A State Agency Seized His Best Friend of 33 Years: a Pet Alligator

Tony Cavallaro
Albert the alligator lived with his owner, Tony Cavallaro, in New York for nearly 34 years before Department of Environmental Conservation officers seized him.

Soon after New York officials began searching Tony Cavallaro’s house for dangerous animals last week, he learned that he would be separated from his best friend of 33 years.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation was seizing Cavallaro’s pet. Cavallaro paced his kitchen while arguing with officers, who he said barred him from watching his 11-foot, 750-pound alligator be carried into a van.

While most people choose dogs, cats or small animals as pets, Cavallaro bought an alligator, Albert, at a reptile show in 1990. The duo provided each other company for nearly 34 years, often by the indoor pool Cavallaro built for Albert.

But the Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement that Cavallaro illegally allowed people to pet Albert, so officers took the 33-year-old alligator to a “licensed caretaker.”

Cavallaro told The Washington Post that he’s fighting for Albert’s return and will make any changes the state requires to live with his “baby” again.

“It’s ruining my life,” said Cavallaro, 64. “I mean, I’m a mess, and I’m breaking down.”

In the late 1980s, Cavallaro began collecting reptiles – geckos, chameleons and snakes – as a hobby. He attended a reptile show in Columbus, Ohio, in August 1990, where baby alligators were on sale. Cavallaro thought one alligator’s overbite and short snout were cute, so he bought the 2-month-old. Cavallaro named him Albert Edward so his nickname would be Al E. Gator.

Cavallaro obtained a permit with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation for educational purposes. He took Albert to reptile shows at colleges, community centers and amusement parks, where Cavallaro displayed reptiles while teaching audiences about them.

Cavallaro brushed Albert’s teeth and fed him chicken, pork and cheese cubes. Cavallaro said Albert snipped at him as a baby but hasn’t acted aggressive in decades. Albert doesn’t even tear his stuffed alligator and dinosaur toys.

In the early 2000s, Cavallaro said Albert accidentally bit his hand while he was feeding the alligator a chicken wing. Albert felt so guilty that he stopped eating, Cavallaro said. After bad days or breakups with his girlfriends, Cavallaro went home to be with Albert.

“That makes me forget about everything else,” Cavallaro said.

In 2016, Cavallaro spent about $115,000 on an additional room in his Hamburg, N.Y., home for Albert. He included a pool with a waterfall and an exit ramp, in-floor heating and an underground filter system. He decorated the room similarly to a golf course in Florida, where many American alligators live. He implemented a fake palm tree and cut carpet to make a makeshift putting green, where Albert sleeps on pillows.

Many days, Albert savors sitting under the waterfall or by an air jet. Cavallaro enjoys brushing the bottom of Albert’s legs, where he’s ticklish, prompting Albert to smile and duck underwater to escape.

Cavallaro even included Albert in his will, asking he be sent to an animal preserve in Fort Myers, Fla.

After his state permit to own an alligator expired in 2021, Cavallaro said he filed paperwork for a new one. But Cavallaro said that he needed to pay about $18,000 for a fence around his yard and more for zoo insurance to renew his permit.

Cavallaro said his friends posed for pictures next to Albert. The Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement to The Post that allowing people to come into contact with an alligator is “prohibited and grounds for license revocation and relocation of the animal.”

Cavallaro, who lives by himself, said he would’ve made those requested changes if he had known the Department of Environmental Conservation would visit his home on March 13.

As he was driving home from an errand at the post office, Cavallaro said he saw multiple cars and vans on his street and in his driveway. When he approached his house, Cavallaro said Department of Environmental Conservation officers told him they had a warrant to search his home. About 30 minutes later, Cavallaro said the officers informed him they would be taking Albert.

Since then, Cavallaro said he has hardly slept and has lost his appetite, causing him to lose a dozen pounds. He said he cries when he enters Albert’s room.

Cavallaro said he has contacted friends across the state requesting help. A friend started an online petition, where more than 121,000 people have asked for Albert to be returned to Cavallaro, who said he’s pursuing a lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Conservation.

He said he can’t stop thinking about how scared Albert might be in his new home.

“I miss him so much,” Cavallaro said. “I can’t even explain it.”