By Michael Fleeman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An 8-foot alligator was found next to the carcasses of two cats in the back yard of a suburban Los Angeles home where the reptile had been living illegally since the 1970s, authorities said on Thursday.
Animal control officers armed with a search warrant discovered the alligator, estimated to be about 40 years old, in a closed box with the cat remains at the home in Van Nuys, Los Angeles Animal Services Commander Mark Salazar said.
Salazar said Animal Services was conducting a full criminal investigation and called on any residents in the area who have lost small pets at "any time over the last 40 years” to contact the department.
As of Thursday, no arrests had been made or charges filed. Keeping wild animals without a permit is illegal in Los Angeles.
Ron Gorecki told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that he had helped his sister care for the alligator, named Jaxson, since her husband, its original owner, died last year.
"We tried to give him a good home," Gorecki told the paper, adding that the animal was his brother-in-law's "pride and joy."
Gorecki told the Los Angeles Daily News that Jaxson fed on “chicken, hot dogs, stuff of that nature – nothing live,” leaving the family’s cats alone.
"Basically what they're trying to say is that we're taking our cats and feeding them to our alligator,” Gorecki told the newspaper. “That's not what happened. There's never been a complaint, never been a problem.”
Gorecki could not be reached for comment by Reuters on Thursday.
Animal control officials had searched the home late last year after receiving a tip about a large alligator there, but didn’t find anything. When they returned this week, the resident, who was not identified, wouldn’t let them in, so officials came back with the warrant, Salazar said.
The alligator was taken to the Los Angeles Zoo.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)