues, including blindness in both eyes and spinal complications.

The statement explained that officers learned that Cavallaro had built an addition to his house with an in-ground swimming pool for the gator. They also learned that Cavallaro no longer had a permit to own the alligator — it expired in 2021 and was not renewed — and that he allegedly allowed people to get into the pool with Albert.

On the petition, Cavallaro dismissed the allegations that he had harmed or mistreated Albert in any way. "Everyone who has met Albert or knows Albert knows that this is not true. I took care of him better than most people take care of their kids," he wrote.

The alligator, who subsists on a diet of raw chicken and pork chops supplemented by vitamins, is under the care of a veterinarian, including for cataracts, but Cavallaro said he is not blind. He said there was nothing wrong with the alligator's spine before it was carried away.

Cavallaro explained that he had renewed his alligator permit every year annually until two years ago when the state changed the rules about what you need to do to own a gator. "They ignored my emails and phone calls to make sure I did everything right even though I should be grandfathered in," he added.

It's unclear what will happen next, whether Albert will be returned to Cavallaro or if he will remain in state care. However, Cavallaro told reporters that he has retained a lawyer but is still awaiting a court date.