New York pet alligator seized by state 'like they were raiding a terrorist's home,' owner says

Tony Cavallaro returned from a quick trip to the post office to find law enforcement swarming his western New York home like “they were raiding a terrorist.”

“I pulled into my driveway and got out of my car, and the guy grabbed my hand and grabbed my phone. He reached into my pockets and pulled out my wallet,” Cavallaro told Fox News Digital. “They’re roaming through my house. About 20 guys with full body armor.

“I can see two guys in the driveway with shotguns. Everybody was packing pistols. It was crazy. And they didn’t tell me for a while that they’re taking my alligator. I was like, ‘Why?’ I couldn’t even see him before they took him.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), which executed the search warrant, told Fox News Digital Cavallaro’s permit lapsed and said, “The owner was seriously endangering the public.”

ALBERT THE ALLIGATOR’S ‘DAD’ CHOMPS AT THE BIT TO RETRIEVE HIS PET GATOR SEIZED BY STATE: ‘FREE ALBERT’

Authorities seized Albert the alligator, which the DEC says has health issues.  (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Cavallaro has had “Albert” since 1990, when the 11-foot, 750-pound gator was a 2-month-old baby. He’s now 34 years old and lives in a custom-made enclosure Cavallaro built in his Hamburg, New York, home in 2016.

“He’s a gentle giant. I’m just a mess right now,” Cavallaro said. “I get emotional when I start talking about this. I checked on him all day. When I wake up, or I have to use the bathroom, I go in there and see if he’s popped up, so I can see him and hang out with him.

“I’m really worried about where they got him now. He likes his pool and his pillows, and he has his routine. … I know he’s not in a good place. This is his home.”

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Tony Cavallaro holding Albert the alligator at 1½ years old. The gator is now 34. (Tony Cavallaro)

Since the state took Albert away, the story went viral on social media with #FreeAlbert hashtags. Cavallaro received almost a dozen calls of support throughout an interview.

He said people from other countries messaged him on Facebook or emailed him. Over a 100,000 people signed an online petition for the state to give Albert back to his “dad.”

WATCH CAVALLARO PLAY WITH ALBERT

Albert the Alligator's 'dad' plays with his 11-foot, 750-pound pet Video

Cavallaro recalled stories of bringing Albert to educational shows and having friends come over to play with him. He used to have a dog, and the two pets used to sleep in the same bed together when Albert was younger.

As Albert got older, the permit didn’t allow him to do shows, so Cavallaro moved from Buffalo to Hamburg, where he built the enclosure.

Cavallaro relived funny stories about Albert grabbing his pillows and rearranging them to his liking or making his life difficult when he throws the pillows in the pool.

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Albert is particularly fond of Cavallaro’s mother, who looked after him for years when Cavallaro traveled for work.

“If she was sitting in the room and reading a book or whatever, he’d come up and sit with her,” Cavallaro said of their bond. “He loves my mom. He hears her voice, and he comes right up and sees her. “

Tony Cavallaro’s mom pets Albert the alligator. (Tony Cavallaro)

Albert the alligator “loves my mom,” the pet gator’s owner said.  (Tony Cavallaro)

So what’s the problem? 

The issue at the center of the “Free Albert” debate is a permit lapse and public contact with the alligator, according to the NYSDEC.

“Possession of animals designated as dangerous, including alligators, is prohibited in New York State except under license from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC),” the agency told Fox News Digital in an email.

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“These licenses, along with authorizing possession for regulated activities, protect the animal and the public. In this case, the former owner’s license to possess the alligator expired in 2021 and was not renewed.

“At that time, DEC determined the owner’s facility failed to meet specific conditions to ensure this dangerous animal did not come in contact with humans and did not pose a threat to humans or the animal.”

New York state authorities seized a pet alligator, Albert, from his owner in Hamburg, N.Y.  (New York State Department of Conservation)

Those conditions included deficiencies in the gator’s holding area, which needed to be rectified before Cavallaro’s license could be renewed.

Even then, Albert may still have been hauled away because Cavallaro allowed the public to swim and take pictures with his pet.

“To be clear, even if the owner were appropriately licensed, public contact with the animal is prohibited and grounds for license revocation and relocation of the animal,” the DEC said.

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Cavallaro said the only people who play with Albert are good friends inside his home.

“These were friends of mine and their friends. It wasn’t like the public was touching him,” Cavallaro said in response to the DEC’s allegations. “All the parents who come here with their kids would vouch for me. I would never put them in harm’s way.

“Everybody who knows Albert knows he’s the biggest baby on the planet. I mean, I can literally put my hand on his tongue, and he will not bite me.”

Albert the alligator rocking a sports jersey and lying on his pillows. (Tony Cavallaro)

Albert the alligator was turned over to a licensed caretaker, who will house the animal until it can be transported for permanent care, according to the DEC.

Evidence is still being collected as part of a warrant and ongoing investigation to determine if any potential charges will be filed, the DEC said.

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But Cavallaro is coming out swinging as he prepares to get his “baby” back through legal means.

In the meantime, the community wrapped its arms around the western New York native with a planned rally and “Free Albert” signs and T-shirts.

Tony Cavallaro said he loves to pop in on Albert to see if he’s floating or out of the water to play with him. (Tony Cavallaro)

Albert the alligator and his “dad,” Tony Cavallaro, who raised the gator since Albert was 2 months old.  (Tony Cavallaro)

Courtney Valent, Cavallaro’s friend, told Fox News Digital some pets are “cute and cuddly. Some might not look it, but they are too.”

“Tony will do whatever it takes to bring Albert home, and he has an army of support behind him,” said Valent, president and founder of Empire Animal Rescue Society Inc. in Salamanca, New York.

“Albert’s life and well-being matters,” Valent said. “Alligator or not, he belongs back home with his owner. … This whole ordeal could have been handled much differently. This could have been handled in a civil manner with grace for the owner and compassion for Albert.”

‘I hate feeling like this’

This appears to be heading toward a drawn-out legal bout, which is eating at Cavallaro.

“The feelings are going through me. I’ve had so much anger, so many emotions about this,” he said. “I dislike these people more than you’ll ever know. Nothing will ever change that.

“I think they’re the most uncompassionate, evil people on the planet. I don’t wish anything good to none of them, and I hate feeling that way.”

Albert the alligator wearing a Buffalo Bills hat.  (Tony Cavallaro)

Albert the alligator lounges on his pillows. (Tony Cavallaro)

Even as authorities hauled Albert off, Cavallaro said they wouldn’t let him say goodbye to his alligator.

“They wouldn’t let me see anything. I was outside his room, but I couldn’t turn around and look through the window. They said I couldn’t,” Cavallaro said. “These guys were trouncing all over my house. They were looking for another animal. That’s what the warrant states, but I don’t have anything else.

“It was so invasive. … And there 10 guys in the other room with him (Albert), and they brought me in the house when they were carrying him out because they didn’t want me to see nothing.”

Albert the alligator in his Erie County, N.Y., home before state agencies seized the gator.  (onlinepetition.org )

What’s next?

At this point, it’s unknown how this situation will play out, but it appears headed to court.

Cavallaro said he plans to meet with lawyers next week to discuss the next steps, and the DEC said there’s an ongoing investigation, and it will decide if there will be charges or violations levied against Albert’s “dad.”

“The investigation is ongoing. DEC will provide further information as it becomes available,” the DEC said.

Fox News Digital’s Elyse Perry contributed to this report.

Chris Eberhart is a crime and US news reporter for Fox News Digital. Email tips to [email protected] or on Twitter @ChrisEberhart48.

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