LOCAL L.A. Now

Traveling zoo handler tells cops: Gator needed a bathroom break

At first, Deputy Michael Rust didn't believe the radio call.

A former Los Angeles police officer had spotted two women standing at a van parked near a Lancaster intersection Tuesday morning, Rust said. One reportedly was holding a 4-foot long alligator.

Worried the women would "abandon the beast in the desert" -- residents say abandoned dogs are a problem in the area -- the man called authorities, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department said.

"When I heard it on the radio, I'm thinking, 'Yeah, an alligator. OK,'" Rust said. "Maybe an iguana, but an alligator?"

The women packed the reptile back into the van and drove off, officials said. The retired officer trailed the vehicle until deputies stopped it several miles away.

And, sure enough, there was an alligator inside, Rust said.

There was also a kangaroo.

And a monkey, too.

One woman explained that the menagerie was part of a "Zoo to You" program in Paso Robles and she had shown the animals to students at Quartz Hill Elementary School, Rust said. The travelers were on their way back to Paso Robles when the alligator "soiled its cage," the sheriff's statement said.

"The alligator urinated inside his cage, and it's a long ways back to Paso Robles with the smell of alligator urine," Rust said. "So they decided to pull over."

After snapping a few photos, the deputies said their goodbyes -- or, as the sheriff's statement put it: "See you later, alligator."

Rust said in his 15 years at the station, he had never encountered a call like this.

"We get all kinds of animal calls, from bulls to bears to mountain lions," he said. "But I've never heard of an alligator."

"Even for us, that was unusual," he admitted.

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