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8-foot alligator found in yard didn't eat cats, family says

Jaxson, 8-foot alligator found in a Van Nuys backyard, is moved to @LAZoo

Jaxson is cold-blooded. But the 8-foot alligator who lived in Van Nuys was not munching on neighborhood cats, the female crocodilian’s human family said Thursday.

Officers with the Los Angeles Animal Services Department on Monday removed Jaxson from her home and took her to the Los Angeles Zoo, saying it was illegal to keep the alligator in the city without a permit.

For the last 37 years the alligator -- or “Valleygator” -- had lived in a custom-made pen at Laura Mattson’s home in the San Fernando Valley, with a pond and heated box to sleep in. She shared living space with Mattson’s cats and tortoises, including one that is more than 150 years old.

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Some people have said they suspected that Mattson fed Jaxson feral cats that roam Sylvan Street. Others said neighborhood pets that disappeared over the years probably found themselves in the alligator’s jaws.

That's not true, Mattson said.

Jaxson wouldn’t even eat rats, let alone felines, she said.

In one photo Mattson showed, the gator basks in the sunlight as two kittens share her space. One is nuzzled up against the alligator.

Instead, the gator has been fed a strict diet of raw chicken and hot dogs. Don’t try to sneak any liver or anything of the sort into her meals, Mattson added; she simply won’t eat it.

Abigail Jaye, a friend of Mattson who lives across the street, said the notion that Jaxson ate neighborhood pets was ridiculous.

“You’re going to blame 40 years of missing pets on the alligator?” she said as she sat curled in a wicker chair like one of her three cats. “I think that’s preposterous. Every time I saw it, it was inert.”

The female alligator was known to neighbors in the 13200 block of Sylvan Street, said the owner’s brother-in-law, Ron Gorecki.

It is unclear what species Jaxson is. American alligators can reach up to 15 feet and typically live 65 to 80 years in captivity, according to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web database. Chinese alligators live about 70 years in captivity.

Investigators were tipped off to Jaxson after someone spotted her in the home's backyard in August. At the time, animal control officers searched the house but did not find the alligator.

They returned to the Van Nuys home in a surprise visit Monday but were denied entry, the department said in a statement.

So they obtained a search warrant and found Jaxson inside a crate covered by foliage and debris in the backyard.

Inside the crate, investigators said, they also found two dead cats.

Animal services officials plan to forward the case to the city attorney for prosecution, according to a statement from the department.

Officials asked any residents in the area who lost small pets over the last 40 years to call animal services at (213) 482-7455.

Mattson’s husband, Jim, brought Jaxson home decades ago. At the time, they thought Jaxson was male. When her husband passed away, Laura Mattson knew she couldn’t take care of the alligator forever. Mattson, 59, has spent the last couple of years trying to find the reptile a new home, with no success.

In the end, Jaxson was a reminder of happier days.

“The reason was she so defensive about keeping the gator is because it’s one of her last connections to her husband,” Jaye said.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA and 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:25 p.m. This article was updated to add the phone number for animal services.

2:02 p.m.: This article was updated with new information throughout.

The first version of this article was published at 9:59 a.m.

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