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By Brian Fraga
Standard-Times staff writer
July 17, 2008 6:00 AM

NEW BEDFORD - Pit bulls and Dobermans can be intimidating.
Alligators are downright frightening.
City police officers investigating a July 10 shooting on Highland Street walked into an apartment, searching for victims after finding a bullet hole in an outside window.
They did not find anyone who had been shot. But the officers did make an unexpected discovery: a 3-foot-long American alligator inside a plastic storage tote.
"I know police officers are trained to expect the unexpected," Police Department spokesman Lt. Jeffrey P. Silva said. "But an alligator in an apartment is at the outer limits of any officer's reasonable expectations."
The alligator, estimated to be around 5 years old, was seized by city Animal Control. It is now at a Taunton facility licensed by the state to rehabilitate alligators and other reptiles.
The alligator's growth had been stunted because of the container it had been stored in, officials said. American alligators can grow to be 15 feet long and weigh 400 pounds.
The alligator eventually will be reintroduced to the wild, most likely in south Florida, officials said. Its natural habitat is in the wetlands of the southeastern United States.
Alligators are illegal to sell or possess in Massachusetts. Getting caught with an alligator can result in a fine.
However, it is not illegal in Rhode Island and New Hampshire to own alligators. Police officials said most local residents who have been caught with alligators had purchased them from stores in Rhode Island.
"For whatever reason, the legislators in Rhode Island have seen fit to allow their constituency to purchase and possess alligators," Lt. Silva said.
Emanuel Maciel, New Bedford's animal control director, said police usually find two to three alligators a year in city residences.
"A lot of times when we get them, it's from drug investigations or while we're executing search warrants," Mr. Maciel said.
As a former agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration's task force in Southeastern Massachusetts, Lt. Silva came across three alligators in drug dealers' homes. The animals were usually kept for intimidation purposes, and were often stored near the dealers' narcotics stashes.
Still, even for most reputed drug dealers, alligators remain a rare breed of guard dog.
"It's clearly anomalous," Lt. Silva said. "We've seen it before, but certainly not frequently."
Last month, a 3-foot-long, 60-pound American alligator was found in a Hyannis neighborhood. Police seized the alligator, and are looking for information on its owner.
As for the Highland Street alligator, it is not clear whose it is. The occupants were not home when police entered the apartment and found it.
Massachusetts Environmental Police are investigating to determine who the owner is, and plan to file charges, officials said.
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