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At Pasadena shelter, 7-foot gator is 'family'

June 04, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

Normally when animals land in the cages of the Pasadena Humane Society, the goal is to move them quickly into a home. Not an easy task when the guest is a 7-foot-long, 100-pound American alligator.

Left homeless in 1998 when a traveling wildlife education exhibit closed, Tina the alligator was taken in by the private facility in what it thought would be a temporary arrangement, shelter spokeswoman Ricky Whitman said.

But large zoos approached by shelter officials said they had no room for her, and petting zoos interested in taking her in were deemed unsuitable.

So this month, Tina -- who never did move out -- celebrates her 10th year at the shelter.

"I think visitors are surprised when they see her," said Hillary Gatlin, the Pasadena Humane Society's community resources assistant, of the gator's spot near a row of Chihuahuas and across from the cages full of terriers.

"She's fairly mellow -- despite the loud red-and-black 'Will bite' sticker on her ID tag," said Gatlin, as Tina sunbathed in her cage, which is marked by a small metal sign shaped in her image, reading "Gator Crossing."

The shelter was able to keep Tina long-term because it is licensed to care for wildlife.

She now lives in a 150-square-foot enclosure, after a modest addition in May 2007 of 15 square feet of crawl space.

The upgrade included a stone waterfall that circulates water into her once-stagnant pond created free of charge by Ray Stewart, owner of Waterworks Ponds in Glendale. He also donated more than $1,000 for her care, officials said.

Before the expansion, Tina's tail would hang out of her small concrete pool and she was unable to turn around, Gatlin said.

Over the years, Tina has become "part of the family," Gatlin said.

The gator also is a staple of every tour and a big crowd-pleaser for children who visit in school groups, she said.

Tina does not require much maintenance aside from some slightly higher veterinary bills. Because of safety concerns, only a few trained staffers are allowed to handle her, Gatlin said.

Because she depends on humans for food and is not used to interacting with other alligators, shelter officials say, she can't be released into the wild and is forever captive.

"She's domesticated, even though she's from the wild," Gatlin said.

But her defenseless pet neighbors have nothing to fear: Tina eats a few store-bought uncooked chickens a week.

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francisco.varaorta@latimes.com

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For more animal news, visit www.latimes.com/unleashed

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